Chinese Cinderella is the story of Adeline Yen Mah's youth as the unwanted daughter of a rising businessman in the midst of a great transformation within Chinese society. Adeline’s affluent, powerful family considers her bad luck after her mother dies giving birth to her. Life does not get any easier when her father remarries. She and her siblings are subjected to the disdain of her stepmother, while her stepbrother and stepsister are spoiled. Although Adeline wins prizes at school, they are not enough to compensate for what she really yearns for — the love and understanding of her family.
The novel is an abridged version of Mah's first book, Falling Leaves, which provides a more detailed look into her years at university in England. Beyond the personal story of Mah's early years, Chinese Cinderella presents a vivid picture of the cultural amalgamation that was early 20th century China thanks to the ramifications of a war-ravaged time. The novel is regarded as an inspiring tale of perseverance and hope, showing the reader the depths of misfortune and the positive opportunities that arise with persistence and work.