‘Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden’ tells the story of sisters divided by China’s civil war

Greg Stevens

In this article & Now’s Robin Younger speaks with Brown College professor Zhuqing Li about her new book “Daughters of the Flower Aromatic Yard,” which tells the tale of her two half- aunts, who ended up separated for 3 many years when 1 was stranded on an island that was claimed by China’s Nationalists, though the other remained in mainland China.

Brown University professor and author Zhuqing Lee. (Courtesy)
Brown University professor and creator Zhuqing Li. (Courtesy)

Book excerpt: ‘Daughters of the Flower Aromatic Garden’

By Zhuqing Li

To be divided of class means possessing been alongside one another once, and Jun and Hong begun out from the same place, a house named the Flower Fragrant Garden, a spacious, verdant relatives compound, a single of Fuzhou’s major and richest residences. It crowned what was identified as the Cangqian Hill across the Min River from the key component of Fuzhou, like a tiara encircled by a small stone wall. The primary setting up was a grand, two-​story pink-​brick Western-​style household climbing from the lush greenery of the rolling grounds. A winding route dipped below the cover of environmentally friendly, linking smaller sized properties like beads on a necklace.

Expanding up, I knew of the Garden the way a person might know of a massive aged property in town, no more than a noteworthy portion of the surroundings. My parents returned from their political exile in the countryside when I was ten, and they took up posts at the Academics College future doorway to the Yard. They weren’t senior plenty of to be assigned housing there, in the exceptional compound for the leaders of the university, so we lived alternatively in a much more modest college condominium constructing not considerably away.

From there I made use of to go frequently to stop by my maternal grandmothers who lived at the foot of the Cangqian Hill. Sure, I had two maternal grandmothers, a relic of the Outdated China, wherever rich adult males like my grandfather could, and typically did, have extra than 1 spouse. There was Upstairs Grandma, who was Jun and Hong’s organic mother and there was Downstairs Grandma, my mother’s mom. The front door of my Grandmas’ property had a massive hibiscus tree, and by its checker-​work of leaves we could see items of the Backyard on the peak of the hill.

The Garden looked down on us like some thing from a fairy tale, forbidding and aloof, off restrictions to everyday people. Guards ended up posted at its most important gate. I did not know that in periods past––when the Chen family, my mother’s side of the family, was one of the wealthiest and most distinguished in Fuzhou—​it had owned the full compound. Or that many branches of my prolonged family members lived there below the exact roof, where by they raised quite a few kids, worshipped their ancestors, and celebrated the festivals in lavish type. All through my girlhood, nobody in my family members spoke of the area. But the path that took me to school ran together the exterior of the stone wall that encircled the Backyard. I’d wander past a ditch that overflowed in every significant rain, skirt an abandoned graveyard that often sped me up, and at the final flip, glance out on a amazing view of the Min River down below exactly where I’d pause to catch my breath.

So I knew of a gap in the normally impregnable wall, and a single day when I was 7 I went by it, pursuing a runaway ball. I lingered: the cicadas’ buzz was primarily intensive there, so was the mélange of floral and fruity fragrances.

There was no one inside the wall, only me and my ball. What captivated me was the gigantic and massive front doorway of the major making, fortified with a loaded layer of pink lacquer and two fierce lion-​face bronze tits too high for me to attain. It stood tauntingly ajar. My heart beating, I leaned all my weight on it, and it gave way a number of inches, emitting a deep, throaty, frightening growl. I flinched reflexively even as I peered inside. The cavernous corridor within sent out a gush of great air seeming to threaten to suck me into the vacuum of the home. I pulled absent and ran for my existence, but not until eventually I paused for a glimpse of the porcelain bathroom at the rear of a 50 {f32667846e1257729eaaee80e922ba34a93c6414e9ad6261aff566c043b9e75d}-​closed door in a modest outhouse right before building my way again to the hole in the wall.

Nobody spoke of my Aunt Jun both, and this was most likely even stranger. She was my Aunt Hong’s older sister. The two of them had been almost inseparable when they were being women, particularly through the eight many years of war with Japan when the Chen loved ones was forced into an internal exile. But their life have been disrupted once again by China’s Civil War, and then they were being abruptly divided when the bamboo curtain fell involving Communist and non-​Communist locations of China. Hong never described to any person in my technology that she even had a sister, substantially a lot less a sister whose very own daily life and associations had caused equally emotional anguish and political trouble for the spouse and children in Communist China. By the time I came alongside, Hong had turn out to be a outstanding doctor in Fuzhou, famed as a pioneer in bringing medical care to China’s distant countryside, and later the “grandma of IVF babies,” in vitro fertilization, in Fujian Province. She was an vital, unsentimental person, far too hectic probably to recount tales of days bygone. But none of my other aunts and uncles at any time breathed a term possibly, about Jun or the Back garden, to me or to my cousins. Not my possess mother, not even Jun’s personal mom, my Upstairs Grandma, ever explained to me or my cousins that we had an aunt named Jun.

It was only when I was completed with college or university in China and my application to graduate college was blocked by my new employer that Jun appeared in my lifestyle, all of a sudden, and out of the blue. My mother instructed me that I had an aunt I’d hardly ever fulfilled, and that for the initially time in thirty a long time, she was there in Fuzhou, visiting her family—​something manufactured doable when China and the U.S. founded diplomatic relations in 1979.
“Maybe you ought to fulfill her,” my mom mentioned. Perhaps with her overseas connections she would be ready to assistance me go to graduate college, and in The united states.

And so I did meet up with her—​and she did help me. She was a slender, sophisticated lady, with a confident fashion and an amiable smile, someway distinctive from the other females I realized, even whilst wearing the Maoist outfit that she will have to have picked up from some area retail store in order to in shape in. It was she who talked to me about the Backyard. Then, stunned and saddened by my full ignorance, she begun to paint me a picture of the location that she the moment named property. As she reminisced, I felt as if she were keeping my hand and going for walks me as a result of the gate, pushing open that doorway that I’d been too afraid to go as a result of as a seven-​year-​old, and unlocking other doorways to the previous that the rest of the household had preferred to keep tightly shut. As Jun begun to convey to me her own and her sister’s exceptional childhood and young adulthood, queries about Hong arrived to my mind for the initially time: What was Hong undertaking and contemplating at the time? What did she see and hear, and what was it like for her? I attained out to Hong for the other fifty percent of the story, and for the initially time, uncovered from her far much more than she’d ever seemed inclined to explain to me in advance of. These two outstanding and revolutionary women—​sisters from the exact household who lived their adult lives on the two sides of the bamboo curtain—​had fought and won in opposition to adversities that may have crushed significantly less powerful, identified figures. Their separation and gritty perseverance to thrive, which embodied the traumatic split of China itself as a nation, are what prompted me to publish this reserve.
Excerpted from ‘Daughters of the Flower Aromatic Garden: Two Sisters Separated by China’s Civil War.’ Copyright (c) 2022 by Zhuqing Li. Utilised with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Corporation, Inc. All rights reserved.

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