X is for Xue Xinran

  Xuē Xīnrán (薛欣然, pen name Xinran), was born in Beijing in 1958.  She was one of China’s most successful journalists, and in 1997, moved to London where she began writing books.  Xinran focuses on the lives of Chinese women in her memoir, The Good Women of China (2002).

Her second book, Sky Burial (2004), relates the story of Shu Wen, whose husband joined the Chinese army a few months after their marriage in the 1950s, and was sent to Tibet.

In 2006, she published What the Chinese Don’t Eat, a collection of her columns from The Guardian from 2003 to 2005.  The collection covers topics from food to sex education, as well as the experiences of British mothers who adopted Chinese daughters.

“Early one spring morning in 1989, I rode my Flying Pigeon bicycle through the streets of Nanjing dreaming about my son PanPan.  The green shoots on the trees, the clouds of frosty breath enveloping the other cyclists, the women’s silk scarves billowing in the spring wind, everything merged with thoughts of my son.  I was bringing him up on my own, without the help of a man, and it was not easy caring for him as a working mother.  Whatever journey I went on, though, long or short, even the quick ride to work, he accompanied me in spirit and gave me courage.”  (What the Chinese Don’t Eat)

In 2007, Xinran’s first novel, Miss Chopsticks, was published.  It explores the relationship between Chinese “migrant workers” and the cities they flock to.  Due to China’s economic reform, rural Chinese girls (“chopstick girls”) now take city jobs as waitresses, masseuses, factory line workers and cleaners.  They bring lots of cash home, earning respect in their male-dominated villages.

Xinran’s fifth book, China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation was published in 2008. It is based on twenty years of interviews conducted by Xinran with the last two generations in China.  She followed this in 2010 with the publication of Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother, a collection of heartbreaking stories from Chinese mothers who have lost or had to abandon children.


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