Countless authors have chronicled the lives of people who survived the trials of 20th-century China, but few bring as much knowledge and style as Chin (Children of China: Voices from Recent Years) does.
The esteemed Yale historian successfully combines an academic’s interest in the big picture and a novelist’s attention to the finest detail in limning the lives of the title characters of this excellent account.
The history of the Chang sisters is heavy with episodes of injury and inhumanity, yet Chin has found affecting anecdotes of how the sisters fought to ˝make mirth˝ in the face of anguish and loss brought by imperial collapse, foreign invasion, civil and world war, revolution and famine.
The first half of the book details the history of the prosperous Chang family from the turmoil of the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860s to the birth of Yuan-ho, the oldest sister, in 1907.
From there, rather than writing conventional biographies of the four sisters, Chin mimics the structure of k’un-ch’i, a refined form of Chinese performance that showcases only a few scenes of an opera.
In this style, drawing on voluminous family correspondence, diaries and interviews (all four sisters are still alive), Chin chooses each sister’s most significant experience and expands upon it to depict their life-long struggle for constancy in the throes of violent political transition, and stirringly conveys the universal ability to endure and prevail despite adversity.