Xinran

'When you walk into your memories, you are opening a door to the past; the road within has many branches but the route is different every time', Xue Xinran wrote in the preface to her book The Good Women of China (2002). Published under the pen name Xinran, the book is a testimony to the lives of women in modern China. 

Xinran Xinran

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Table of contents

    Throughout her career, contemporary author Xinran (born in 1958) has sought to give a platform for people without a voice to tell their stories through her work. Xinran is a frontrunner among anglophone writers of Chinese descent today. Let's look at Xinran's biography, works, and facts about Xue Xinran the author in this article.

    Anglophone: English-speaking; written in English.

    Xinran: Biography

    Xue Xinran, the British-Chinese journalist and writer, is an advocate of women's issues. She was born in Beijing in 1958 as Xue and later adopted the name Xinran (translated as 'giving joy' or 'joy and happiness'). She spent her childhood between Nanjing and Beijing with her grandparents. Soon after her birth, she was separated from her parents due to the events of China's Cultural Revolution (1976–1966). Because of her distant relationship with her parents, Xinran considered herself an orphan while growing up. Although Xinran comes from a wealthy background, her childhood was affected by the social turmoil during the revolution.

    Xinran went on to become a successful radio presenter in China. Her radio show called 'Words on the Night Breeze' talked about women's lives in China. The success and popularity of the programme propelled Xinran's career to the forefront of China's cultural stage. Xinran soon became a prominent figure in Chinese media for her loyalty to truth and compassion, particularly, surrounding women's issues in Chinese society. Xinran was promoted to the director of programme development and planning. Although this opportunity gave her more freedom as a media personality, Xinran has expressed that the friction between the Communist Party and her own personal choices and priorities was still very strong.

    The programme first aired in 1989 and concluded in 1997 when Xinran left China to live in London. The move was partly prompted by her desire for a life with fewer constraints, and for her son Pan Pan to have more freedom than was allowed by the Chinese parenting style at the time.1 Xinran married the English literary agent Toby Eady (1941–2017) in 2002.

    Xue Xinran: Author

    Xinran remains a champion for women's rights and has critiqued the patriarchal restrictions and gender inequality in China. The issue of gender inequality continues to be crucial to her work in the public sphere and as a writer. Xinran launched her literary career with a memoiristic collection of stories about the women she had met and interviewed while she was in China. She considers writing as a source of strength as well as a repository of stories. Her writing style is personal and often possesses the features of a memoir.

    Throughout her career, Xinran has attempted to encourage her fellow Chinese citizens to speak more openly and freely.

    Memoir: a non-fiction account of a person's life. It is an emerging literary genre where the writing is more personal and literary than a biography.

    Xinran: Books

    Xue Xinran continues to publish books under the name Xinran and is a frequent contributor to periodicals such as The Guardian. The following are among the most celebrated works by Xinran.

    The Good Women of China

    The Good Women of China, published in 2002, is based on the lives of women Xinran met in China during her career and travels. Xinran believed that their stories were an important part of history that was not being recorded or even told because traditionally, women are discouraged from speaking their minds freely. The book traces the experiences of Chinese women during Mao's Cultural Revolution and its impact on women's lives. The book has been translated into over thirty languages since it was first published.

    The Cultural Revolution in China

    The Cultural Revolution in China, also known as the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was launched In 1966, with the return of Mao Zedong as the chairman of the Communist Party of China. It was a sociopolitical movement that aimed to expel all bourgeois and capitalist elements from Chinese society and strengthen communism. It was a period of violence and unrest that resulted in the persecution and death of civilians.

    Communism is a social and political system where everything is owned collectively and controlled by the state, to ensure a classless society where everyone's needs are met. Communism gained a political foothold in Europe and Asia in the twentieth century and continues to be the form of government in countries like China, Cuba, and Vietnam.

    Capitalism is a socio-economic system where the enterprises of trade and industrial production are owned privately by individuals or corporations that operate for profit.

    Xinran Author StudySmarterFig. 1 Xinran at the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts 2016

    Sky Burial

    Xinran's second book, Sky Burial was published in 2004. It is a non-fictional account of the Tibetan ritual of sky burial, told through the life of a Chinese woman named Shu Wen. Xinran narrates the time Shu Wen spent in Tibet in search of her husband, who had been serving as a doctor for the Chinese military in Tibet. A haunting story of a woman caught in the crossfire of politics, Sky Burial garnered critical acclaim.

