Donna Jo Napoli
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YOUNG XING XING IS BOUND.
Bound to her late father's second wife and daughter. Bound to a life of servitude as a young girl in ancient China, where a woman is valued less than livestock. Bound to be alone, with no parents to arrange for a suitable husband. Xing Xing spends her days taking care of her half sister, Wei Ping, who cannot walk because of her foot bindings, the painful tradition for girls who are fit to be married. Even so, Xing Xing is content to practice her gift for poetry and calligraphy, and to dream of a life unbound by the laws of family and society.
But all of this is about to change as Stepmother, who has spent nearly all of the family's money, grows desperate to find a husband for Wei Ping. Xing Xing soon realizes that this greed and desperation may threaten not only her memories of the past, but also her dreams for the future.
talked about. And, after all, shame wasn’t called for. Instead, what she should feel is humility. It was good for anyone to feel humility. She met Stepmother’s eyes and held them, almost proudly. “I’ll scrub my dress and darn the holes,” she said. “No, you won’t,” said Stepmother. “I’m going in my mourning sackcloth, of course. So you could certainly go in your tatters. But you won’t.” She went over to her sewing basket and took out the dress she’d finished the night before. “You’ll wear this.”
they worked on calligraphy. He spoke of the three incomparables—the three perfections: painting, poetry, calligraphy. Master Tang instructed the girls in painting, his wife instructed them in poetry, but Father himself instructed them in calligraphy. Perhaps that was why Xing Xing excelled in the third perfection. When Father was alive, she had worked hard for his approval, much harder than Wei Ping ever had. After Father died, Wei Ping stopped all her lessons. She’d never wanted those lessons
Stepmother and caring for Father’s spirit to think about such things yet. Whenever the boy did her a favor, she always made sure she did him a favor in return, so as never to be beholden to him. But she didn’t expect to be lucky enough to pass him in the woods now. One of the reasons the boy was such a good hunter was that he could move so silently and swiftly that the animals didn’t realize he was near. It wasn’t likely that Xing Xing would be able to detect him. She walked quietly herself, but
back of the cave to the small room with a ceiling so low that you had to crawl within it. That’s where Stepmother stored the few bowls and pots remaining from Father’s working days. Every now and then she sold one. That was their sole source of income. Stepmother said that Wei Ping would be married before the storeroom was empty, though, so they had no cause for fear. Wei Ping’s husband would take care of all of them. And if by some mistake of chance the storeroom emptied prematurely, there were
demons away from the home in her absence, and headed to the village. Xing Xing watched her slow progress, her round body formless within the loose pants and long sackcloth of mourning that came well below her knees. Her gait was unsteady as she hobbled on the heels of those small feet. Once as the girls watched Stepmother leave, Wei Ping said, “See the swing of her hips, see how sexy it is. I’ll walk like that soon.” But that gait tired Stepmother out, and sometimes she came home carried on the