“Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden” – Talk by Author Zhuqing Li

Join the Brown University Library for a talk featuring author Zhuqing Li, Visiting Associate Professor of East Asian Studies and Faculty Curator of East Asian Collections at the Library, as she speaks about her book, Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden: Two Sisters Separated by China’s Civil War. The talk will take place in the Patrick Ma Digital Scholarship Lab at the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Library on Thursday, September 15, 2022 from 12 – 1 p.m.

Free and open to the public. Q&A and light refreshments. Books will be sold by the Brown Bookstore at the event.

Join via Zoom:

https://brown.zoom.us/j/94989699434

Meeting ID: 949 8969 9434

Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden: Two Sisters Separated by China’s Civil War

Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden: Two Sisters Separated by China’s Civil War (W. W. Norton & Company; June 21, 2022) is the remarkable true story of two sisters, inseparable as children, whose lives are irrevocably disrupted when the “bamboo curtain” drops overnight between Communist mainland China and Nationalist Taiwan. Their decades-long separation and gritty determination to succeed embodies the traumatic split of the nation itself.

Growing up in China during the 1920s and 1930s, sisters Jun and Hong lived with their extended family in an opulent home named the Flower Fragrant Garden, perched atop a hill in Fuzhou City, Fujian province. Scions of the legendary Chen family that produced the tutor of the last Chinese emperor, Jun and Hong were well-educated and devoted to each other. In 1949, in the midst of China’s civil war, and on the cusp herself of beginning a much sought-after position teaching history, twenty-six-year-old Jun left for a short vacation, visiting a friend on the island of Jinmen, just a mile offshore from the mainland city of Xiamen. Little did Jun know at the time that she would not set foot again on mainland China for another thirty years.

Soon after Jun’s arrival on Jinmen in the summer of 1949, the island would become a major battle ground between the Communists, on the verge of taking control of all of mainland China, and the retreating Nationalists. The Nationalist forces somehow managed to prevail on Jinmen, retaining control of the small island even after their government’s full evacuation of the mainland and retreat to Taiwan. As a result, Jun and Hong, through a twist of fate, ended up totally cut off from each other on opposing sides of the civil war. With her beloved older sister publicly associated with “the wrong side,” Hong finds herself responsible for taking care of her family and must make painful decisions. “[To] sever all contact and connection with Jun would eliminate one of her family’s most incriminating political associations. It was the only way, in Hong’s reasoning, that all of them, perhaps even Jun, would have a chance to survive.”

Zhuqing Li

For decades the sisters would have no contact. Hong would become a pioneering doctor and model Communist, surviving two waves of Communist “re-education” and internal exile while Jun was a model capitalist, founding a successful trading company and eventually emigrating to the United States. Author Zhuqing Li chronicles the lives of these two fascinating women, her aunts, with extraordinary empathy and rich detail. Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden is a beautiful book that paints an intimate portrait of life during one of the most complicated and difficult periods in China’s modern history. 

Zhuqing Li is a professor of East Asian Studies at Brown University and the author of four scholarly books on Chinese linguistics. She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.