The original Cinderella story dates back to China’s Tang dynasty (618-906) Ye Xian tale. The heroine was an unwanted stepdaughter who escaped the clutches of her evil stepmother thanks to her own hard work and perseverance.
Like Ye Xian, Adeline (her Chinese given name is Jun-ling) received no tenderness or compassion from her family; both of “their stories may be perceived as talismans against despair” (p. 197). This autobiography follows Adeline’s personal history beginning with her birth, through her years of emotional abuse in her family’s home, to her adolescent years living as the lone one of her boarding school classmates who receives neither letters nor visitors. As a child, she didn’t look for pity, she sought only to live unnoticed by her classmates rather than reveal the sad realities of her home life. Yen Mah intertwines some of her native China with this retelling of her life story: the significance of the Chinese pictorial written language, how children are given names in Westernized Chinese families, and the internal tension experienced by Adeline as a speaker of both English and Chinese.
Chinese Cinderella was written for young adult readers and uses straightforward language and storytelling techniques, albeit with a somewhat formal vocabulary. The author’s reminiscences of her unhappy childhood awake sympathy in the reader; young readers are drawn to her story, sharing in her hope of a better life as she grows up. I highly recommend Chinese Cinderella to pre-teens, teens, and adults alike, for Yen Mah’s inspiring personality that radiates from the pages. Personally, I enjoyed reading Yen Mah’s story thoroughly and I could hardly put it down. I’m looking forward to reading her full biography, Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter, found in adult libraries.
For more information about Adeline Yen Mah and her great work, visit her official web page here. There, you can find links to her books, letters from fans, biography, and more.
Yen Mah, A. (1999). Chinese cinderella: the true story of an unwanted daughter. New York: Dell Laurel-Leaf.