Email this review


A Chinese-style pulp novel by the author of the best-selling The Flower Drum Song (1956), tracing China's tumultuous history from 1880 to the end of the Cultural Revolution. Fong Tai is one of a group of students sent to Boston to study and bring advanced Western technology back to a decaying China. Instead, Fong spends nights making love to fellow student Cathy Dubois, on a wooden library table. This gets him sent home to an aging virgin wife he doesn't love, and Fong soon begins a liaison with Rose the Sword Courtesan, so-called because she requires that potential customers first beat her at sword-play. Fong fathers a child with Rose, Brigid Fong Yun, who follows in her mother's athletic footsteps: ""In her silk trousers [Brigid] did three somersaults, a brief excerpt from Swan Lake, four leaps and a tumbling roll."" By now Fong has been killed in the Boxer Rebellion, Rose has hanged herself, and Brigid has fallen in love with a handsome actor named Bo Ho. Meanwhile, Hu Yin, a Swordsman, is obsessed with Brigid, and after bearing Bo Ho's illegitimate daughter, May Po (Mabel), Brigid marries Hu. He proves a devoted stepfather, but daughter Mabel winds up a stripper at the notorious Kit Cat Club, all the same. Brigid, Mabel, and others we've met enter the Communist era, and suffer in the Cultural Revolution; Mabel's two illegitimate sons by different lovers will join the Red Guard and fight over a single girl named Do Do. Endlessly detailed and very kitschy, but a heartfelt if politically one-sided (far from communist-sympathizing) account by a Chinese of his native land.

Pub Date: Aug. 28th, 1987
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson