Published: January 2012
Trade Paperback, 302 pages
When I read the dedication "for all the daughters, forgotten and unloved" I was hooked!
A friend recently told me that he would never be interested in a book about women. The author of this book is a man writing in the first-person perspective of a woman and is entirely interesting with an authentic “voice”.
Xiao Feng looks back on her life and is recording the events for her estranged daughter. As the story begins Xiao Feng is a beautiful, innocent 17-year old Chinese girl who is forced to marry the rich fiancé of her recently deceased sister. All the arrangements for the wedding are in place, the dress is ready, gifts exchanged, guests invited and the only thing missing is a bride. The marriage MUST take place. So Feng is handed over to replace her sister. The marriage will accommodate that ancient philosophy of "face". "Face is everything," says Feng's mother. "It would be considered a terrible loss of face if a marriage did not take place," she states. This is 1930's China, "old China" and daughters are expected to obey their parents and forego their own desires.
Thus Feng is thrust into a horrible family ruled by Father-in-law and his two wives who are interested in rigidly maintaining tradition and family honor. The first order of business for Feng, of course, is to produce a male heir. She extracts a promise from her maid that if a girl is born she doesn't want to see it and that the baby should be given to a peasant family to face a life of hard work. The maid begrudgingly fulfills her promise. Feng wants revenge for how she has been treated by her husband and his family.
Time passes and Feng becomes absorbed in her rich surroundings and useless, self-centered social life, but she never forgets her daughter. A second child, a son, is born, whom she adores and her position in the family is finally cemented. Years pass as her son grows into a capable young man. A new maid is hired to care for him. Then events take an unexpected, dramatic turn in the family provoking Feng to flee. She finds help and support from an old acquaintance and begins her new life working in a Communist commune sewing buttons on Mao jackets as Chinese society moves toward Mao's great revolution that will change life forever.
Essentially this is a sad story. Tradition-bound attitudes regarding the relative unimportance of girls lead to cruel and inexcusable actions. Family relationships are damaged. Adherence to philosophies like “face” can influence events so dramatically that inevitably calamity ensues. Allowing hatred and revenge to dominate in one’s life can produce irreversible results.
All the Flowers in Shanghai helps the reader to learn something about China’s traditions, recent history and will be enjoyed by people who are concerned with the plight of women in general and Chinese women in particular.
Note: This book is rated S = Sexual descriptions. There are a number of explicit sexual scenes in the book.
Duncan Jepson is the award-winning director and producer of five feature films. He has also produced documentaries for Discovery Channel Asia and National Geographic Channel. He was the editor of the Asia-based fashion magazine West East and is a founder and managing editor of the Asia Literary Review. A lawyer by profession, he lives in Hong Kong.
Visit Duncan Jepson's website www.alltheflowersinshanghai.com.