A Leaf in the Bitter Wind

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A Leaf in the Bitter Wind

by Ting-xing Ye

Doubleday Canada | March 16, 1998 | Trade Paperback

5 out of 5 rating. 5 Reviews
One of the best ways to understand history is through eye-witness accounts. Ting-Xing Ye's riveting first book, A Leaf in the Bitter Wind, is a memoir of growing up in Maoist China. It was an astonishing coming of age through the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1974).

In the wave of revolutionary fervour, peasants neglected their crops, exacerbating the widespread hunger. While Ting-Xing was a young girl in Shanghai, her father's rubber factory was expropriated by the state, and he was demoted to a labourer. A botched operation left him paralyzed from the waist down, and his health deteriorated rapidly since a capitalist's well-being was not a priority. He died soon after, and then Ting-Xing watched her mother's struggle with poverty end in stomach cancer. By the time she was thirteen, Ting-Xing Ye was an orphan, entrusted with her brothers and sisters to her Great-Aunt, and on welfare.

Still, the Red Guards punished the children for being born into the capitalist class. Schools were being closed; suicide was rampant; factories were abandoned for ideology; distrust of friends and neighbours flourished. Ting-Xing was sent to work on a distant northern prison farm at sixteen, and survived six years of backbreaking labour and severe conditions. She was mentally tortured for weeks until she agreed to sign a false statement accusing friends of anti-state activities. Somehow finding the time to teach herself English, often by listening to the radio, she finally made it to Beijing University in 1974 as the Revolution was on the wane - though the acquisition of knowledge was still frowned upon as a bourgeois desire and study was discouraged.

Readers have been stunned and moved by this simply narrated personal account of a 1984-style ideology-gone-mad, where any behaviour deemed to be bourgeois was persecuted with the ferocity and illogic of a witch trial, and where a change in politics could switch right to wrong in a moment. The story of both a nation and an individual, the book spans a heady 35 years of Ye's life in China, until her eventual defection to Canada in 1987 - and the wonderful beginning of a romance with Canadian author William Bell. The book was published in 1997.

The 1990s saw the publication of several memoirs by Chinese now settled in North America. Ye's was not the first, yet earned a distinguished place as one of the most powerful, and the only such memoir written from Canada. It is the inspiring story of a woman refusing to "drift with the stream" and fighting her way through an impossible, unjust system. This compelling, heart-wrenching story has been published in Germany, Japan, the US, UK and Australia, where it went straight to #1 on the bestseller list and has been reprinted several times; Dutch, French and Turkish editions will appear in 2001.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 416 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: March 16, 1998

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385257015

ISBN - 13: 9780385257015

Found in: Asia, Biography and Memoir

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– More About This Product –

A Leaf in the Bitter Wind

A Leaf in the Bitter Wind

by Ting-xing Ye

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 416 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: March 16, 1998

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385257015

ISBN - 13: 9780385257015

From the Publisher

One of the best ways to understand history is through eye-witness accounts. Ting-Xing Ye's riveting first book, A Leaf in the Bitter Wind, is a memoir of growing up in Maoist China. It was an astonishing coming of age through the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1974).

In the wave of revolutionary fervour, peasants neglected their crops, exacerbating the widespread hunger. While Ting-Xing was a young girl in Shanghai, her father's rubber factory was expropriated by the state, and he was demoted to a labourer. A botched operation left him paralyzed from the waist down, and his health deteriorated rapidly since a capitalist's well-being was not a priority. He died soon after, and then Ting-Xing watched her mother's struggle with poverty end in stomach cancer. By the time she was thirteen, Ting-Xing Ye was an orphan, entrusted with her brothers and sisters to her Great-Aunt, and on welfare.

Still, the Red Guards punished the children for being born into the capitalist class. Schools were being closed; suicide was rampant; factories were abandoned for ideology; distrust of friends and neighbours flourished. Ting-Xing was sent to work on a distant northern prison farm at sixteen, and survived six years of backbreaking labour and severe conditions. She was mentally tortured for weeks until she agreed to sign a false statement accusing friends of anti-state activities. Somehow finding the time to teach herself English, often by listening to the radio, she finally made it to Beijing University in 1974 as the Revolution was on the wane - though the acquisition of knowledge was still frowned upon as a bourgeois desire and study was discouraged.

