Top critical review
Interesting historical perspective
on 9 April 2010
As the student of Chinese is aware, the language is full of idioms and sayings drawn from history. Adeline Yen Mah weaves these into what would otherwise be an ordinary account of the the rise of Qin Shi Huang Di and the beginnings of the Han empire, heavily drawing on Sima Qian's 'Shi Ji', and recounts interludes from her own life to demonstrate their relevance to her and modern Chinese thought. The result is a narrative that, although for the most part is perfectly readable, at times seems a little contrived. The flow of the text is disturbed as she seeks to introduce idioms in pinyin (followed by English translations) into a variety of situations while she flits from ancient history to her experiences and back again.
The author's stated aim, however, is to offer an insight into the way the Chinese think. Here, she has had limited success. She has demonstrated a reverence for the past (which hitherto has probably hindered China's progress) but has not delved deeply enough into Confucian, Daoist and Legalist thought to allow the reader a reasonable understanding of the Chinese.
On a separate issue, I personally found the author's references to her own life distracting. To me, she comes across as a slightly arrogant, self-righteous, bitter woman, flushed with her own success, who needs to get over her past. What family, Chinese or otherwise, could forgive being vilified in public by one of its own, even if what was written is true?