Monday, July 07, 2008

Review: Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society

by Adeline Yen Mah. HarperTrophy, 2005 Yen Mah has written several books based on her childhood in Shanghai. Secret Dragon Society is a fantasy book written in the style of a kung-fu novel. In the classic form of this genre the hero starts out downtrodden and abandoned but through hard work, persistence and study of martial arts and the traditional Chinese philosophies of Confusionism, Buddhism and Taoism he evolves into a noble warrior defending the weak and fighting for justice.

Set in Shanghai during WW II, this book follows the adventures of 12 year old CC (Chinese Cinderella) as she studies in a Martial Arts academy and trains to join band of heroic crime fighters. The Japanese occupy China and are oppressing the people. Some Chinese are involved in covert resistance, supporting the American military fighting Japan. CC and her kung fu brothers carry out secret missions to rescue and care for wounded American airmen that crash land on a coastal island after bombing Japan. The plot is are based on true historical events which Yen Mah expertly weaves into CC's story.

It is very entertaining and inspiring. Chinese principles of Confusionism, Buddhism and Taoism are presenting in the context of training one's mind, spirit and body for the hard work of striving for truth, justice and wisdom. Many of the teachings she absorbs are familiar to me from my study of Tai Chi. A couple passages highlight the importance of inner peace for the warrior:
"This tea ceremony was designed to point out to you the difference between perception, awareness and attitude. All of us aim to be happy. But happiness is an attitude that comes from within and is dependent on a person's perception of what is happening around her. To avoid living in a fool's paradise, one needs to perceive correctly. True perception can only come from Wu, mindful awareness, which develops gradually through meditation. For you to become enlightened in Fu Dao, the Way of Buddha, the transformation has to come from within yourself."

CC is considered an orphan girl because her mother died when she was a baby and her father and step-mother have kicked her out of her home. She is alone on the streets when taken in to the Martial Arts academy. Her new found brothers and fellow students are a collection of abandoned boys who are all multiracial. When she participates in the joining ceremony her teacher tells them,
"Unfortunately, there is a lot of prejudice in Shanghai against Eurasians and orphan girls. But should any of you encounter hostility or rejection, seize that negative energy you feel coursing through your veins and use it for a positive goal. Prove to the world that you are worthy of respect. Don't mess up your lives by being bitter and self-destructive!"

These lessons are worth learning for all of us. In joining with her academy family CC becomes a life-long member of an elite secret society where honor and justice are the code of life. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys adventure stories.

1 comment:

Charlotte said...

This sounds like fun.

I've tagged you for a meme, if you would like to play...