Adeline Yen Mah's "Falling Leaves"
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For years, the world has been oblivious to the painful, degrading traditions toward women that take place behind the “Bamboo Curtain” of China. Falling Leaves , by Adeline Yen Mah, unveils the darker side of Chinese culture through her eyes as an unwanted Chinese daughter. Shocking mistreatment, of not only the author, but also the females in her extended family keep suspense alive throughout the book. My heart sobs at each account of Adeline’s tortured life, but through it all, there was a flicker of her spirit that could not be put out.
In China, girls are seen as a possession or a “cheap commodity” (Yen Mah 100). Sons, especially the eldest, are given far more attention and praise. Families that are well off keep their daughters and marry them off to prominent families’ sons through a marriage broker (“mei-po”). Rich daughters often had their feet bound, a process by which the “four lateral toes of the foot are forced with a bandage under the sole so that only the big toe protruded. (It was) tightened daily for a number of years (so as to) permanently arrest the foot’s growth in order to achieve tiny feet so prized by Chinese men” (Yen Mah 11). Their inability to walk with ease is a symbol of submissiveness, weakness, and wealth. This tradition is becoming more rare, but still many older women bear its pain today. Adeline’s grandmother went against these traditions by not torturing her own daughter in such an inhumane way. Daughters of poorer families could only wish for such a life of weakness and delicate manner. These girls often become maids, waitresses, or prostitutes. Street girls play a vital role in the “three vices common to Chinese men: opium, gambling, and brothels” (Yen Mah 7). In my opinion, the treatment of women is the greatest difference between Eastern and Western culture. As Western culture has advanced to bring more rights to women, the traditional ways of China have become a sore thumb on the hand of the world.
Even as an Eastern girl ages, she still has little hope for her own independence. Adeline’s grandmother was told by her father these words of shuttering reality: “Your duty is to please him and your in-laws. Bear them many sons. Subliminate your own desires. Become the willing piss-pot and spittoon of the Yens and we will be proud...