“For every young Chinese woman in 1930s Shanghai, following the path of duty takes precedence over personal desires. For Feng, that means becoming the bride of a wealthy businessman in a marriage arranged by her parents. In the enclosed world of the Sang household – a place of public ceremony and private cruelty – fulfilling her duty means bearing a male heir.

The life that has been forced on her makes Feng bitter and resentful, and she plots a terrible revenge. But with the passing years comes a reckoning, and Feng must reconcile herself with the sacrifices and terrible choices she has made in order to assure her place in the family and society – even as the violent, relentless tide of revolution engulfs her country.”

Modern Chinese history is often understood as a series of high-level political machinations, sweeping revolutions and economic landmarks. Yet it is merely 100 years since Sun Yatsen’s revolution of 1911, when the formal dismantling of some 4,000 years of Imperial China began, to 2008 when China gained the status of largest holder of US Treasury bonds; just a life-time. In between, there were the horrors of the Japanese occupation, the People’s Revolution, then subsequent political chaos such as the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution to name but two, and finally the Open Door Policy that demanded people subordinate the ideological past of the previous 25 years to the drive for development.

But the history of China is much more that than just a list of events. Each bold advance or period of repression had a  profound effect on the ordinary people caught up in them, either as active participants  or helpless bystanders. People were forced to change and keep on changing purely in order to survive  –  and, as we know, millions did not succeed. The human toll in lives lost or irreparably damaged was immense; minds and hearts were broken as well as bodies.

This story is an attempt to explore how Chinese people coped with the changes arbitrarily imposed on them by history in the making. These were most profound for Chinese women who were asked to reconsider so many aspects of their lives, for better and for worse. But it is also about the way that change can strip us of so much that we once loved, and how we must learn to cope with that in order to endure. Having spent a lot of time in Asia during the last 25 years and working with various NGOs involved in youth development, for some, the best they can hope for is that life will be made a little better for the next generation.