Lion's Head, Four Happiness is the captivating story of Xiaomei Martell, who was born in one of China's most remote regions just two years before Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. The youngest of four daughters - her name means 'Little Sister' - her family had no money or connections, yet they raised her with a thirst for knowledge and a love of food, ranging from theLion's Head, Four Happiness is the captivating story of Xiaomei Martell, who was born in one of China's most remote regions just two years before Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. The youngest of four daughters - her name means 'Little Sister' - her family had no money or connections, yet they raised her with a thirst for knowledge and a love of food, ranging from the Lion's Head meatballs her Uncle Deng cooked to the 'phoenix feet' that apparently cured wrinkles, by way of two-hundred-year-old eggs.Xiaomei's entertaining and inspiring story takes us to a world where children play with painted pig toes, dumplings give you perfect ears and rather than saying hello, you ask 'chilema' or 'Have you eaten?'This is a unique and engaging account of a culture and cuisine that is a world away from the China we know today....
|Title||:||Lion's Head, Four Happiness: A Little Sister's Story of Growing up in China|
|Number of Pages||:||224 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
|Last checked||:||21 Minutes ago!|
Lion's Head, Four Happiness: A Little Sister's Story of Growing up in China Reviews
Usually, when we read memoirs of growing up under Chairman Mao, encompassing the "Great Leap Forward" and Cultural Revolution, we read of terrible deprivation, forced labour, cruel and humiliating 're-education' of the middle classes, and 30 million people dying from needless, politically-engineered starvation (Tombstone. What makes this book different and so interesting is that it is the every day experiences of a young girl, the youngest of four daughters, growing up in Inner Mongolia during and after these times and is not in any way a political book. "Lion's Head" are huge meatballs, and "Four Happiness" are little ones, both pork. Xiaomei has organised her memoir around food and recipes. It is interspersed by wistfulness - a birthday was marked by an extra egg or a peach in summer, or delight when her mother cooked something super-delicious. After her father died and there was not just a cut in the family income but also influence, which was more important. Despite the extra deprivations though, no one starved to death, there was just a lot more cabbage eaten.The main organising factor of job-availability, entrance to schools, extra-curricular activity was both during and after the Cultural Revolution who your parents knew rather than suitability. Women were encouraged to retire young on a small pension and pass on their jobs to their children. The one-child policy and the government-sanctioned (still) killing of girl babies (view spoiler)[If not prosecuting people for murder or abandonment of little baby girls doesn't mean it's government-sanctioned I don't know what does. (hide spoiler)] doesn't seem to be a factor of her life. Xiomei experiences very little if any discrimination for being female or coming from a large family of girls. After the end of the Cultural Revolution, where university entrance examinations had been suspended, life returns to how it had been before. It is almost as though there was a collective sigh of relief as everyone went back to what is normal in literate countries - educating children, further education and gaining skills. Those children who had done well at school were now encouraged to try for tertiary education. Xiomei won a scholarship to study English at a top university in Beijing at 15. When still at school she had practiced her English on the tourists that came to her area. She later came to Britain, married an Englishman and made it her home.All of this sounds quite ordinary, and so it was. And that's what is extraordinary. The normality of it all is just so unexpected in a memoir of that time and place. But I had a question, and it nagged at me, and there was never an answer. Mongolia was a country with it's own peoples and culture and it is never mentioned. As far as the author was concerned, she was Chinese and she lived in inner Mongolia which was a province of China. Perhaps it's a difference in perspective. In the West we are all very keen on preserving our separate identities and cultures. This reaches a zenith in the US where no-one who has any claim to any heritage other than just plain American, calls themselves first and foremost by that other identity, even if it is far back in the ancestral chain and they can only lay claim to, say, a great-grandparent. There are Italian-Americans, African-Americans, Irish-Americans etc. Maybe it is the opposite in China and everyone wants to be Chinese even if their heritage is that of another culture and the West, at least, would not consider them to be Chinese? To sum up, the book was interesting because it was so different from all the other memoirs I have read of living through the Cultural Revolution and of all other memoirs from Far Eastern Communist countries which tend to be of the 'I escaped' variety. Recommended, but it's hardly a page turner. 