Old China, New China, all soap. Chow Ching-li was born unfortunately female in Shanghai in 1936, and unfortunately pretty as well: ""Ugly, or even plain, I might not have been forced as a child of thirteen into a marriage in one of the richest families in Shanghai."" And had her no less hapless husband not had a heart condition, the engagement might have been prolonged until 1950, when Chairman Mao outlawed forced marriage and ""similar cruel and barbaric customs."" But then ill fortune is the universal lot in this tale of endless woe. Ching-li's peasant mother and educated father are ill-matched, she is party to her father's loss of ""the pretty lady he so adored,"" her ultra-upright in-laws turn out to be unfeeling tyrants (who, after Liberation, come to their own dismal ends). Still, Ching-li's wedding to doting Liu Yu-huang (who's been told just where he stands) is an ordeal to remember, with half-a-dozen changes of dress, non-stop drinking, and sky-high vulgarity. The other news of this weeper is just how long a carefully unoffending capitalist could live well in the New China: pianist Ching-li, whose husband is now the paid boss of his father's bank, manages to furnish an apartment with five pianos in 1953 (""Excessive, yes, but I was still in my teens""). She'll eventually leave, setting off for Paris and further study at book's end; but not before her long-suffering husband has finally died and she's been raped by her benefactor-in-waiting. You may yet see it on TV.