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Chinese whispersThe Good Women of Chinaby XinranChatto and Windus 1499 pp244Any Journalist who writes about suffering knows that the copy will be read partly in a spirit of prurience The story may cry out to be told but part of what makes it publishable is its shock value Exploitation cruelty and violence make compelling reading and although the writers - and indeed the readers - chief motive may be to expose or understand wrongs you cant get away from the fact that torment is titillating Good journalists can minimise the voyeurism - by putting the story into context and a related point by the quality of their writingThe Good Women of China passes neither of these tests with flying colours The book contains stories of rape and child abuse forced marriages and sexual humiliations Its author a former radio journalist called Xinran contextualises where she can but her 15-odd stories focus on her subjects emotions with the result that you are left wondering how representative their experiences really are In some cases she has had only brief encounters with the women described so that her account lacks the texture of say Wild Swans with which it is bound to be compared not least because Xinran is now married to Toby Eady Jung Changs literary agentSince the book appears in translation it is also hard to judge whether certain awkwardnesses in the writing are in the original from the English or are the necessary consequence of cultural differences Xinran paints herself as nave slightly irritatingly - she was highly successful and is forever telling us what to think underlining her responses she was amazed agape she was touched by her colleagues estimation of meBut enough complaining already The subject matter of The Good Women of China demands attention Xinrans stories collected over 10 years working in radio reveal a China in which the Party attempted to dam up emotion and sexuality for the sake of politics
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