Oxnam (Cinnabar, 1990) spins a well-meaning tale that often sounds campy in its zeal to put a feminist twist on Chinese history. In 1625, Longyan--the son of a prominent man and a concubine- -proves unable to study because he sees ``jumping words'' when he looks at a page. Longyan apparently suffers from dyslexia. He befriends his opposite, a woman named Meihua, who commits the taboo act (for women) of learning by hiding behind a bookcase when a tutor comes to the house to instruct her brothers. She can therefore read and write but must tell no one, as she is more prized for her delicate bound feet than her mind. Meihua marries Longyan's brother, and the two strike up a lifelong secret correspondence (Longyan dictates his letters to others). Longyan's photographic memory permits him to rise in the ranks of the army. Back home, Meihua and some like-minded women have formed the Ladies' Filial Piety Society, really a secret consciousness-raising group for educated women, which eventually mutates into a strong female army. After the Manchu invasion, the star-crossed lovers are exiled to a mosquito-infested island together, where they find some semblance of happiness. Oxnam is president of the Asia Society, and his knowledge of Chinese history is obviously vast, although occasionally he lets fact take precedence over drama: ``So that's what a dynastic change feels like, Longyan mused, knowing that the event had not occurred for almost three hundred years.'' And sometimes, despite the fact that Oxnam tries to deflect skepticism in an introduction, the transfer of contemporary mores to 17th- century China is a grating anachronism. Still, it's more fun to read than a textbook, and almost as informative, and Oxnam keeps things moving along, even in the face of incredulity.