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  • Written by Ting-Xing Ye
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  • White Lily
  • Written by Ting-Xing Ye
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Written by Ting-Xing YeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Ting-Xing Ye


List Price: $4.99


On Sale: February 18, 2011
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-385-67413-3
Published by : Seal Books Doubleday CAN Titles
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Nearly a century ago, in the Forbidden City, China’s last emperor reigned from his dragon throne. Although he was only a boy, the imperial decrees issued in his name echoed in every corner of the country. Every man had to shave his head and wear a single pigtail to symbolize his submission to the emperor, and every woman was second in importance to the men in her family. Women were obedient to their fathers and brothers and later to the husbands in their arranged marriages. Certainly no woman was encouraged to attend school or to show any independence.

Into this world, in a village in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, White Lily was born. She had a happy childhood, running and playing, until, at the age of four, she was forced to undergo the painful procedure of foot binding required for all females of her social class. But White Lily has her heart set on more than a traditional role in society, and she enlists the support of her beloved elder brother. Together they devise a plan to defy tradition and convince their father that White Lily’s feet and mind must be allowed to grow.


Nearly a century ago, deep in the center of the Forbidden City, China’s last emperor reigned from his dragon throne. Although he was only a boy, the imperial decrees issued in his name were shouted in every corner of the country, binding his subjects with the stout bonds of custom and law, taxes and tribute, rules and regulations. Every man was required to shave his head, leaving a single pigtail to grow from the crown down his back, symbolizing his submission to the boy-emperor. And every woman was second in importance, even in her own family, for the burdens of law and tradition weighed much more heavily on females. They were called to obey their fathers and brothers as young girls, to comply with their husbands after their arranged marriages, and to yield to their sons if they were widowed.

Into this world, one day, in a village in the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, a baby girl was born.


Lee Family Village was no ordinary place.

As far as the eye could see, jade-green rice paddies dotted a land crisscrossed with canals. The many quiet ponds were home to the most beautiful lilies in the nation. When in full blossom, they bathed the air with their sweet fragrance.

Nor was the newborn an ordinary girl. Her father, Master Lee, was the wealthiest man in the area, and his family the most prominent. As if to prove her worthiness to belong to such a clan, the baby cried out so lustily that she silenced the cicadas droning rhythmically in the trees, complaining far too hot! far too hot! Her shrill wails brought the villagers rushing to the gates of Master Lee’s house, each anxious to be the first to extend his congratulations and best wishes.

The richest merchant arrived first, followed by his wife and household. Next came Master Lee’s tenant farmers, slapping dust from their tattered trousers with their straw hats as they hurried along. Far behind waddled the local scholar, encircled by a flock of students.

“May I have the honor to make a proposal, noble Sir?” intoned the merchant when all had assembled. “I request that your beautiful child be promised in marriage to my Number One son, who is five years her senior.” He held out a red silk pouch filled with silver coins.

With the heavy pouch resting in his palm, Master Lee responded, “I accept this proposition, Sir, and from now on we are relatives.”

The crowd cheered the announcement as the head farmer stood out and made a deep bow. “Distinguished Master, we wish your precious girl good health, long life, and all the happiness in the world. May her daughterly obedience and virtue last as long as the universe!”

Behind him, the farmers pressed forward. Hens cuddled under their arms, strings of wriggling fish dangled from their hands, and fresh vegetables and fruit piled on pans were suspended from their shoulder poles. A group of ducks scurried worriedly to and fro under the watchful eyes of a pair of white geese. All this the farmers offered as gifts to the family.

Master Lee accepted the tributes with a silent nod.

“In my humble opinion, respected Lord,” wheezed the scholar, puffing from his walk, “your baby girl is the purest among the pure and the finest among the best, like this precious flower.” He presented a single, long-stemmed lily in full, white bloom. “May I suggest she be named White Lily?”

“Then White Lily she shall be,” Master Lee declared, barely concealing his disappointment that the newborn was not a boy.


White Lily was a happy child. She began giggling before she could stand up, and she learned to laugh, louder than her cries, before she was able to wriggle her chubby toes and walk on her own. But her happiest times were those when she pulled off her socks and scampered barefoot across the wooden floors, or outside in the courtyard where the spring sun warmed the cool flagstones.

There she played with her elder brother, Fu-gui, and chased after sparrows. However, her running and jumping and shrieks of delight often earned Grandmother’s -- Nai-nai’s -- angry scolding, Father’s frowns and grumbles, or Mother’s gentle criticism for disrupting the household peace.
White Lily was sure that it was not her beating feet that displeased Nai-nai and upset her father, because for as long as she could remember the thump of feet was a familiar noise in their house. It came from Mother and Nai-nai.

In White Lily’s eyes, the difference between these two important women in her life was as wide as the sky. While Nai-nai was short and chubby, almost balloon-shaped, Mother was tall and slim, much like the lily stems that stood in the ponds. Mother spoke in a soft, quiet manner that would hardly startle a bird, but Nai-nai’s voice was loud and firm, as if a brass gong had been struck with a wooden mallet. Mother wore either a long skirt or a full-length robe, often in colorful prints. When she walked, her hips swung rhythmically while her pointed shoe-tips peeped in and out from under the hem. Yet Nai-nai seemed to know one color and one style only. She had chosen to wear black ever since Grandpa had passed away two years before White Lily was born. Her shapeless pants were wide and loose around the hips but narrow at the legs, wrapped tightly at her ankles with black ribbons.

But there was one thing that Mother and Nai-nai had in common -- their feet. They were almost as small as White Lily’s. Mother’s and Nai-nai’s richly embroidered silk shoes were even shorter than their own outstretched hands. How could that be possible? White Lily wondered, looking down at her own plump feet, which seemed to grow with every passing breeze.
Ting-Xing Ye

About Ting-Xing Ye

Ting-Xing Ye - White Lily
Ting-Xing Ye (her surname means “Leaf”) was born in Shanghai in 1952, three years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Her mother didn’t encourage education for girls, but Ting-Xing went to school anyway and eventually to university to study English language and literature, just as China was opening up to the west. In a moment of profound irony, she was offered one of the highest placements available for an interpreter, with the hated Secret Service. But her request for a transfer back to Shanghai, where she could look after her kind great-aunt, was accepted. Working for the municipal government, she dealt with the delegations of visiting royalty, presidents and other dignitaries. She married and, a year after the introduction of the one-child-per-family rule, gave birth to a daughter. After six years, she returned to Beijing to enter an international studies program, where she met William Bell, the Canadian author and teacher, who was teaching English at the college.

Although the official policy was to distrust foreigners, “I felt safe with Bill,” she says, and a deep bond began to form between them as she finally felt safe to express her true thoughts, at first through the journal he encouraged his class to keep. When Bell returned to Canada, they began a correspondence. Ye was tired of the oppressiveness of Chinese society, the constant surveillance at work, and her loveless marriage. When a scholarship to York University (which Bell had helped fabricate) arrived, she took it.

“My freedom came with a big price… I sometimes doubt my decision.” Ye made the hardest decision of her life when she did not return to China after her studies ended in 1989. The relief of being in a free country with a secure future that she could control was tempered by the anguish of separation from her daughter Qi-Meng. Her husband cut off all contact, making it impossible for her to see her daughter for over ten years; when she realized she might never see her again, she decided to write down a record of family memories that Qi-Meng might one day read. “Even now, I question whether I was too selfish. My fear is that people will read my book and think that I sought my own freedom at the expense of my daughter.” Happily, after years of searching — during which readers wrote with offers of help — she was finally able to make contact with her daughter again. Qi-Meng is studying to be a teacher at a university in China.

William Bell, who now lives with Ye in Orillia, Ontario, encouraged Ye to turn her memories into a book. At first she thought it was too personal, and didn’t want people to think she was looking for sympathy; when she began to write, it felt as though she were reliving the worst times. However, the freedom of her new life has unleashed Ye’s creativity. As an antidote to the painful memories dredged up writing the memoir, she also began to write children’s books based on folk tales and sayings she grew up with. She has now published four books for young readers, and continues to write. The contrast with her former life in totalitarian China could not be greater. Even private diaries were regularly examined during the Cultural Revolution. “You would never write on your own because it was too dangerous.”

Most of those who have published memoirs of tumultuous times in China defected to the United States, and they are from a variety of backgrounds. Nina Cheng’s Life and Death in Shanghai describes the six years she spent as a political prisoner; Rae Yang’s Spider Eaters tells how her Communist intellectual parents were denounced; Zhu Xiao Di’s Thirty Years in a Red House shows how his father suffered in spite of being a high-ranking Party member. The internationally renowned Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, published in 1992, follows Jung Chang’s family from the 1870s to Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. Meihong Xu’s Daughter of China also involves a cross-cultural romance, as she fell in love with a visiting American, though with less happy consequences than Ye. Finally, Jan Wong’s extraordinary Red China Blues recounts her experiences as a Canadian student and later, a journalist for the Globe and Mail, in Maoist China. All are accounts of China, yet none could have been written there.

By virtue of offering freedom of expression, the West has also inherited a wealth of fictional literature by emigrated Chinese writers. Among the most recently celebrated is the acclaimed novel Waiting by Ha Jin, set during and after the Cultural Revolution. Other authors have chosen to focus their fiction on the second-generation Chinese experience in Canada (such as Wayson Choy and Judy Fong Bates), the U.S. (such as Amy Tan) and the U.K. (Timothy Mo).

It’s interesting to consider the importance of the memoir in recent years, and its ability to transport us to other times and places. Of course there is the unforgettable Ireland of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes. Ernest Hillen’s story The Way of a Boy, an account of growing up in a Japanese prison camp in Indonesia during the Second World War, was a bestseller in Canada and Australia. In 2000, Ken Wiwa wrote of the repressive regime in Nigeria in a book about his relationship with his executed father, In the Shadow of a Saint, and Nega Mezlekia wrote of the turbulent 1970s and ’80s in Ethiopia in Notes from a Hyena’s Belly. In an interesting twist on the theme, Jack Todd’s 2001 memoir of escaping from the U.S. during the Vietnam War, A Taste of Metal, also gives a fascinating account of being in the wrong place at wrong time and, like Ting-Xing Ye, making a life-changing decision.ecision.u9³® %#fXšq°%"˜%#fDu@

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