    Miss Chopsticks

    Miss Chopsticks, published in 2007, was Xinran‘s first novel. Miss Chopsticks is a story about three sisters who navigate city life and their traditional upbringing that regards them as 'chopsticks'. The novel is set in the context of China's economic reforms in the 1970s which led to a rise in internal migration from rural areas to cities. Miss Chopsticks explores how the financial independence that followed the reforms disrupted patriarchal views as women began to play a crucial part in the economy.

    The title of the story was inspired by an obscure, derogatory label 'chopsticks' referring to women, which in Xinran's view epitomised the way women were regarded in society: fragile and disposable.

    Whenever I visit [China], I see hundreds of chopsticks girls becoming part of the structure that holds up the roof of China.

    - Xinran, Miss Chopsticks

    In Xinran's view, as evident in this quote, women are the pillars that hold up China's economy today by contributing to society in different capacities, even though tradition shuns them as disposable, like chopsticks.

    Xinran Books StudySmarterFig. 2 Xinran has written extensively about the status of girls and women in China

    China Witness

    Xinran officially forayed into oral history with her fifth book, China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation, published in 2008. China Witness is a collection of Xinran's interviews with older generations in China. Xinran's goal was to restore the real Chinese history that was destroyed in the Culture Revolution, using narratives from people who lived through rapid changes in Chinese society in a short span of time. China Witness is Xinran's attempt to tell the untold story of these generations who have witnessed wars, civil unrest, famine, and modernisation.

    China Witness was followed by Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love in 2010. Another piece of personal history, the book contains stories of Chinese mothers who lost their children due to the sociopolitical climate in twentieth-century China. Xinran added to this series with a collection of stories titled Buy Me the Sky (2015). In this book, Xinran writes about the children who grew up under China's One-child policy and its impact. What the Chinese Don't Eat, published in 2006 is a collection of Xinran’s columns published in The Guardian from 2003 to 2005.

    The One-Child policy in China was a programme that limited the number of children allowed in most families to one. The programme was introduced to curb rapid population growth in China. This was sometimes implemented without public consent and by forceful or brutal means, forcing people to hide or abandon their children whose birth was illegal under the policy. The policy was scrapped on January 1, 2016.

    In her work, Xinran explores how the policy had a disproportionate impact on girl children who were considered inferior to boys.

    Xinran: facts

    Here are some more interesting facts about Xinran's life and career so far!

    • Xinran attended the First Military University of People's Liberation Army in China.
    • Xinran was raised by her grandparents and did not have close contact with her mother until later in her life, which she chronicles in the article 'Once Upon a Life' (2011).
    • Her latest book titled The Promise: Tales of Love and Loss in Modern China was published in 2019.
    • Xinran often appears on TV and radio to discuss the relations between the West and China.
    • Xinran founded a charity called ‘The Mothers’ Bridge of Love’ in 2004 to facilitate cultural dialogues, interact with Chinese kids all over the world, and bridge the cultural divide between China and the West.

    Xinran - Key takeaways

    • Xue Xinran is a British-Chinese writer who wrote under the pen name Xinran.
    • Xinran was born in Beijing and raised by her grandparents.
    • She began her career in China as a journalist and had a successful radio show from 1989 to 1997.
    • In 1997, she migrated to London and began her career as an author. Her works are centred around people whose stories often go untold.
    • Xinran's most famous works include China Witness (2008), Miss Chopsticks (2010), and The Good Women of China (2002).

    References

    1. Xue Xinran, 'China’s little emperors – the children without siblings', The Guardian, 2015
    2. Xue Xinran, Miss Chopsticks, 2007
    3. Fig. 1 Andrew Lih (User:Fuzheado), CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
    Frequently Asked Questions about Xinran

    When did Xinran move to Britain?

    Xinran moved to Britain in 1997. 

    Who is Xinran?

    Xinran is a British-Chinese writer, speaker, and radio personality who talks about Chinese society and the lives of women.

    How old is Xinran?

    Xinran was born in 1958. Xinran turned 64 in 2022.

    What is Xinran known for?

    Xinran is well-known for telling the untold stories of women in modern China in her book The Good Women of China (2002). She had a popular radio show in China from 1989 to 1997 that focused on women's experiences.

    Where is Xinran from?

    Xinran was born in Beijing and spent her early years in Nanjing and Beijing.

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