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Red Peonies: Two Novellas of China is the first translation in English of two of the books written by Zhang Yihe about women she met and befriended in prison. The subjects of her stories have been described as “beautiful women who wielded magic power over men. They were like jealous evil spirits, vengeful treacherous persons—countless snakes coiled around other people.”
Zhang Yihe was fifteen in 1957, the year her father was declared an enemy of the People’s Republic of China. Denounced as the nation’s Number One Rightist, he was persecuted by Chairman Mao. Zhang herself was arrested at age twenty-eight and sentenced to twenty-one years in a remote labor prison. While in the women’s prison, she came to know the other inmates, most of whom were from farms and lacked education. In 2011, at age seventy, she began to write and publish her fictionalized accounts of some of the women. The novellas were quickly censored in China, but have become widely popular in pirated, unexpurgated editions in the PRC, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Zhang Yihe is now an outspoken advocate of free expression.
Red Peonies contains the first two novellas in Zhang’s projected series of ten. Never before translated into English, the works are powerfully written, tender, and sorrowful. They bring to life the stories of Chinese women caught in the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. This volume includes the work of Xing Danwen, an internationally known artist based in Beijing.