Readers have been stunned and moved by this simply narrated personal account of a 1984-style ideology-gone-mad, where any behaviour deemed to be bourgeois was persecuted with the ferocity and illogic of a witch trial, and where a change in politics could switch right to wrong in a moment. The story of both a nation and an individual, the book spans a heady 35 years of Ye's life in China, until her eventual defection to Canada in 1987 - and the wonderful beginning of a romance with Canadian author William Bell. The book was published in 1997.

The 1990s saw the publication of several memoirs by Chinese now settled in North America. Ye's was not the first, yet earned a distinguished place as one of the most powerful, and the only such memoir written from Canada. It is the inspiring story of a woman refusing to "drift with the stream" and fighting her way through an impossible, unjust system. This compelling, heart-wrenching story has been published in Germany, Japan, the US, UK and Australia, where it went straight to #1 on the bestseller list and has been reprinted several times; Dutch, French and Turkish editions will appear in 2001.

About the Author

Ting-Xing Ye (her surname means “Leaf”) was born in Shanghai in 1952, three years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Her mother didn’t encourage education for girls, but Ting-Xing went to school anyway and eventually to university to study English language and literature, just as China was opening up to the west. In a moment of profound irony, she was offered one of the highest placements available for an interpreter, with the hated Secret Service. But her request for a transfer back to Shanghai, where she could look after her kind great-aunt, was accepted. Working for the municipal government, she dealt with the delegations of visiting royalty, presidents and other dignitaries. She married and, a year after the introduction of the one-child-per-family rule, gave birth to a daughter. After six years, she returned to Beijing to enter an international studies program, where she met William Bell, the Canadian author and teacher, who was teaching English at the college. Although the official policy was to distrust foreigners, “I felt safe with Bill,” she says, and a deep bond began to form between them as she finally felt safe to express her true thoughts, at first through the journal he encouraged his class to keep. When Bell returned to Canada, they began a correspondence. Ye was tired of the oppressiveness of Chinese society, the constant surveillance at work, and her loveless marriage. When a scholarship to York Universit
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Author Interviews

1) Can you tell us how you became a writer? The life of a writer is still very new to me. I never planned to be a writer and only started writing at the age of 40. After studying and working in Toronto for five years, I moved to Orillia, a small town about 130 km north of Toronto. For months I couldn’t find a job. The notion that job-seekers must have previous experience was a tough reality for me to face. I worried that I might be unemployed for the rest of my life, even though back in China I had supported myself since I was 16. One day in the spring of 1993, when Bill [William Bell] was on a book tour, I found myself sitting in front of a computer trying to turn an old saying my mother often used into a story. I just wanted to find something to do so that at the end of each day I could say to myself that I hadn’t sat around, doing nothing. As for why I chose writing instead of something else, looking back I realized it was Bill’s influence. Bill was a full-time high school English teacher but he’s also a young adult novelist with more than ten published books. He would write at night and on weekends, after marking was done. I found myself in a situation where he had too much work to do and I, too much time to kill. After eight rejection letters in one year, my story was accepted by Annick Press. The acceptance of that story generated tremendous confidence in me and was the driving force behind my writing. At least in writing no one is fussy about whether I have previous ex
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From Our Editors

A sweeping memoir spanning 35 years, A Leaf in the Bitter Wind chronicles the life of Ting-Xing Ye, who watched her family and life torn apart during China's cultural revolution. She tells of the murder of her parents, the psychological torture she endured at a prison farm, and her eventual job with the Chinese Secret Police. Ultimately, she falls in love with a Canadian and defects, making the heartbreaking decision to leave her daughter behind. A Leaf in the Bitter Wind shows Ting-Xing Ye as a survivor, a woman almost claimed by the changing tides of history.

Editorial Reviews

"An engrossing saga of one woman''s turbulent life in Cultural Revolution China. I couldn''t put it down." —Jan Wong, author of Red China Blues “…a moving account of struggle and fortitude…”— The Globe and Mail “…lurks in my memory, demanding to be re-read and shared…”— The Globe and Mail Reader’s Choice “Ting-Xing Ye tells her story with such vividness of imagery and such a galloping momentum that the narrative reads like splendid fiction.”—Patrick Kavanagh in the Ottawa Citizen “This account of a woman’s quest to gain ownership of her own life in the face of incredible adversity and devastating, compounding circumstance does not let go easily… It feels like an immersion, one from which you cannot instantly dry off after the last page.”— Horizons “as powerful as Wild Swans ....”— Northern Star (Lismore, Australia) “Ye writes vividly, with a deal of wry humour and an eye for the absurd… Despite the dark years of deprivation, separation and exile this book records, family relationships are at its heart… Guilt and resentment simmer as Ye and her siblings flail about in the political quicksands seeking, like all those about them, a path to social acceptance.”— The Australian “It’s a page-turner that can be enjoyed as exquisite grassroots history, or as the simple story of one woman’s tr
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Bookclub Guide

1) Can you tell us how you became a writer?

