Four Sisters of Hofei is an intimate encounter with Chinese history, told through the collective memory and stories of four sisters born between 1908 and 1924, and with the benefit of the extraordinary knowledge of Yale historian Annping Chin.
Now in their late eighties and early nineties, the Chang sisters lived through a century of historic change in China. In this extraordinary work, assembled with the benefit of letter, diaries, family histories, poetry, journals, and interviews, Annping Chin shapes the story of this family into a riveting chronicle that provides uncanny insight into the old China and its transition to the new.
From their father, the Chang sister inherited reason and a belief in the virtues of modern education. From their mother they learned about the human spirit and the art of finding an appropriate path. Their nurse-nannies -- uneducated widows from the Hofei countryside -- contributed their own traditional beliefs and opinions on modern ways. As the sisters grew up, one broke with tradition to marry an actor, one survived the most violent political years of Communist rule, one married one of China's greatest novelists, and one, raised separately by her devout Buddhist great-aunt, was taught to be a rigorous practitioner of China's classical arts.
The Chang sisters' prolific correspondence provides a rare glimpse of private life in China during the twentieth century, as well as a chronicle of the country from prosperity to persecution, from foreign wars to Cultural Revolution. In Chin's expert prose, Four Sisters of Hofei is an intensely person story that illustrates the complex history of a complex land.
Countless authors have chronicled the lives of people who survived the trials of 20th-century China, but few bring as much knowledge and style as Chin (Children of China: Voices from Recent Years) does. The esteemed Yale historian successfully combines an academic's interest in the big picture and a novelist's attention to the finest detail in limning the lives of the title characters of this excellent account. The history of the Chang sisters is heavy with episodes of injury and inhumanity, yet Chin has found affecting anecdotes of how the sisters fought to "make mirth" in the face of anguish and loss brought by imperial collapse, foreign invasion, civil and world war, revolution and famine. The first half of the book details the history of the prosperous Chang family from the turmoil of the Taiping Rebellion in the 1860s to the birth of Yuan-ho, the oldest sister, in 1907. From there, rather than writing conventional biographies of the four sisters, Chin mimics the structure of k'un-ch' , a refined form of Chinese performance that showcases only a few scenes of an opera. In this style, drawing on voluminous family correspondence, diaries and interviews (all four sisters are still alive), Chin chooses each sister's most significant experience and expands upon it to depict their life-long struggle for constancy in the throes of violent political transition, and stirringly conveys the universal ability to endure and prevail despite adversity.