An often sad but beautifully written and sensitive insight into Chinese prostitution houses.  That the heroine is eventually able to make a new life for herself brings tensions and depth to the tale.  Her character is lovingly painted which serves to put her enforced slavery into a deeper context.  To the Western eye these establishments are offensive. We consider the girls as sex slaves but there was more to it than that.

Within these ‘houses of pleasure’ there was a hierarchy, one that allowed girls to not only become favourites of their customers but also favourites of those who ran a house. These favoured girls could earn fortunes as a result and eventually buy their freedom and live on their substantial earnings.  Of course, there were also many who were less fortunate and it is of them we must also think. They were subjected to beatings and other punishments if they failed to please their clients.

The heroine in this book not only rises to become a favoured ‘artist of love’, but she is also determined to escape without giving her owners the satisfaction of receiving money to buy that freedom. It is this that provides a constant tension throughout the excellent text.It is fine read, immersing us in a fascinating, if dark, underworld in which, nevertheless, there is light, love and the triumph of the human spirit.

Mingmei Yip was born in China and studied at the Sorbonne and held appointments at the Chinese and Baptist Universities in Hong Kong. Other works by her are also highly recommended, such as Song of the Silk RoadPetals from the Sky and Secret of a Thousand Beauties. I can recommend all of these not only for their story-telling but also for the author’s writing, which is deceptively simple.

Peach Blossom Pavilion is published by Avon. It is available on Amazon.

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