The life of a writer is still very new to me. I never planned to be a writer and only started writing at the age of 40.

After studying and working in Toronto for five years, I moved to Orillia, a small town about 130 km north of Toronto. For months I couldn't find a job. The notion that job-seekers must have previous experience was a tough reality for me to face. I worried that I might be unemployed for the rest of my life, even though back in China I had supported myself since I was 16.

One day in the spring of 1993, when Bill [William Bell] was on a book tour, I found myself sitting in front of a computer trying to turn an old saying my mother often used into a story. I just wanted to find something to do so that at the end of each day I could say to myself that I hadn't sat around, doing nothing. As for why I chose writing instead of something else, looking back I realized it was Bill's influence. Bill was a full-time high school English teacher but he's also a young adult novelist with more than ten published books. He would write at night and on weekends, after marking was done. I found myself in a situation where he had too much work to do and I, too much time to kill.

After eight rejection letters in one year, my story was accepted by Annick Press. The acceptance of that story generated tremendous confidence in me and was the driving force behind my writing. At least in writing no one is fussy about whether I have previous experience or not.

2) What inspired you to write this particular book?

My memoir, A Leaf in the Bitter Wind,is my second book. The reason I wrote it was that I wanted to leave something behind for my daughter to read.

Shortly after I became a Canadian citizen in 1994, I went back to China to try to contact my daughter. By then I hadn't seen her for nearly seven years because when I divorced her father he took his revenge by denying me access to her. I was unsuccessful. The grim possibility that I might not see her for the rest of my life made me decide to write something down for her to read, probably after I am gone. I wanted to tell her something about me and my parents, whom she never met, about my childhood and teenage years, about my six years living and working on a prison farm, and particularly about my decision to leave China. The project started as a sort of record. Yet as days turned into weeks and weeks rolled into months, I watched on the computer screen as my jotted notes became paragraphs, pages grew into chapters, and chapters called for more chapters. Bill convinced me that my life story would be interesting to others so I should keep writing and try to get it published.

3) Who is your favourite character in this book, and why?

The person who stands out as remarkable in this book is my great-aunt, Chen Feng-mei. After I examined my experience growing up in a society in which bloodline was all that mattered, and how that had affected me and every Chinese person's daily life, I recalled that Great-aunt, who took care of me and my brothers and sisters after our parents passed away, was not a blood relative. It was my great-aunt, a woman without education, a woman who had a pair of bound feet which were smaller than her own hands, who had given me courage and strength during the darkest moments in my life.

4) Do you have a favourite story to tell about being interviewed about your book?

I can't remember any. But I did learn something about make-up. When I saw myself on TV after a CTV interview I realized I looked like a panda due to heavy make-up and dark eye shadow. That pretty much summarizes my knowledge of make-up.

5) What question are you never asked in interviews but wish you were?

I wish all the interviewers would read my book or at least know something about it before they put me on the stand.

6) Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on your work?

So far, not really. I write about things that interest me.

7) Which authors have been most influential to your own writing?

English literature and its writers are still relatively new to me even though I read a lot. My approach to reading is finish a book whether it's good or not so good. I can't identify any particular author or book that influenced me.

8) If you weren't writing, what would you want to be doing for a living? What are some of your other passions in life?

I often think about the first question: Who would I be or what would I do if I had been born here in Canada? What kind of career would I like to pursue? I would like very much to be a doctor. I guess this may have a lot to do with the memories of how helpless my brothers, sisters and I were, watching our parents suffer and die from illness. But then again, I am terrified seeing blood! Being a teacher would be my next choice. But after living in Canada for over ten years, living with a teacher, I am not so sure now. Teachers are not as respected as they used to be.

When I am not writing, when housework is done and the garden is in good shape, I like sewing and knitting. I find they help me to relax; meanwhile, I still can keep thinking about my stories.
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