Snow Flower and
SECRET FAN By Lisa See
Table of Contents About the Author..................................................................................1 Introduction.......................................................................................2 Plot Summary..................................................................................3,4,5 Characters.........................................................................................6,7 Historical Context.......................................................................8,9, 10 Culture..........................................................................................11,12 Exploring Themes................................................................................13 Works Cited.......................................................................................14
About the AuthorÂ Lisa See
Lisa See, author of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, is 63 years old. She was born on February 18th 1995 in Paris, France. Although she was born in Paris, she was raised here in the United States in the Los Angeles, California. As a child, See lived primarily with her mother, although she did occasionally spend time with her father's family, who lived in Chinatown. Chinatown was an important place for See, because her grandfather was the godfather of Chinatown. See is from a biracial and bicultural family, which inspired her to focus on cultural novels. When writing her novel Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, See was able to actually travel to a remote town in China for inspiration towards her novel. When she arrived she found out that she was only the second person to visit the area. When she was in the town, she was able to research the secret writing that was kept by women for more than a thousand years. After finishing the book, it was sold in 39 countries. The book won many awards including the New York Times bestseller and Booksense Number One Pick. See herself has also won awards including the National Women of the Year, awarded to her by the Organization of Chinese American Women. In 2011 the book was made into a movie, produced by Fox Searchlight.
Introduction "I have a whole life to tell; I have nothing left to lose and few to offend" Snow Flower and the Secret Fan takes place in a remote area of China where women have found their voice in an unexpected way. Lily does not think she is special. She is just a normal girl from a normal family living in a normal town. One day, her luck changes when someone sees something in her: potential. Lily has the potential for golden lotuses, perfectly bound feet. In an instant, Lily's future changes. Her marriage offers are better, and her family suddenly sees her as more than a worthless daughter. For Lily, the most exciting part is her eligibility for a "laotong" relationship. A "laotong" is someone you are bound to by love and friendship. Lily and her "laotong", Snow Flower are there for each other through everything. From childhood to marriage to motherhood, they remain bound through the secret writing embroidered on fabric and written on fans. However, a misunderstanding threatens to destroy their entire relationship.
Objectives: To look into 18th century Chinese culture To explore the bond of women, tough love, and regret
Themes: Love and the Bond of Women Regret Tough Love and Status
Plot Summary Lily's life story can be told in three parts: the Daughter Days, the Hair-Pinning Days, and the Rice-and-Salt Days.
The Daughter Days: The story begins in what Lily refers to as the "Daughter Days". During this time period, Lily lives with her parents, siblings, aunt, uncle, cousin, and grandmother. Lily constantly fights for the approval of her mother, but she is always overshadowed by her brother. Before Lily and her cousin, Beautiful Moon, have their feet bound, the girls' families have a diviner come visit. After inspecting Lily, the diviner advises the family to seek the counsel of the best matchmaker in the county, Madame Wang. Madame Wang believes Lily has the potential for perfectly bound feet. She agrees to arrange marriages for Beautiful Moon and Lily, if they hold off on foot binding for another year. Madame Wang also informs Lily that she could qualify for a laotong relationship. A laotong is a bond that follows to matched girls throughout their entire life. Lily, Beautiful Moon, and Third Sister get their feet bound at the same time. While Lily and Beautiful Moon accept their fate willingly, Third Sister resists the foot binding. Ultimately, Third Sister's bindings become infected and she dies of sepsis. Around the same time as Third Sister's death, Lily's grandmother also falls ill and dies. Madame Wang finds Lily a suitable laotong named Snow Flower. Madame Wang gives Lily a fan with Snow Flower's request to become laotongs written on it in in nu shu, a secret writing. Lily accepts and the girls begin to bond.
The Hair-Pinning Days: When Lily and Snow Flower turn fifteen, their hair is pinned "in the style of phoenixes" to symbolize their upcoming marriages. Lily, Snow Flower, and Beautiful Moon begin to make clothing from cloth sent by their in-laws as part of their dowries. One day, the three girls get permission to go outside to work on the clothing. Suddenly, Beautiful Moon begins to gasp for air and Lily notices a bee missing its stinger of Beautiful Moon's embroidery. Unfortunately, Beautiful Moon dies. As time goes by, Snow Flower helps Lily prepare for her wedding. Whenever it is time for Snow Flower's wedding, Lily discovers something: Snow Flower is poor. While Snow Flower family was originally very prosperous, her father became an opium addict and wasted the families fortune. Even worse, Lily discovers Snow Flower is going to marry a butcher. In their culture, a butcher is considered polluted and morally wrong.
