Chinese Cinderella

Chinese Cinderella Summary and Analysis of Chapters 4-6


The story skips head a few months, and Tianjin is now in the middle of winter. Adeline is still in school and at this time, she and Big Sister are attending the same missionary school. Because of Big Sister’s constant complaints about walking to school, they’re taken everyday by the rickshaw puller, Ah-Mao. Ah-Mao is a kindly character, but is “fiercely protective” (12) of the rickshaw and won’t allow anyone else to handle it. Each day after school, Big Sister takes her time getting to the rickshaw and appears to be proud of the fact that she can force Adeline and Ah-Mao to wait for her. When she finally arrives, she scowls and grows sullen, When she finally talks, it is only to quiz Adeline about her most recent school topics and slap her for not knowing something they haven’t been taught and screaming about how Adeline doesn’t deserve the medal she’s been wearing week after week. Later that month, there is a prize ceremony at the school. No one is there to see Adeline receive her award.

At this time, Tianjin is under Japanese occupation, a terrifying experience for all of them. The Japanese soldiers demand the Chinese behave subserviently or face dire consequences. When the soldiers approach Father with a business proposal, he decides it's the perfect time to escape from Tianjin. He leaves, taking Niang and Fourth Brother with him, leaving the others in a blissful time of freedom. Their paradise is interrupted by Nai Nai’s death, whereupon Father returns to take the rest of the family with him to Shanghai.

Father’s homecoming is abrupt and unexpected; no one but Ye Ye had been informed about his whereabouts and his children are incredibly surprised. Instead of going on a short little outing with Ye Ye as expected, the children are whisked away by Father on a train to Shanghai with no time to say their goodbyes to Tianjin.

Ye Ye and Aunt Baba stay behind to close out their affairs, observe the hundred day mourning period of Nai Nai and take care of young Little Sister and sickly Third Brother. The rest of the siblings arrive in Shanghai, once again living “deep in the heart of the French concession” (23) in a beautiful three-story French style mansion. The period of blissful freedom has passed; Niang declares that her stepchildren are “not to invite any of [their] friends home, or visit them in their houses” (25) and are restricted to only the third floor. Big Brother remarks that they have ceased to be individuals and “have become one single unit known as all of you” (25).

Adeline is excited to return to school, this time attending Sacred Heart (Shen Xin 聖心) Missionary School, but it doesn’t look like she’ll make it in time since her family has once again forgotten about her existence. Luckily, she’s able to catch a ride from the reluctant cook and makes it just in time. Afterschool, she is left lonely as well and with no one there to take her home, Adeline struggles to find her way in her brand new surroundings. Late in the evening, a kindly shopkeeper notices the lost little Adeline and shelters her in a restaurant until Adeline can phone home. Her family truly had forgotten about her existence and the only advice Father had to offer was to learn to read a map.


The interactions between Adeline and her older sister serve to present the delicate relationship between the two and reinforce the "bad luck" (13) that she is to the rest of the family. Of course, Big Sister's own problems must be taken into consideration when viewing her interaction with Adeline. Big Sister's reluctance to return home hints at her troubles with Niang; though she may be favored when compared to the rest of the older siblings, she'll never garner the love and attention that Fourth Brother and Little Sister do.

Adeline and Big Sister's volatile relationship and the negative image that Adeline carries with the family is further emphasized through the lack of support during the presentation of school awards. Yen Mah's language is very matter of fact, allowing for little hope to be drawn from the situation. Of all the siblings, Adeline is the most forgotten and the most ridiculed. The language given to Big Sister also serves to position her as one of the antagonists of the novel, foreshadowing the future fickleness of her character.

Though Yen Mah's novel is a biography, many of the events in her family serve as microcosms to the overall situation of China at the time. The overbearing and intimidating Japanese presence in China is comparative to the encompassing presence of Niang in the Yen household. Though Father can escape from the presence of Japan, the children can only briefly escape from the terror of Niang and those days of blissful freedom are short lived, just like China's brief freedom from military turmoil following the end of World War II.

Nai Nai's death terminates the brief period of freedom that comes with the exit of Niang and Father. Permeating isolation, the Chinese idea of funerals and bringing things with you into the afterlife, “evaporated like an episode in a spring dream” (20), serves to show the reader that any future blissful periods for Adeline do not reflect reality. The events of the following chapters seem to build off of the sense of sorrow around the death, establishing the mood of the rest of the novel.

The family's arrival in Shanghai marks a new social structure for the older siblings. Niang's straightforward address of the siblings shows that there will be no questioning of her desires and orders and that she will not recognize the wishes of any of the siblings either. At this point, she no longer views the older siblings as individuals at all and instead refers to them as "all of you" (25), a nameless, faceless entity comprised of children she refuses to think about. By banishing them to the upper story of the house and restricting their movement, Niang does all she can to make them disappear and dispose of the reminder that Father's first wife ever existed.