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A Daughter of Han: The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman Paperback – June 1, 1967

4.4 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is surely the warmest, most human document that has ever come out of China. . . . The report of her life and labors has the lasting symbolic quality of literature."
The American Journal of Sociology


"No recent book has better portrayed the common man in China. . . . This short autobiography is right in description of Chinese Social customs. . . . In writing this book, Ida Pruitt has rendered a great service to the Chinese people. For she has accomplished ore than sociologists and novelists in their treatises and fiction can do. She has written a personal story through which the spirit of the common people of China is vividly and humanly revealed."
Pacific Affairs


"This book opens a window into the Chinese world. Although the story is of one Chinese woman, the events of her life reach out into the experiences of many other people. They are a part of that wider social and imaginary world from which the Chinese draw meaning to their life."
The Far Eastern Quarterly

About the Author

Ida Pruitt was a social worker, interpreter, and speaker who worked to advance cultural understanding between China and the United States. She authored several books including A China Childhood, Old Madam Yin: A Memoir of Peking Life, 1926-1938, and Tales of Old China.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (June 1, 1967)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804706069
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804706063
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.8 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I am the grandson of Myra Scovel, the author of this book.

I would like people contemplating a purchase of this book to know that this book is in the public domain, and thus available to them for free. It was copyrighted in 1962, and American books written between 1923 and 1963 had to have their copyright renewed 28 years after publication, or, as what happened with my grandmother's memoir, the text becomes part of the public domain.

The Internet Archive has made my grandmother's book available for free online. Amazon does not permit me to include a URL in a review, but using any of the popular search engines, you can search for "Internet Archive" (use quotes), and, once there, type this book's title into their search engine in order to find my grandmother's book on it. There, you can download copies in whatever format is convenient for you, at no cost to you whatsoever.

Or, you could of course pay Kessinger Publishing $23 to have them send you a bound print copy. I'd ask you to bear in mind that my grandmother's descendents do not see one penny from Kessinger's sales, since no royalties are due on public domain texts. Nor was Kessinger Publishing my grandmother's original publisher.

Frankly, I would rather you have the opportunity to read my grandmother's memoir for free rather, than for you to pay $23 of profit to these people who have repurposed the public domain for their own profit. As a fan and proponent of the Creative Commons and the public domain, I find that business model rather offensive.
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Format: Paperback
China always seems to have a veil of mystery around it. This book give a rare glimpse of life at the turn of the 19th century as the empire was dying and the nationalists and communists were gearing up for battle. I read this book for a class on Chinese women and absolutely loved it. I will always remember the part of having her feet bound and how her mother would lay on her legs at night so that she could sleep. Unfortunately I lost the book after many years. It wasn't until now, as I was conducting inventory of our biography collection at the library where I work, that I came across the sequal to this book. For those who could not get enough of Lao Tai-tai, there is a second book by Ida Pruitt titled "Old Madam Yin: a memoir of Peking life 1926-1938." The copyright date is 1979. The Daughter of Han is now a wealthy widow struggling to adapt to the new order. If you can't find it on amazon you can always Inter-library loan the book, I know there's at least one library in the midwest that has it ;).
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"A Daughter of Han" is both an insightful and a frustrating read. The author, Ida Pruitt, writes in the first-person from the perspective of Lao T'ai-t'ai, a woman Pruitt met and interviewed. There are several interesting themes in the book: conservative society, saving face, foreign missionaries, poverty, numerology, and domestic life.

Each chapter presents a few years in Lao T'ai-t'ai's life. She describes her childhood, her marriage to an "opium sot," her husband trying to sell her daughters, and her working life. Lao T'ai-t'ai's life is terribly difficult. She and her children go through periods of hunger that force them onto the street. She sees children and grandchildren die, which Pruitt barely mentions in passing.

Unfortunately, the book is somewhat scant on specifics and details. At various times she works as a domestic servant for a Muslim family, a mandarin bureaucrat, and different missionaries, but we never learn how exactly she serves the families or how she makes house-calls as an itinerant vendor. In addition, events just come and go with very little reflection or detail, such as deaths in her family or friends that she mentions with no specifics. I would be curious to know about how funerals were held, what she did with her friends, or even what the cities she lived in were like.

Sometimes, the scant details work in favor of the narrative. For instance, there is a brief sentence that describes seeing some of supporters of the Boxer Rebellion in her city. For her, a woman more interested in getting by than paying attention to politics, this would be a realistic description.

The narrative style is a little dated, even for a book written in the ‘30s or ‘40s.
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Format: Kindle Edition
History is, ultimately, the story of people and their relations, whether peaceful, characterized by the worst violence and gore, or the myriad of grays in between. The "Great Man" historians offer a lot of the peoples' story, through the words of the great leaders and their actions and reactions to the people and society they helped lead, and for that reason I'd never discount "Great Man" histories and still read them. But I've learned the best way to figure out the story of a people is from the horse's mouth, reading the narratives of the people of that time and place and learning from that common, everyday person the rhythms of that past culture, how the society functioned, etc. etc. This story of a Chinese working woman as told by the woman herself is an excellent example of such a narrative, a great and sweeping social history of China's working majority. This is social history at its finest--or perhaps, since it was first published in the '30s, a proto-social history that served as a crucial model for every social historian that followed.

"Daughter of Han" is an intimate portrait, not only of a woman's long, rich life and experiences, but also a rare glimpse of a late Imperial China in the throes of dynastic decline, foreign aggression, and, eventually, revolutionary social and political change.

Ning Lao T'ai-t'ai (roughly equivalent to "old lady Ning" or "granny Ning" in English) began, and spent the bulk of her life, in Pénglái, a port city in Shandong province, and a culture wedded to tradition. Nowhere was tradition more strictly upheld than in Shandong, which, being the birthplace of Confucius and the home of the Temple of Confucius in Qufu, was the epicenter of traditional Confucianism.
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