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Reviews of Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden by Zhuqing Li

Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden

Two Sisters Separated by China's Civil War

by Zhuqing Li

Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden by Zhuqing Li X
Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden by Zhuqing Li
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2022, 368 pages

    Jun 2023, 368 pages


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About this Book

Book Summary

Sisters separated by war forge new identities as they are forced to choose between family, nation, and their own independence.

Jun and Hong were scions of a once great southern Chinese family. Each other's best friend, they grew up in the 1930s during the final days of Old China before the tumult of the twentieth century brought political revolution, violence, and a fractured national identity. By a quirk of timing, at the end of the Chinese Civil War, Jun ended up on an island under Nationalist control, and then settled in Taiwan, married a Nationalist general, and lived among fellow exiles at odds with everything the new Communist regime stood for on the mainland. Hong found herself an ocean away on the mainland, forced to publicly disavow both her own family background and her sister's decision to abandon the party. A doctor by training, to overcome the suspicion created by her family circumstances, Hong endured two waves of "re-education" and internal exile, forced to work in some of the most desperately poor, remote areas of the country.

Ambitious, determined, and resourceful, both women faced morally fraught decisions as they forged careers and families in the midst of political and social upheaval. Jun established one of U.S.-allied Taiwan's most important trading companies. Hong became one of the most celebrated doctors in China, appearing on national media and honored for her dedication to medicine. Niece to both sisters, linguist and East Asian scholar Zhuqing Li tells her aunts' story for the first time, honoring her family's history with sympathy and grace. Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden is a window into the lives of women in twentieth-century China, a time of traumatic change and unparalleled resilience. In this riveting and deeply personal account, Li confronts the bitter political rivals of mainland China and Taiwan with elegance and unique insight, while celebrating her aunts' remarkable legacies.

Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden

To be separated of course means having been together once, and Jun and Hong started out from the same place, a home named the Flower Fragrant Garden, a spacious, verdant family compound, one of Fuzhou's biggest and richest homes. It crowned what was called the Cangqian Hill across the Min River from the main part of Fuzhou, like a tiara encircled by a low stone wall. The main building was a grand, two-story red-brick Western-style house rising from the lush greenery of the rolling grounds. A winding path dipped under the canopy of green, linking smaller buildings like beads on a necklace.

Growing up, I knew of the Garden the way one might know of a big old house in town, no more than a noteworthy part of the scenery. My parents returned from their political exile in the countryside when I was ten, and they took up posts at the Teachers College next door to the Garden. They weren't senior enough to be assigned housing there, in the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. In telling the story of Jun and Zhen, Zhuqing Li's Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden imparts an enormous amount of historical and political information. How does focusing on an individual's story change or reconfigure your understanding of political and historical events?
  2. In Longdi, Zhen's son, Jiyue, stops eating when he realizes that each mouthful of food that he eats is one mouthful less for the impoverished villagers, that "kindness to him demanded a huge sacrifice from these poor people" (p. 210). Does kindness always demand a sacrifice? Why were the villagers willing to deprive themselves for Jiyue?
  3. What preconceptions about China, Taiwan, and their histories did you have going into Daughters of the Flower Fragrant ...
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BookBrowse Review


Li has crafted a marvelous account of how these two very different women, her aunts, acclimated to their respective political climates, raised children and still managed to forge a path ahead. Li's perceptive rendering of their different approaches to life provides added depth. I was immersed in this book from the moment I began reading! (Jean F). Zhuqing Li places her family history in the context of the Chinese Civil War and the many cultural and economic changes that took place in China in the 20th century. I think this would be a great book club choice. The themes of war, endurance and strong family ties could spark an interesting discussion (Ellen H)...continued

Full Review (830 words)

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

New York Times
Exceptional...Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden is not a history of Taiwan-China relations, but in telling this gripping narrative of one family divided by the 'bamboo curtain,' Li sheds light on how Taiwan came to be — and why China might one day risk everything to take it.

