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All the King's Women

All the King's Women

Mimi Chan
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    All the King's Women
    Book Description:

    All the King's Women is a work of historical fiction and gives an insider view of life within that household. The author married into a similarly complex family and drew her inspiration from real-life characters and situations. While the focus is on eight particular women in the King's life * four concubines, one daughter, a stepmother, a sister and a servant, it gives a historical perspective of what life was like for a wide spectrum of Chinese women especially during the first decades of the twentieth century, from the pampered 'misses with a thousand pieces of gold' to impoverished and desperate waifs sold into slavery at a tender age. These eight narratives are tied together by the overall narrative of the King and his immediate forebears, but each story stands alone and can be read as an independent entity.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-004-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xi)
    Mimi Chan
    (pp. xii-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  7. 1 FULL FATHOM FIVE THY FATHER LIES: The King (1885–1944)
    (pp. 1-12)

    My father-in-law was called ‘King’ by his wives. They used the English word without the article, but with the Cantonese premodifier — hence ‘Ah King’. The wives didn’t know any English, so he must have taught them the English word. Most of the denizens of his smaller domestic world were not at all sure of how he made his money, although the one who claimed to be his ‘most intimate’ concubine could rattle off the names of his various enterprises. Suffice it to say, his wife, concubines, younger offspring and legions of servants were in great awe of his money...

  8. 2 THE GODS ARE JUST: Fourth Concubine Surnamed Kam (1900–1981)
    (pp. 13-36)

    ‘I stopped going to school because it rained so much,’ said my mother-in-law as she sewed a tiny doll’s dress for my daughter on an ancient sewing machine …

    The rain was so big. It was pouring from the sky. The little girl, Ying, was so small. She tried to run the distance from the ‘school house’ to her home in her bare feet. She was holding her cloth shoes in her hands, trying hard to protect them under her cotton samfoo. She finally reached the little mud cottage with the slanty thatched roof which was her home and, flinging...

  9. 3 ALL THE WORLD IS A STAGE: Seventh Concubine Surnamed Kwok (1906–1990)
    (pp. 37-62)

    ‘Un-gee-gee-ah! Un-gee-gee-ah!’ Pronounced with a hard ‘g’, this is the Cantonese variant of ‘goocheegoocheegoo’. The lady who kept un-gee-ing my baby boy was a glamorous Mae West figure dressed in black narrow stretch pants and a mauve cardigan, her hair upswept in a smooth beehive — if ‘smooth’ and ‘beehive’ are not contradictions in terms. Her hair was jet-black and embedded in its contours were a number of shimmering hairpins. When she raised her face from the bassinet I saw that her eyes were luminous and bright, her oblong face was carefully made-up and her lipstick a becoming shade of...

  10. 4 AN HONEST MIND AND PLAIN: Ah Hing (1900– )
    (pp. 63-84)

    Cheung Hing will be a hundred years old in less than eight months. She has spent almost half of these hundred years in the service of the Lees. She was my mother-in-law’s servant, then my husband’s servitor, companion and confidant on the Peak; she looked after both my daughter and my son when they were little.

    In the over forty years she was with the family, she was doggedly and unquestioningly loyal. She had grown up, grown old, according to an ethic of suffering and endurance. Suffering, frugality, hard work were her talismans. When my daughter refused to stay inside...

  11. 5 LIKE NIOBE, ALL TEARS: Fifth Concubine Surnamed Poon (1900–1992)
    (pp. 85-100)

    The deed of sale followed more or less the usual form of wording and read:

    This deed of sale is made by Poon Fai Kwong

    In consequence of urgent need for funds to meet family expenses, I am willing to sell my own daughter, Hoi Sum, ten years of age, born in the morning, 3rd day of the 9th month in the year 1900 to Leung Mo Luen through a go-between. It is mutually agreed and arranged that the purchase price is to be $104. After the sale, Leung Mo Luen shall have the right to change the name of...

  12. 6 SWEET ARE THE USES OF ADVERSITY: Fourth Sister Violet (1906–1998)
    (pp. 101-122)

    Eva Lee put down the letter which she had been reading aloud to her older sister, Evelyn, and said with a knowing smile, ‘Violet is very happy and contented both with life in Shanghai and with Reginald.’ She spoke in Cantonese but used the Western names as was the custom among Westernized Chinese, the truly Westernized ones as well as those eager to emulate them.

    ‘I guess you are right,’ responded Evelyn, ‘we know her so well. Otherwise, you would think a woman as young as Violet would express herself with more enthusiasm, more hyperbole, more emotion. Her letter sounds...

  13. 7 SOME HAVE GREATNESS THRUST UPON THEM: Third Mother Ming Chu (1907–1927)
    (pp. 123-136)

    This poem, written by the celebrated Tang Dynasty poet Li Po in the eighth century, is probably the best-known of all Chinese poems. It is one of the first poems which schoolchildren learn and the poem most Chinese at home or overseas know by heart. It was the first poem that Schoolmaster Hung taught Ming Chu when he came to her Foshan home to teach her to read, write and memorize the classics. Ming Chu — literally ‘Luminous Pearl’ — was enthralled by the beauty of the poem and became addicted to poetry, especially romantic poems of love, longing, separation...

  14. 8 SOME ARE BORN GREAT: Second Daughter Portia (1910–1991)
    (pp. 137-154)

    ‘First Lady had three daughters. The youngest died as a baby. The surviving ones were as different from each other as night and day,’ Number Eight told me. There were many women in the King’s life, but if legend is to be believed, he genuinely feared and respected only one — his second daughter by his original match, Yuet Fa or Moon Flower. She was known as ‘Por’ for Portia. Of course she had a Chinese name with the requisite middle character — shared by her sisters — Wai for ‘wisdom’, but in those Anglophiliac times she was known as...

  15. 9 LOWLINESS IS YOUNG AMBITIONʹS LADDER: Eighth Concubine Surnamed Ho (1910– )
    (pp. 155-176)

    ‘My parents had six daughters — really too many mouths to feed. I was the fifth daughter and your sixth mother-in-law was number four. My father named her “Lan” and me “Chit”.’ ‘Really? “Lan” as in lan fa (orchid); and what is “Chit”?’ I asked, hearing the sounds, not aware of the characters. Cantonese is so full of homonyms and homophones — words that sound the same but are written entirely differently and have entirely different meanings.

    ‘No,’ replied the eighth concubine in her lilting voice with a strong trace of her native Panyu. ‘Lan as in “hinder”, as in...