Chinese Cinderella


Chinese Cinderella: The Secret Story of an Unwanted Daughter is a book by Chinese-American physician and author Adeline Yen Mah describing her experiences growing up in China during the Second World War. First published in 1999, Chinese Cinderella is a revised version of part of her 1997 autobiography, Falling Leaves. Her mother died after giving birth to her (of fever) and she is known to her family as the most bad luck ever. Her father, remarries a woman who stays at home and looks after the children for a living while treating Adeline and her siblings harshly while spoiling Adeline's half-brother and half-sister with many luxurious things.


Ever since Adeline Yen Mah was born, she had been rejected coldly because her family believed her to bring bad luck. The cause of this superstition was due to the fact that her father's first wife died two weeks after giving birth to her, the fifth child. Soon, her father remarries to Jeanne Prosperi (referred to as "Niang" in most part of the story, an alternate term for "mother" in Mandarin Chinese), a beautiful Eurasian woman. She regards his first five children, especially Adeline, with distaste and cruelty while favouring her younger son, Franklin, and daughter, Susan (Jun-qing) born soon after the marriage. Due to Niang's European heritage, she also wishes to give Jun-ling and her four older siblings English names: her eldest sister becomes Lydia (Jun-pei); her three older brothers are renamed Gregory (Zi-jie), Edgar (Zi-ling), and James (Zi-jun) respectively, while Jun-ling is renamed Adeline.

The book outlines Adeline's struggle to find a place where she feels she belongs. Denied love from her parents, she finds some solace in relationships with her grandfather (Ye Ye) and her Aunt Baba, but they are taken from her as Niang deems them to exert bad influence on the children. Adeline immerses herself in striving for academic achievement in the hope of winning favour, but also for its own rewards as she finds great pleasure in words and scholarly success, progressing in things that her father and step-mother had never expected, for example by topping her class. [1]She has many friends at school who love her for who she is, but they do not know about her inside life.

While at boarding school in Hong Kong, Adeline is taken away by her chauffeur and told that Ye Ye has died, leaving her broken-hearted but the rest of her family is indifferent. Her love for her grandfather is resonated when she reads King Lear, inspiring her to submit a work of writing for an international play-writing competition and study at an English university. However, Adeline worries over what might happen to her when she returns back home and is conflicted between her decisions.

While playing Monopoly with her friends at boarding school, Adeline is interrupted and taken home by her chauffeur to see her father. In his room ("The Holy of Holies"), she is informed that she has earned first place in the international play-writing competition. Delighted and surprised, Adeline gathers her courage to ask him for permission to study in England with her brothers in the field of literature and creative-writing. Not surprisingly, her father immediately rejects her idea and sends her to a medical school that specializes in obstetrics. Regardless, Adeline is overjoyed to have the opportunity to study overseas.

  1. ^ [1], Penguin Books.
External links

* [2] [3] (summary of the book 'Chinese Cinderella' and the author regarding to the book in question)

  • Extract from the book at Penguin Books Australia

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