Discussion Questions Snow Flower and Lily in their adult years had different ways of showing their love for each other. Snow Flower was always trying to please Lily and Lily was constantly critiquing Snow Flower, giving her guidance and overall telling her how Lily thought she could make her life better. Which way is better? Is this a healthy relationship?
Having bound feet was a sign of status for a woman and increased her chances for a better marriage? Are there things we do today to “raise our status”? Would you have allowed your feet to be bound or protested and rebelled?
The Rice-and-Salt Days: Both Lily and Snow Flower give birth to sons. While Lily has many other strong children, Snow Flower suffers many miscarriages and only two of her children survive until adulthood. Lily tries to give Snow Flower advice, but Snow Flower sees it as criticism. On a trip to visit Snow Flower, Lily and Snow Flower have to flee her village to escape rebels. For three months, the women were stuck in the bitter cold with Snow Flower's family. When Snow Flower's second son dies from the cold, Snow Flower's husband beats Snow Flower. Lily finds out that these beatings are a regular occurrence for Snow Flower. After Lily returns to her family, she receives a letter from Snow Flower. In the letter, Snow Flower tells Lily she has found a group of friends that loved her for her and were always there for her. This makes Lily extremely angry. She even loses her temper in front of a group of people and publicly embarrasses Snow Flower. Eight years later, Snow Flower's daughter shows up on Lily's doorstep and begs Lily to visit Snow Flower. Lily finds out that Snow Flower is dying of uterine cancer. She spends all of her free time by Snow Flower's bedside until she dies. It is not until after Snow Flower's death that Lily finds out their entire fight was just a misunderstanding. Snow Flower was trying to keep from burdening Lily. Lily spends the rest of her trying to make amends.
"You may be desperate, but never let anyone see you as anything less than a cultivated woman."
Characters Narrator of the book, wife to Dalang, and laotong to Snow Flower. As one of the main characters, Lily longs for love throughout the book, but as a woman she is seen as unworthy of receiving love.
She is a character who likes to please the people in control of her. She can also be seen as someone who lashes out at the people who do her wrong, and this is why Snow Flower and her friendship ends
Other main character, laotong to Lily, and married to the butcher.
Snow flower loves the idea of birds from an early age and how they symbolize freedom. Snow flower is one that keeps secrets and works to break Lily out of her shell. She suffers miscarriages and violence from her husband throughout the book. She eventually kills herself due to uterine cancer
Lily’s mother who throughout the book shows her “tough love”. She
things of Lily as a burden and shows violence towards her. She keeps secrets from Lily like that Snow Flowers father is an opium addict. Lily ultimately cuts her mother out of her life after this secret is revealed
Mother to Beautiful Moon and married to Uncle, sister-in-law to Mama. She is regarded for her kindness and brains, not her beauty. She teaches her daughter and Lily nu shu.
Lily’s youngest sister who is seen as spoiled and resist foot binding. She eventually dies from septic shock after a couple of weeks of having bound feet.
Madame wang Snow Flower's husband Elder Sister Snow Flower's mother Snow Flower's Father Yonggang
Matchmaker, binds both Snow Flower and Lily’s feet. Arranges their marriages as well and is Snow Flower’s aunt.
Husband to Snow Flower. He is abusive towards his wife, but he can still be seen as a provider for Snow Flower.
Lily’s older sister who is quiet and marries into a family where she is ill-treated.
Sister to Madame Wang. Acted with grace and class ever though her family is poor. Later her husband and her become beggars.
Man addicted to opium, who sells his family's things in order to pay for his opium addiction. Becomes a beggar with his wife when Snow Flower leaves because she is married
Is Lily’s personal servant and is serious about her job. Yonggang hides the fans and protects them from being destroyed by Lily when she and Snow Flower end their friendship.
Historical Context During the 19th century when Snow Flower and the Secret Fan takes place, China was ruled by the Qing Dynasty which was founded by the Manchurians a foreign tribe who are not Chinese. In 1816, China closed its markets to the British. This marked the beginning of an ongoing conflict between China and Britain that later escalated into all out war. Then, in 1821 Emperor Daoguang came to power. Daoguang is the emperor who employs Lily’s husband’s Uncle as a jinshi scholar. Emperor Daoguang, in 1839, sends Lin Zexu to stop the British from illegally importing opium. This sparks the First Opium War that lasted until 1842 and ended with the Treaty of Nanjing. The Treaty of Nanjing resulted in British control of Hong Kong and the opening of five new trading ports for the British in China. In 1850, Emperor Xianfeng took power marking the death of Emperor Daoguang. In the book, the death of Daoguang caused Lily’s in-laws to lose standing because a new emperor always chooses new scholars, so her husband’s Uncle no longer held his prestigious position as a scholar. 1850 also marked the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion. Lasting until 1866, this peasant rebellion was led
by Hong Xiuquan who claimed to be the younger brother of Jesus. The peasants were unhappy with their situation of poverty and neglect and wanted to overthrow the Qing. Next, in 1856 when China took a British ship, Britain declared war on China and began the Second Opium War. During this time, the Qing were also dealing with the Taiping rebellion causing China’s army to be incapable of sufficiently fighting the war. Additionally, France was an ally of Britain in this Opium war creating and even more difficult situation for the Qing. In the end, the war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Tianjin which gave Europe more trading rights in China.
