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Simply and gently, we are drawn into the inner life of a young Chinese peasant girl, May-ping, and her first glimmerings of youthful love and idealism under the Maoist regime in China. As she grows into a mature woman, she becomes increasingly aware of the strife around her. An intelligent girl, born into a 'Poor-Class family'' in a small village in rural China, she is, because of the Maoist policy towards such families, able to pursue her dream of going to university. To her surprise, urban snobbery and 'student thought-spying'' at university, make it essential for her to hide her true self. Because of his outspoken ways, her idealistic boyfriend, Dan - a secret boyfriend because young people were not allowed to be involved romantically - is sent to a labour camp for eight years. In her village, she learns that everything has value except the lives of girls and women. One of her childhood friends, a landowner's daughter, who because of her family's Landlord Class, is not allowed to go to university, drowns herself when forced to face an arranged marriage. Hua-hua, a shy and gentle neighbour, hangs herself after her husband beats her brutally for not being able to bear him a son.
May-ping manages to survive the system as a member of the Communist party who feels outside the system and keeps her inner self intact. Her story reveals how political change during the Maoist regime left its mark on ordinary people. Employing stories within stories, through lyrical and metaphorical images, the narrator carries the reader to a mythological realm - to images of the resilient water lilies and the nurturing lily pond.
Han Z. Li was born in 1956 and grew up in Maoist China. She now lives in Prince George and Victoria, BC, and is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Northern British Columbia.