The author of a wrenching memoir, Red Azalea (1994), turns to fiction and goes back to her native China to explore the story of the woman once known to the world as the `white-boned demon.` Like all girls of her class, Jiang Ching had her feet bound at the age of four. Unlike most, she never forgot the pain and humiliation, even after she became Madame Mao, the most powerful woman in China in the late ’60s and ’70s. Her mother's words still rang in her ears: “Think of yourself as grass, born to be stepped on.” Jiang Ching never could. Instead, she channeled her agony and humiliation into a persona that allowed her to view herself as a `peacock among hens.` The author tries to portray Madame Mao as a feminist who became caught up in the chaotic political beliefs of the man she loved. But the protagonist remains a mysterious and ambiguous figure, despite Min’s efforts to humanize her. The aspects of Jiang Ching's personality emphasized here—her desire for acceptance, her need for love, and her inability to express intimacy—do not create understanding or empathy for her often ruthless and megalomaniac behavior. Capable and accomplished though Min is, she never truly captures Jiang Ching’s character.
A remarkable act of historical imagination, but readers are left with more questions than answers.