Chinese Cinderella

Chinese Cinderella Summary and Analysis of Chapter 11-13


The arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Huang—friends of Aunt Baba from Father’s first marriage—has the unique consequence of the recognition of all seven children within the household. Most of the visitors only knew of the existence of Niang’s two natural born children, since Niang did not want people to know she was a stepmother at her age. The Huangs have brought with them the gift of baby ducklings, one for each of the children. Adeline, naturally, was left with the scrawniest of the birds. That did not matter though, as Adeline grew to love the duckling above all else.

Named “Precious Little Treasure” (PLT for short), the duckling is especially cognizant for it’s age, recognizing Adeline and following her around. Adeline tries to take special care of her duckling, finding and feeding it extra worms but is stopped by her jealous Second Brother. When trying to compensate for the loss of worms by digging in her home’s garden, Adeline is attacked by Jackie, the dog. Aunt Baba sees her wound and tries to cheer Adeline up with the contents of the safe deposit box, at the same trying to prevent any waves to be kicked up. After all, Jackie is their pet. Later that night at dinner, Father wants to test out Jackie’s obedience and asks for a volunteer duckling. Big Brother chooses PLT, who is then mauled by a tempted Jackie. Adeline’s grief is deep, with the chapter closed off with the burial of poor Precious Little Treasure.

The book then moves on to note the mysterious disappearances of Big Sister from the household, often accompanying Father and Niang on business trips. The truth comes to light when Big Sister reveals that there are plans to marry her off to Samuel, the son of the family doctor. The age difference between the two frightens Adeline, who vows to never be married off at such an early age. Niang confiscated the gifts that started arriving, keeping the best ones for herself. This prompted Big Sister to hide the beautiful jade necklace given to her by her Great Aunt with Aunt Baba, making the latter promise to not share this news with Niang.

The wedding went off without a hitch, except for the fact that Adeline’s three older brothers were thoroughly embarrassed thanks to the state of their hair and clothes. While she was in the bathroom, Adeline overheard a conversation between Niang and Great Aunt in which the existence of the jade necklace was revealed. Fearing for the fate of her sister, Adeline runs off to give some warning. Grateful, Big Sister assures her that the problem will be resolved. However, Adeline later learns that Big Sister passed the blame off onto Aunt Baba, furthering Niang’s animosity towards her.

The following chapter relates the story Chun-mei’s birthday party. Being one of her closest friends at school, Chun-mei invites Adeline over to celebrate her birthday. Adeline insists that this is impossible, trying to find excuses due to her knowledge that Niang would never allow her to attend a party. However, an opportunity arises in a day off from school, special to her academy only. Since her parents don’t know about her school schedule, Adeline pretends to go to school but instead attends the party.

All is going well until she has to return home for lunch. Chun-mei calls her home phone to alert her that the cake is being cut, but Niang picks up the phone. Livid, she convinces Father that Aunt Baba is a bad influence and should be separated from Adeline. Father agrees, whipping Adeline for her insolent behavior.


These chapters serve to emphasize the disparity between Adeline and the other children within the household, even her direct siblings. The story of PLT is especially heartbreaking, with the duckling serving as a metaphor of the injustices that befall Adeline, the most "awake" member of the family. The biased selection by Big Brother and the subsequent drawn out death serve to embody the injustices of the Yen family.

At the same time, we are allowed to see some different dimensions of our characters, with Big Brother and Third Brother showing some empathy towards their younger sister. The better aspects of these characters are showcased in the waning moments of this chapter, children caught up in the fury of their imbalanced household. It is sad that we do not get to see these two characters develop much further. Although they are painted as oppressive for much of the novel, it is in scenes like this one where the reader yearns for a more detailed look at the periphery characters, perhaps not as immoral as they appear from young Adeline's point of view.

Afterwards, the scene of Big Sister's wedding juxtaposes the upscale Anglicized society that Niang's children live in and the antique customs that the natural born children are forced to uphold. The betrayal of Aunt Baba by Big Sister should not come off as a surprise to anyone reading the book, since the characters have been noticeably static. The wedge driven between Niang and Aunt Baba clearly foreshadows the impossibility of this family structure staying the way it is for long.

The cause for the disparity between the living conditions of the two sets of Yen children is again brought into question by these chapters. The embarrassment that the three eldest brothers suffer at the hands of their classmates is very public, as is their exposure to the various guests at the wedding. Since Father's prioritization of public image has been of the driving factors behind the developments thus far in the novel, his tolerance for the public shaming of his children seems oddly out of character. How can a man who cares so much of what others think of him allow his children to wear antiquated clothing? The facade of a happy and modern family that Father has worked so hard to create would seem irreparable by the events of the wedding.

The events surrounding Chun-mei's birthday party serve to highlight the injustice of the current living system in place within the household. Although Adeline does not tell the truth to her adopted mother, this small act of rebellion is a necessary act by our protagonist. The conflict between Niang and Adeline again begins to bare its teeth, showing that there is still someone who recognizes the unfairness of the situation. However, the power imbalance is again brought to light with the whipping of Adeline, reminding the reader that there is no poetic justices in this tale.