Four Sisters of Hofei: A History
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The true story of four sisters born between 1907 and 1914 in China, Four Sisters of Hofei is an intimate encounter with history. The Chang sisters lived through a period of astounding change and into the twenty-first century. Unusual opportunities and an extraordinary family education launched them into varied worlds -- those of the theater, modern literature, classical studies, and calligraphy -- but their collective experience offers a cohesive portrait of a land in transition.
With the benefit of letters, diaries, poetry, and interviews, writer and historian Annping Chin shapes the Chang sisters' stories into a composite history steeped in China's artistic tradition and intertwined with the political unrest and social revolutions of the twentieth century.
new rhythm in the city. Their son writes: Although we were reunited, we no longer sat around a table, laughing and chatting to our hearts’ content, like the way we were on Dragon Lane [in Ch’eng-kung]. Dad was very busy. He did not have time to play with us. I didn’t mind. I was older, and Dad was a little different. . . . After a while, I realized that he would study an old tree, a peony petal, or stare at a pottery, an old building, and quietly murmur to himself, “Now, that’s beautiful.” It
is nice where you are. The mood in the city is a bit heavy.19 I didn’t let the kids go out. [Let me have a not-so-painful rest. Let me not ever wake up again. No one understands what I say. Not one friend is willing or dares to acknowledge that I am not mad.] You should get a haircut and take a shower. Get Jui-chih to help you. [What’s the point?] If you have a letter for me, Jui-chih or someone else can bring it into town. I hope so much to know how you are feeling and what you’ve been
like most Chinese, was brought up with the assumption that there was virtue in having anxiety—anxiety about one’s moral descent, about the skiddy road ahead, about not doing one’s best and not doing enough for others; anxiety about being unprepared, about having too much luck or too little humility. Older than Confucius, the assumption delineates the Chinese spirit—guarded and passive, perhaps, to critics and outsiders, but an essential and activating principle in the way the Chinese approach a
themselves or influence their children or anyone else. Men had a hand in it, and so did women. But as the Chang family history attests, chastity and integrity were not the same, because among chaste widows there were many variations. A chaste widow might be perverse, forcing her own daughter into widowhood, even though her daughter had never known her husband or a married life. Or she might abandon all sense of propriety in trying to hold on to her son at any cost. Chastity was not in itself a
shared with me her knowledge of calligraphy and of k’un-ch’ü opera. Because of her, I wanted to get things right. The other three Chang sisters, Yuan-ho, Yun-ho, and Chao-ho, and their brothers Ting-ho, Yü-ho, and Huan-ho have also been generous and patient. They shared with me all they could think of—diaries, letters, books, family journals, poems, photos, and what they remembered about things past—in order to help me get things right. Thanks are also due to Yuan-ho’s daughter Ling Hung, who