This book was quite an interesting idea for a book about women in the 19th century in China. Rather than giving a straight history, as she did in her previous book, Precious Scrolls, Mann draws on primary sources to receate the lives of a the women of the Zhang family. It is a great idea to give a first hand glimpse into their lives, while it doesn't read like fiction it still gives a good idea of how life was lived by those women.
I think this book would be an excellent introduction to the lives of women in late imperial China, as someone whose already read many books on the subject I found that there wasn't all that much new information here, but it was still enjoyable.
I thought her conclusion was particularly interesting. Here she took a step back from retelling the world, and drew the conclusion that elite women in that area of China had as an important a part to play in elite culture as men did, they were educated, earning their own living, and in charge of the household much of the time. She mentioned how the "problem" of women in China was not something that was discussed among Chinese until the late 1890s, then the lack of "education" for women was criticised by those who criticised the elite culture in general. One thing I have been learning in the past few months is how much of the "sexism" associated with late Imperial China was a product of missionaries' views, and not a reflection of reality.
The other most interesting thing mentioned was a book by Li Zhaoluo, haiguo ji wen 海国记闻which was an account of lives in foreign lands. Having read so much travel writing written by Europeans about China it was refreshing to be able the reverse. I think it'd be fantastic to be able to find and read the whole thing someday....Continua