Our book club, formed by 5 members from the piano lessons, just finished reading a new book in December. The book is in Chinese, and it’s about 20+ female figures who were famous in the 1920s. The name of the book is “Woman with a Fragrance in the Soul”.

I know a few of them but not all of them. Some of the females married famous husbands, and their names appeared here in the book because of their husbands’ fame.

This book is all about Chinese females who lived around the 1920s. It is about their marriages, as marriage is considered the most important life event in a female’s life. Not only back in the 1920s, but it’s also still regarded as necessary now.

There are many short, concise sentences full of wisdom in Chinese about women’s marriage in history. “It will be a fatal mistake if a woman marries the wrong man. It is like a man choosing the wrong career.” “A woman’s life is dependent on what kind of man she marries”, etc

I think in the world, marriage is important. It’s not just for Chinese women. It also applied to lots of women in the world back 2 centuries ago. It’s clearly described in famous novels such as “Pride and Prejudice”, “Jane Eyre”, “Little Women”. A woman’s fate varies, and their goal is to marry a rich and prestigious man.

I would like to talk about three types of women from the book.

The first woman is You Yi Zhang (张幼仪).

Mrs. Zhang married a famous writer and poet Zhi Mo Xu. Mr. Xu is very well known in China, and some of his books have even been made into movies, such as “You are the April of the World.”

Zhang and Xu’s marriage was an arranged marriage. Xu has lots of love for the world but just zero love for his wife and the slightest responsibility for his two children. 

Zhang tried her best to be a wonderful wife. She managed the family well, taking care of Xu’s family, including his parents, and raised and educated their two children independently. Xu, on the contrary, loved other women and left Zhang and went to the US to pursue study. 

When Zhang had a second child in her belly, Xu turned a cold back to his wife, and he rudely ignored his wife’s pregnancy and asked her to sign divorce papers as he was rushing to propose to another young woman he had fallen in love with.

Zhang’s marriage was an excellent lesson for her. After getting divorced, she rose from the broken heart and the broken family. She went to study abroad. She spoke German fluently. Then she devoted herself to her children and business. She became a co-owner and general manager of a fashion company called “Yun Shang Fashion Company.” She then also became the vice president of Shanghai Commercial Bank. 

When her ex-husband was in a difficult economic situation because he married a woman who had a big appetite for luxury in life, Zhang reached out and helped her ex-husband and offered financial help. 

I admire  Zhang’s courage and capability to rise from the ashes and become a modern new woman. Xu, her ex-husband, used to ignore her and saw her as a nobody.  One day, Xu said that Zhang was a good woman, indeed. However, Xu never said one good thing about Zhang in their marriage. Everything he said to her was belittling, meaning she was worth nothing to him.

Did this bad marriage give Zhang an excellent life lesson? I do not think every woman can behave like that. Some women choose to deny themselves and cannot rise. Only a woman with a strong will and determination can turn from a chicken into a phoenix. Do you agree?

I dislike the second woman, but I would like to talk about lessons learned from Xiao Man Lu(陆小曼).

Lu was born well into a good family. She received a good education when she was young. She was sent to a decent middle school that the French had founded. She learned to speak French and English and was very proficient with two languages other than Chinese. She was well educated, smart, and she was beautiful. She was one of the socialites in Chinese history. 

As I mentioned above, she was the woman Xu married after Xu divorced Zhang. However, she was a woman who loved the luxurious life, gorgeous clothes, being a wife of a celebrity and having lots of men’s love. She was self-centered and thought everything she liked should be there for her. She did not want to work hard as she thought she should have everything from her marriage.

Her husband, Xu, earned decent money at that time. Xu’s monthly earnings were around one thousand, 200 times more than an average laborer at that time. However, due to Lu’s luxurious lifestyle, they were constantly running out of money.

Lu had talents but did not think of giving back to society. She was like a moon that needs the energy from the sun. She wanted to live life with freedom of love, money and wishes but was not motivated to achieve anything by herself.

Her lifestyle destroyed her husband’s life, and Xu died in an air crash accident. Xu had no money to buy a commercial airplane ticket but took a free airplane and traveled between different cities to give lessons to earn money.

Lu is the type of woman people can learn a lesson from. She was not independent but needy for love, luxury, and parties. So what could she do for your family, your community, and society as a person? I guess that’s the last question Lu had thought of.  

Zhang, Lin, Lu

A third woman I like after Zhang is Hui Yin Lin(林徽因). She is the kind of person who seemed perfect to many women in China.

She was a pretty woman, well educated, and born into a decent family. She also chose a marriage that suited her the best. She had lots of fans, including both males and females. She had a good career focused on architecture design, along with her husband. She went to London with her father and became interested in architecture. She then devoted herself to the Chinese architecture industry after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with her fiance, Mr. Liang. 

She was the woman Xu loved when they both were in London. Xu divorced his wife, Mrs. Zhang, in order to propose to Lin. However, Lin was smart enough and turned his proposal down. Lin didn’t think Xu was the ideal husband for her, although she liked Xu. At that time, she was only 16 years old. But she made a good choice. How many times have people made a good choice during a turning point?

At work, she had talent and worked hard, so many men and women respected her. In her leisure time, she was a self-disciplined woman. She read a lot and studied a lot. She also managed to keep her shape and fit in gorgeous zero-size garments for her entire life. In her family, she had beautiful and well-educated children. In her marriage, she had a loving husband. Her husband was also her partner in her architecture career.

She was admired, not just for her beautiful appearance. Still, she had a balanced work and life, a perfect family, a loving husband, a successful career, extensive knowledge, a good educational background, and a respectful role in Chinese architecture history. Isn’t it a stereotype of life lots of women would like to have?

After reading the stories, I got inspired that we could have a balanced work and life but still be independent as a woman. As a person, we need to contribute to our family, community, and society to utilize our talents well. It’s great to have inherited wealth from your family, but we also want to be independent and contribute financially and spiritually. 

Investing yourself by learning more, exercising more will always get great returns. Also, contribute to your family, community, and society to not waste your talents to have a fulfilling life.