In Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah, what is the meaning of the title of chapter 1, "The Appropriate Door Fits the Frame of the Correct House"?

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In the book Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah, the title of chapter 1, "The Appropriate Door Fits the Frame of the Correct House," is a translation of the Mandarin idiom "Men Dang Hu Dui." It loosely means that a well-matched family, socially and financially, will be successful, if not also luckier than those who are not well-matched.

The use of the phrase is used to suggest the content of the chapter, which focuses on the origins of Adeline Yen Mah's affluent family. The chapter begins with a history of Shanghai in the late nineteenth century and the wealth pouring into the city as a result of the seaports and trade. "Opportunities were limitless," she explains. This becomes the backdrop and the starting point for the author's tracing of her family's roots. Very early on, her great-grandfather opens a teahouse, which is very prosperous.

The chapter eventually leads to Adeline Yen Mah's grandparents and their marriage. As she explains, "My grandparents grew to love each other and had seven children in quick succession," one of whom was her father, born in 1905. Her grandfather, Ye Ye, supports his family through leasing "a small fleet of sampans," or “bum-boats." The author describes Ye Ye as a responsible man who didn't gamble or waste his money on "brothels or opium."

Although Ye Ye eventually sells his business and "moves north, leaving his family behind," he continues to support them financially. All of this ties back to the title: the fact that Adeline Yen Mah's family had financial and social standing and support allowed for a successful and "lucky" marriage with children and further abundance that was shared with the family, including the author.

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Adeline states somewhere towards the end of chapter 1 of her book “Falling Leaves” that the marriage between her grandfather and his fifteen-year-old wife was a “men dang hu dui”, meaning, “as the appropriate door fits the frame of the correct house” kind of marriage. This could be taken to mean that her grandmother was well suited for the Yen household as she also came from a trading family. Her family traded in herbs and exotic potions of all sort, and their store stood “across the street” from the Yens’ tea shop.

Also, Adeline’s grandfather, Ye Ye, was a “loving and considerate” man, who lived up to the expectations of his wife, as he was kind to her, took good care of his family, and did not gamble or visit the brothels like his brothers before him. His wife was a nice, hard-working woman who bore many children to her husband, though only two of these children survived in the long run. Thus, it was no surprise that the couple learned to love each other, as they clearly understood one another and fulfilled each other’s needs.

Since chapter 1 of the book mainly talks about Adeline’s lineage, starting with her great-grandfather, Yen, and his children, the title “The Appropriate Door Fits the Frame of the Correct House” is used to summarize the most important aspect of this Chapter, which is the relationship between Adeline’s grandfather and his wife.

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Adeline Yen Mah wrote and translated her autobiography, Falling Leaves, which was first written in English. Each chapter title is intended to create an introduction to what will follow in that specific chapter. Chapter 1 is entitled "The Appropriate Door Fits The Frame of the Correct House" (Men Dang Hu Dui in Chinese). Chapter 1 provides an historical background to the culture and restrictions that face Chinese families. The most important aspect of this chapter is the marriage of her grandfather.

In Chinese culture, Mah has to respect the boundaries placed on women and operate within them. The chapter titles allow her to place herself in context and to appropriate meanings - from the use of translated Chinese idioms - even before the chapters start. Mah's grandfather, Ye Ye,  "Determined not to follow his brothers down the slippery path, (he) proved to be far more able than either of them."  He marries according to custom, through an arranged marriage - " Theirs was a men dang hu dui (as the appropriate door fits the frame of the correct house) marriage." In terms of culture, once a suitable marriage partner has been found, the soon-to-be wife must understand that her own family's home "is no longer your home and you are not to contact us without permission from your husband." hence, there is a direct connection with the "correct house." Mah remembers her grandparents fondly and appreciates their approach to life. 

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