In Chinese Cinderella, Adeline Yen Mah returns to her roots to tell the story of her painful childhood and her ultimate triumph and courage in the face of despair. Adeline’s affluent, powerful family considers her bad luck after her mother dies giving birth to her. Life does not get any easier when her father remarries. She and her siblings are subjected to the disdain of her stepmother, while her stepbrother and stepsister are spoiled. Although Adeline wins prizes at school, they are not enough to compensate for what she really yearns for — the love and understanding of her family.
Following the success of the critically acclaimed adult bestseller Falling Leaves, this memoir is a moving telling of the classic Cinderella story, with Adeline Yen Mah providing her own courageous voice.
Adeline Yen Mah, 2017.
From page 138 Adeline describes, from a historical viewpoint, some of the background to the period through which she lived as a child. Though these events certainly affected her life and that of her family at the time, as political and social events they were not fully understood by the young Adeline.
Whilst Adeline is unceremoniously placed in a convent boarding school in Tianjin (p.142), the Communists, under their leader Mao Ze-Dong, are moving through China swiftly taking power. At the very time when Adeline is placed in this convent, away from family and friends, the members of the population who can afford it, or are able, are fleeing China in droves. In only a short time Adeline finds herself the only student remaining in the convent (p.148) as everyone else has been collected or evacuated by their loved ones. It is only well-meaning relatives who, without consulting Adeline’s parents, collect Adeline at the last minute (p.153).
Adeline Yen Mah, 2017.
In the 1940’s, and even now, there has been a large tradition of strict respect and superiority of elders. Many families in the Chinese culture live together, usually with three to four generations under a single roof. There is large superiority by the grandparents and crowded living conditions because of the many generations in one house. In Chinese Cinderella, Jung-ling’s family is taken by surprise when her NeNe (Grandmother in Chinese) dies of old age. Once their mourning period ends, the oldest family member of the next generation took charge. That family member happens to be her Stepmother, Niang, who abuses her power and takes favour over Jung-ling and her siblings for her own blood-children. With grandparent superiority comes abuse of power and unjust decisions made within the family. According to tradition, elders of the family are in charge of decision making; and as a sign of respect, all family members are to agree with them. Since this is happening, no one else is able to disagree with the decision made, or speak their minds. When Niang takes over Jung-ling’s NeNe’s position, she also begins to make decisions for the family; and when others disagree, or speak out about her decision, Niang would then fight with them and wave them off as if they were nothing.
The Chinese also believe that small feet are very beautiful, and parents would bind their children’s feet to stunt their feet’s growth. The goal of foot binding is to stunt the growth of the feet around the age of 5 to 7, so that the feet are no more than 4 inches long. Many girls in the 1940’s, 50’s, and even now in modern day, would have horribly repulsive and distorted feet that were incredibly painful to them, and unattractive to others. Foot binding makes walking a very difficult task, and can cause the feet to give off vile smells.
Another Chinese tradition is the belief in superstitions. It is believed that if a mother dies while giving birth, or soon after, her child is considered bad luck. A child that has lost a mother whilst giving childbirth can struggle socially and emotionally; which can affect their life forever. If the family is incredibly strict, they too will ignore the child and treat them unjustly. For example, Jung-ling’s mother dies shortly after her birth, and because of that her entire family considers her as bad luck, which affects her entire childhood.
Adeline Yen Mah was born in Tianjin, China. She lived in Shanghai as a child and moved to Hong Kong at age eleven. At fourteen, she won a writing competition, which convinced her father to send her to study in England. She attended London Hospital Medical School, graduated as a physician and established a thriving medical practice in California. She worked as an anesthesiologist at West Anaheim Community Hospital and became chief of anesthesia.
Her first book Falling Leaves was published in 1997. It made the New York Times Bestseller list and sold over a million copies worldwide, being translated into twenty two languages. After the publication of Falling Leaves, Adeline gave up medicine to write full-time. Chinese Cinderella is her autobiography written for children and also sold over one million copies worldwide. It received an award from the Children’s Literature Council of Southern California in 2000 for Compelling Autobiography and Lamplighter’s Award from National Christian School Association in June 2002 for Contribution to Exceptional Children’s Literature. Her third book Watching the Tree is a book of Chinese philosophy, published in 2001. Her fourth book, A Thousand Pieces of Gold, was published in October 2002.
Adeline Yen Mah, 2017.
Image retrieved from Goodreads, 2017.