Falling Leaves By Adeline Yen
The Irreverence of Female Independence in China
For years, the world has been oblivious to the painful, degrading traditions toward women that take place behind the Bamboo Curtain of China. Falling Leaves , by Adeline Yen Mah, unveils the darker side of Chinese culture through her eyes as an unwanted Chinese daughter. Shocking mistreatment, of not only the author, but also the females in her extended family keep suspense alive throughout the book. My heart sobs at each account of Adelines tortured life, but through it all, there was a flicker of her spirit that could not be put out.
In China, girls are seen as a possession or a cheap commodity (Yen Mah 100). Sons, especially the eldest, are given far more attention and praise. Families that are well off keep their daughters and marry them off to prominent families sons through a marriage broker (mei-po). Rich daughters often had their feet bound, a process by which the four lateral toes of the foot are forced with a bandage under the sole so that only the big toe protruded. (It was) tightened daily for a number of years (so as to) permanently arrest the foots growth in order to achieve tiny feet so prized by Chinese men (Yen Mah 11). Their inability to walk with ease is a symbol of submissiveness, weakness, and wealth. This tradition is becoming more rare, but still many older women bear its pain today. Adelines grandmother went against these traditions by not torturing her own daughter in such an inhumane way. Daughters of poorer families could only wish for such a life of weakness and delicate manner. These girls often become maids, waitresses, or prostitutes. Street girls play a vital role in the three vices common to Chinese men: opium, gambling, and brothels (Yen Mah 7). In my opinion, the treatment of women is the greatest difference between Eastern and Western culture. As Western culture has advanced to bring more rights to women, the traditional ways of China have become a sore thumb on the hand of the world.
Even as an Eastern girl ages, she still has little hope for her own independence. Adelines grandmother was told by her father these words of shuttering reality: Your duty is to please him and your in-laws. Bear them many sons. Subliminate your own desires. Become the willing piss-pot and spittoon of the Yens and we will be proud of you. (Yen Mah 10) Though women give up their entire lives to their husband and children, it is still widely accepted by their culture to have multiple concubines (mistresses). In the book, Adelines grandfather was defiant to pressure to have a concubine serve him (Yen Man 14), and this disapproval of the social norm was not to be believed by others. Confucius had professed that only ignorant women were virtuous, and it is by this ideal that many families in China think. Throughout the book, Adeline defies tradition by going to college (out of the country) and then moving on to medical school. Her self- will to try to please her father is mainly a need to be more like her brothers who were adored by the family. Adelines fight for acceptance, admiration, and personal success could not be achieved in the sexist society of China or the Westernized Hong Kong. Her many attempts to return to the motherland to shine for her family and country only discouraged her and remind her that there is no place for her achievement in the ancient hearts and minds of the Chinese people.
At the peak of Adelines youth in China, Westerners amazed and intrigued the Chinese, including Adelines father. She was sent to Catholic boarding schools and taught English. Business was booming in Hong Kong, especially with trade with the United States. Father adopted ambiguous notions about his own race, he, like many Chinese had come to see Westerners as taller, cleverer, stronger, and better (Yen Mah 29). Adeline strived to be a model child, but it was unheard of for a Chinese girl to have Western success. This double standard was one of many at this time. Her success as a physician meant nothing to her family, especially