A Leaf in the Bitter Wind

Paperback | March 16, 1998

byTing-xing Ye

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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.

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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. Ultimatel...

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 n...

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. I...

interview with the author

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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see all books by Ting-xing Ye
Format:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 8.1 × 5.5 × 1.1 inPublished:March 16, 1998Publisher:Doubleday Canada

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385257015

ISBN - 13:9780385257015

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Customer Reviews of A Leaf in the Bitter Wind

Reviews

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful am a huge fan of the life writing genre, and I love non-fiction about China. I loved this book, as it took all the terms, leaders, movements, and periods in Chinese history that I studied in rather dry factual history courses and made them personal. I feel that this book, in addition to being written in a strong, genuine voice taught me a lot. And that, in the end, is a huge part of why I read. You can relate to the author, even though, when you look at what she is experiencing in her life, you really can’t. I have a lot of imagination and empathy, but working on a Chinese prison camp was definitely not even close to the reality of my own life at 16 years old. Ting-Xing Ye is critical of the Chinese government, but the criticisms are so interwoven into her own life story that it doesn’t read like a political or historical book. It feels personal (and, I might add, given the harsh facts of her life growing up in China, her criticisms are more than justified). It’s a book that makes the Cultural Revolution and Mao’s reign in China, and the workings of the Communist Party seem even worse than what we see in history lessons. Ting-Xing Ye also explains a lot about the customs and mores of Chinese society at the time. more on guiltypleasurebooks.wordpress.com
Date published: 2013-08-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring A Leaf in the Bitter Wind is the memoirs of the author, Ting-Xing Ye. It is a heart wrenching tale of the abuse, torment, and hardships of a young lady growing up during the turbulent Chinese Cultural Revolution. I had read one of Ye's other books, My Name is Number 4, which is just a piece of her memoirs. I wanted to find out more about her life so I picked up this book at my local Chapters. This book tells her whole story, from her childhood to her eventual immigration to Canada. It's a sad but inspirational story of a young woman overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Great read if you are into biographies/memoirs.
Date published: 2008-09-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating I was inspired to read this book after having the opportunity to meet the author in a university class. It was the first book I ever read on China, and it was captivating. Her personal voice and honesty drew me into her life, and I laughed and cried with everything that happened to her in her momentous life. When I finished, I wanted to reread the whole book to once again spend time with such a person, and without giving away the ending, I am cheering for Ting Xing Ye to achieve her goal!
Date published: 2000-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must read for those interested in China! Memoirs from those who endured the Cultural Revolution have flowered over the past two decades. This book is one of the best. Ms. Ye's writing is flawless - passionate and powerful. The interseting thing is that she proves that China's totalitarian masters are the same kind of people today as those in power during the chaotic days of the Cultural Revolution. This one's a winner!
Date published: 1999-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Leaf in the Bitter Wind One of the best ways to learn about history is through the eyes of someone who lived it. In this harrowing account of one young woman's struggle to find her place amidst the Cultural Revolution in China, we see the pointless persecutions and hypocrisies that ran rampant in this turbulent era. A heart-rending epic that drew me to tears on more than one occasion.
Date published: 1999-04-19

Extra Content

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.

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 triumph over brutish odds.”—Cityview, USA “Clearly, the writing was a very personal, painful process for Ting-Xing Ye, calling up the treasured memories of her devoted parents and their untimely deaths. We experience, along with her, a range of emotions… We learn to appreciate the true value of friendship, the precious love of family, and the strength and resilience of the human spirit.”—East York Reading Association“…fascinating yet horrifying…”—The Barrie Examiner“Ye is not afraid to present herself in a bad light at times. It is all part of her reconciliation with the past… This profound document of oppression and courage is an essential read for anyone who cares at all about freedom.”—Cancontent