Wall Street Journal
The book's gripping narrative reveals the devastating human cost of the Chinese Revolution and will resonate, in particular, with anyone whose family has been severed by political events... The author's perspective, from having lived both inside and outside the People's Republic of China, yields exceptional insight into her aunts' personal histories and the constantly shifting political vicissitudes they endured. She unspools the unexpected, accidental swerves each life took with spellbinding grace.

Kirkus Reviews
Beautifully woven family memories coalesce into a vivid history of two very different Chinas.

Library Journal
A wonderful addition to any library that will appeal to a wide audience interested in historical narrative, Chinese history, family dynamics, and generally as a story of struggle against the odds.

Publishers Weekly
Laced with frank reflections on the author's own experience as a Chinese immigrant to the U.S., this is a poignant and intimate chronicle of the Chinese diaspora.

Author Blurb Ai Wei Wei, author of 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows
With sensitivity and sincerity, Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden takes readers through the most complicated, difficult, sorrowful, and indecipherable years in China's modern history.

Author Blurb Amy Stanley, author of Stranger in the Shogun's City
A heartrending story, beautifully told, about the struggles and triumphs of two sisters separated by the Taiwan Strait, but united in their determination to pursue meaningful lives amid political upheaval. I couldn't stop reading it.

Author Blurb David Wang, author of The Lyrical in Epic Time
Beginning in war-torn China, Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden tells a compelling story about diaspora, root-seeking, and the triumph of familial love and human perseverance.

Author Blurb Janice Nimura, author of The Doctors Blackwell
Zhuqing Li has captured the agonizing struggle of late-twentieth-century Chinese history within the microcosm of her own extraordinary family. This is a tale of accidental exile, capitalism and communism, medicine and mercantilism, lifelong nostalgia and willful forgetting, and the breathtaking resilience of two sisters, Li's indomitable aunts. How lucky we are that their niece has the skill and devotion to tell their story so well.

Author Blurb Mae Ngai, author of The Chinese Question
In gorgeous prose, Zhuqing Li tells a story that is at once distinctive and familiar, of Chinese families of a certain generation that lived through wars, revolutions, separations, and reunions. I couldn't put it down. A lovely book.

Author Blurb Nicole Mones, author of The Last Chinese Chef
At last, a profoundly human story that illuminates the staggering personal consequences of China and Taiwan's historic split―from both sides. Rare is the author who can portray war and its aftermath so evenhandedly. This powerful page-turner of a family torn apart―and surviving―is as unforgettable as it is important.

Reader Reviews

Anthony Conty

So much history I didn't know
“Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden” by Zhuqing Li tells the story of two sisters who end up on opposite sides of the Chinese Civil War of the 1930s but still succeed in life. However, like any war book worth its salt, you do not take sides and ...   Read More

GREAT book
An incredible, fascinating story. I couldn't put it down. Not a quick or easy book to read but full of fascinating characters and important historical events.
Marganna K. (Edmonds, WA)

Two Sisters - Strong, Brave, Determined
China - often have I heard these names or caught a news bulletin about one of these countries? Many times, I reflect, but until I read this book about two sisters separated by events that lasted decades, I had no understanding on a ...   Read More
Sharon P. (San Diego, CA)

Beautiful writing, beautiful story
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The writing was beautiful and rich in cultural flavor, emotion and detail. The two women highlighted were amazing women who work exceedingly hard through a very traumatic time in history. Out of all the books I've ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

China and Taiwan: A Short Primer

Map showing Taiwan off the coast of ChinaIn Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden, Zhuqing Li writes of how her two aunts' lives were shaped by the events of the Chinese Civil War. One of them, Jun, ended up living in Taiwan after the war, married to a general from the losing side, the Nationalists, who ruled the island after the Communists took over the mainland.

The relationship between China and Taiwan dates back at least to the third century AD, when the Chinese emperor sent a legion of explorers there. The island became a Dutch colony briefly in the 17th century, after which it came under the control of the Chinese Qing Dynasty. Chinese migrants flooded into the area in the years that followed, until 1895, when the First Sino-Japanese War ended and Taiwan became a ...

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