Current Day China Currently in China, the government is the People’s Republic of China. Similar to the United States, it is made up of an executive, judicial, and legislative branch and its constitution was written in 1982. The Head of Government is Premier Li Keqiang, and the president is Xi Jinping. While there is usually a two term limit for the presidents in China, the government has removed this restriction for Jinping who is now the president indefinitely. While the presidential position is mainly ceremonial, he still carries great authority through his position as the general secretary of the communist Party and as the chairman of the Central Military Commission. The population of China is 1.8 billion and it has the second largest economy in the world. Despite
this, the per capita income is still not nearly as high as in more developed countries. As of 2015, there were about 55 million poor people. To fix this issue of poverty, the government has created thirteenth Five-Year-Plan to focus on the economic issues and social imbalances in the country. Overall, China has changed drastically compared to its time during the Qing Dynasty.
Discussion Questions: Lily misunderstood Snow Flower’s nu shu writing since much of the language is based upon context, and it created a huge rift that ultimately destroyed much of their relationship. Compare this with texting and social media today.
Foot binding was used to show status: the smaller a woman's foot, the higher her status During foot binding, a girl's foot is wrapped in gauze and placed in a special shoe called a lotus shoe After her foot is wrapped in gauze, the girl is supposed to walk around to break the bones Girls aspired to achieve a perfect three-inch foot known as a golden lotus Feet that were four inches long were called silver lotuses, while anything above five inches was known as an iron lotus and was often dissmissed Foot binding was inspired by a 10th century dancer named Yao Niang It is said that Yao Niang's bound feet impressed Emperor Li Yu
Major Religions: Confucianism Taoism Buddhism Buddhism was the most practicedÂ
Laotong: Relationship in which two girls are bond together, often known as kindred sisters Laotong was the foundation for this book because Lily and Snow Flower were connected as laotongsÂ
Foods: One significant food from China is Beijing Roast Duck, or Peking Duck The tradition of Peking Duck started in the Ming dynasty and is still popular today Another significant food from China is a hot pot Hot pots are a social event Then he/she place the food picked in the pot Next, the food is cooked in the hot pot Once the food is done the people fish them out of this soup It is dipped in a sauce of choice and enjoy They can also ladle up the broth from the pot and drink it.
Discussion Questions: After Snow Flower’s death, Lily spent the rest of her life trying to make up for the way she had treated her laotong. Was this a sign of letting her regret consume her, or was it the right thing for her to do? When we make mistakes, should we let them go and move on with our lives, or should we try to fix it? What is the best way to deal with regret?
When Snow Flower’s life began deteriorating, Lily seemed unaware of any changes in what was supposed to be her best friend’s life. Do you think she actually saw changes and was unwilling to accept it? Or do you think she truly was oblivious to her best friend’s gradual decline into death? When we see others experiencing difficulties, do we sometimes turn a blind eye?
Exploring Themes the Bond of Women Women are considered burdens financially in Chinese households unless they could marry well. Women in 19th century China did not have extensive freedom, so they cherished the chance to form friendships. Throughout the novel, women find ways to connect to each other through laotong relationships and secret writing.The most significant relationship in the novel is the relationship between Lily and Snow Flower. Both girls find comfort in each other.
Regret Lily completely cuts Snow Flower off after she is “betrayed” by her. Regret can spark from moments of overconfidence or not fully comprehending situations. For example, Lily completely cuts Snow Flower off after she feels betrayed by her. Regret always comes after a bad outcome is revealed. Even after friendships end, it is common to feel an attachment to a person and still want the best for her.
Tough Love Tough love can be effective if the receiver understands the intention of the mother and that it is for her own good. However, this is not the case in this novel because Lily is completely mistreated and undervalued. Some tough love is seen in today’s society, but it is usually for one’s own good.
"In our country we call this type of mother love teng ai. My son has told me that in men's writing it is composed of two characters. The first means pain; the second means love. That is a mother's love." 13
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