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Sisters of Heaven. China's Barnstorming…

Sisters of Heaven. China's Barnstorming Aviatrixes: Modernity, Feminism,…

by Patti Gully

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I was really excited by this book, which purports to tell a history I had never even heard of--that of female pilots who flew for China in the 1930s and 40s. They were: "Hilda Yan, once China's representative at the League of Nations; Li Xiaqing, known as film actress Li Dandan before becoming China's "First Woman of the Air"; and Jessie Zheng, the only commissioned female officer in the Chinese Air Force." They mostly flew as part of exhibitions tours raising money for the Chinese war effort in WWII. Although the subjects of this book are fascinating, Gully's writing is a big distraction. Her organization is terrible, and her style gossipy and light weight. There's a weird classist, sexist, fetishization-of-China undercurrent to the whole thing as well. (see quoted example below) It's not terribly written, but there's no way I was going to slog through 300 pages of history with such a dubious bent to it. In the end, I'm very glad for this book; it showed me how little I knew, and how much history there still is left to learn.

"Although born in China, they spent most of their formative years abroad, and were unavoidably influenced by this contact, but while they learned to become thoroughly at home in the West, they remained, at their hearts' core, essentially Chinese, and beneath the veneer of Occidental modernity that they affected were embedded the ancient Confucian principles they had imbibed since their birth. This dichotomy of East and West created a sort of schism in their souls, and much of the conflict they experienced in their personal lives was probably related to this duality. By leaving their husbands and children--a new-fangled expediency...they were going against the grain and clashing harshly with the venerable Eastern notion of respect for family. The women gained their freedom, but in so doing, they cut themselves off at the knees."

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  wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
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