Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

A Daughter of Han: The Autobiography of a Chinese Working Woman is the story of Ning Lao T’ai-t’ai, known as “Old Mistress Ning” or “Granny Ning.” She lived from the late nineteenth century until the mid-1930’s, just before Japan attacked China in World War II. Mistress Ning tells about her life, from her childhood and youth in the village of P’englai on the Yellow Sea to her marriage and career as a housemaid working for an interesting variety of Chinese and foreign employers. At the end of her life, she was living in retirement in the old imperial capital of Peiping, also known as Peking or Beijing, where she met Ida Pruitt. Pruitt invited her to a series of visits in her home, during which Mistress Ning revealed her story and discussed her fate as a Chinese woman, or “daughter of Han.” (The Chinese often call themselves the “Han” people.)

Mistress Ning’s childhood was difficult but not atypical. Her family fell on hard times and her father, who had aspired to be a government official, regarded himself as a failure. He made cakes to support the family part of the time, and part of the time he smoked opium. Like most Chinese girls, Mistress Ning grew up without an education and was married off at the tender age of thirteen. Her husband, who was twenty-eight, was unkind to her from the start. He, too, was an opium addict, and to support his habit he sold the couple’s possessions: first furniture, then clothing, and...

(The entire section is 573 words.)