I still know your face. I see it clearly as it was at the very beginning, not how it was left after I had hurt you.

I did not see the brightness of new life in your eyes when you were born or cradle your warm fleshy body to my chest, and wish now that I had. I wish I had just looked… but I did not let myself because to me you were still-born. You were not a living person to me then, but an object of hatred, created merely to be beaten and scarred.

When I think back through the tiredness and hunger we have endured for years now, searching through the pages of my memory that still serve me faithfully, I know I saw your lovely face when I was a young girl. It was in 1932 while I was out walking with Grandfather in twwhose public gardens adjacent to our house, now forgotten and laid waste like the rest of Shanghai. I am certain now that I have always known and loved your face, it was only terror and pain that held me back from you. But all that I suffered then seems nothing compared to the suffering now being inflicted across this country and I know that I should never have let anything stop me from loving you. I wish that all those years ago I’d had the courage just to look at you, to feel the need and unconditional love in your fragile little body.

This simple gift for your wedding and the two books I have written for you are all that will be left of me, perhaps all that is best. Sitting in front of the weak and pale flames of our stove, so far away from home, I have dreamt of you and wish the madness of the country would subside just for one day so I might travel back to see your wedding. But it is impossible to make even a short journey, we have nothing, we cannot even feed ourselves. Everyday we silence our stomachs with grass and straw and live off worms and seeds but soon the frozen ground will put even these beyond our reach. They say that no one is hungry in the People’s Republic.

I hope that what I have written in these rough pages of cloth will show you how we were so bound to tradition and history that we could not see what was so obvious and that though I have always loved you, I never understood that love is nothing unless it is expressed.

Discussion Questions

1. What is Feng’s relationship like with her parents compared to her grandfather? What important lessons does her grandfather teach her?

2. Why is Feng attracted to Bi? What kind of background does he come from, and why is it considered unacceptable for Feng to associate with him?

3. Describe the hierarchy in the Sang family. Where does Feng fit in? How does she learn to manipulate these relationships to her own advantage?

4. What is Feng’s sister and mother’s view of an ideal life? How is this different from what Feng wants? Does Feng finally achieve this life, and if so, how does it make her feel?

5. Do you think Xiong Fa is a good or bad husband? Is he also a victim of society’s expectations of him?

6. Why does Feng feel like she has to give up her daughter? Even if you may not agree with her decision, can you sympathize with her reasons for doing it?

7. Do you think the suffering that Feng endures during the Cultural Revolution is enough to atone for the mistakes she has made? Why or why not?

8. How does Feng change throughout the novel? Has she learned anything about herself?

9. Based on this novel, what do you feel is the prevailing attitude toward daughters in China? Is it very different from how daughters are perceived in the West?

10. Are you surprised that the author is a man, given the book’s first-person perspective and subject matter? Do you think that men can write about these things?