4.5 stars.Small political comment(view spoiler)[ I know that the Tibetans don't feel this way but then their religion is at odds with the Chinese government and they were 'absorbed' much later than Mongolia. Funny how no one knocks on at China for giving back territory. I have asked GR time and again to allow books from Tibet to be identified as such, but no, the drop down list is China. Now if Tibet had been in the Middle East.... In spoilers because I have been getting flack from GR recently on my reviews, feedback threads etc.(hide spoiler)]
Lion's Head, Four Happiness is Xiaomei Martell's account of her teenage years growing up in Inner Mongolia during the time of the Cultural Revolution. One of three sisters, her family gets by on a very limited budget - particularly after her father dies and they lose his valuable local connections. In the early chapters there is very limited access to further education, and Xiaomei's older sisters and cousins struggle to make their way in the world, but by the later chapters the cultural revolution is gone, things are changing, and Xiaomei herself passes a university entrance exam and becomes one of the youngest students at Beijing university.Her story is mainly told through food. Lion's Head is a large meatball, skillfully shaped to resemble a lion's head; Four Happiness are small meatballs, usually pork. Both are dishes that Xiaomei can only experience during feasts and celebrations, as usually their small budget and their lack of 'guanxi' (connections) combine with food rationing to make their meals more frugal than fulfilling.While the book does paint a picture of the difficulties of growing up in that place and time, I felt it was rather a dispassionate one. The author obviously has strong feelings - particularly about the events that led to the death of her father - but she refuses to discuss them. We're left with a book that feels rather like a food diary, with enough information to tempt you, but not enough to allow you to make the meals mentioned at home unless you're already proficient at Asian cookery.I felt this book didn't live up to its promise of being 'a unique and engaging account of culture and cuisine that is a world away from the China we know today', and it's not one I would rush to read again.
A really fascinating book about the author's childhood in China. Xiaomei Martell was born in a remote region of China, and for a good part of her childhood, Chairman Mao was in power and the cultural revolution was taking place. Although her family had no money or connections, especially after her father died, she was raised, along with her three older sisters, with a love of learning, and of good food made from cheap ingredients. Much of the book describes the many celebrations of a typical Chinese year, all accompanied by simple yet mouthwatering dishes. Under Mao, trade was very restricted, so her family often had to make do with very cheap ingredients. This didn't stop them, and a huge amount of family, friends, and neighbours, from cooking up delicious food and enjoying meals together. As well as telling the story of the importance the Chinese place on good food, and it's central part in her childhood, Martell also relates the struggles of her mother to survive, especially under Mao's regime, where survival depended heavily on connections and a system of favours or 'gunaxi' - much harder for a single woman to obtain than for a man. Mao's regime also had a massive effect on education. University entrance exams were abolished as 'elitist' and getting in to one, or even into secondary or 'middle' school, wasn't so much based on doing well academically as on knowing the right people and gunaxi. Despite this, Xiamomei's mother raised all her daughters with a love of art and music and learning, and pushed them to work hard at school.I really enjoyed this book. The descriptions of China were fascinating, and the characters from her neighbourhood, school, family, and friends that Xiaomei describes are very memorable and some of them rather eccentric. As for the descriptions of the food, many of them were mouthwatering. I also enjoyed reading about the importance the Chinese place on food both for marking celebrations and for health.
Raised in a a remote region of inner Mongolia and losing her father as a child it was a great story of determination that the youngest of four, Xiaomei, got through the poverty of the Cultural Revolution and the lack of guanxi or family connection to succeed at school and then university.Downside ... a lot of description of food ... I know food is an intimate part of Chinese culture but I found the listing of ingredients a bit tedious. Not enough detail to cook it yourself but just had to wade on through.
A good insight into life in China for this little girl and great descriptions of traditional foods. A good read.