Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Lisa See's Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Lisa See

See was born in Paris in 1955, but was raised by her mother, writer Carolyn See, in Los Angeles, California. Her father lived in Chinatown and she spent a lot of time there. At her father's home, she was influenced by her grandmother (who she says appears in spirit as a character in all of her novels) and her great-grandfather, who was Chinese. See graduated with a B.A. from Loyola Marymount University in 1979. After graduation, she worked as a freelance journalist and wrote for several publications, including Vogue, and was the Publishers Weekly West Coast correspondent for thirteen years. With this reputation to help her, she published her first book, On Gold Mountain: The One Hundred Year Odyssey of my Chinese-American Family in 1995. She has written eight novels since then. In addition to writing novels, See has curated and developed museum exhibits, written the companion guide for a walking tour in Los Angeles’s Chinatown, and serves as a city commissioner in Los Angeles. She was named National Woman of the Year by the Organization of Chinese Women in 2001, and in 2017 will receive the Golden Spike Award from the Chinese Historical Society of Southwestern California. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband. They have two sons.
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Historical Context of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

The tenets of Confucianism govern the social and religious practices in Snow Flower. Most important to the novel are the ideas of filial piety and Confucian beliefs regarding a woman's place in the world. Filial piety entails respecting parents and ancestors, and is also related to the necessity of producing male heirs. A woman was expected to follow the men in her family; first her father, then her husband, and finally, her sons. The Taiping Rebellion, which Lily and Snow Flower experience firsthand, was a large-scale civil war that lasted from the winter of 1850 to the summer of 1864 and touched all but one province in China. The Taipings, led by Hong Xiuqan, wanted to overthrow the ruling class and reform the Chinese way of life. The conflict ranks as one of the bloodiest wars in human history. While there's no official census data, it's estimated that 20-30 million people died, and millions more, like Lily and Snow Flower, were displaced. When Lily is born in 1823, foot binding had been a practice in China for almost a thousand years. Legend states that sometime around 970 CE, Yao Niang, a concubine, often entertained her prince by wrapping her feet in silk and dancing on a "golden lotus pedestal." Her feet were certainly not bound like Lily's were, but the practice filtered down through the social ranks and became widespread. The nu shu language was created by and for women to communicate with each other, as they were forbidden from receiving formal education. Nu shu characters are phonetic rather than logographic, and look like italicized Chinese characters. This style is due to the fact that characters were often embroidered, thus the finer lines.

Other Books Related to Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Lisa See has written eight other novels, all of which deal with the Chinese (and sometimes Chinese-American, as in the case of On Gold Mountain and China Dolls) experience. All of See's novels are focused primarily on female characters and relationships between women, regardless of time period or setting. Because of this and her Chinese heritage, her work is often compared to that of Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club), another Chinese-American author whose work explores female and familial relationships.
Key Facts about Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
  • Full Title: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
  • When Written: 2003-2005
  • Where Written: Los Angeles, CA
  • When Published: 2005
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Historical Fiction, Fictional Memoir
  • Setting: Chinese villages in Hunan Province, 1823-1903
  • Climax: When Lily and Snow Flower exchange their “Letters of Vituperation”
  • Antagonist: At times the antagonist is arguably Lily, but the female characters are victimized consistently by the Confucian social order that deemed them worthless.
  • Point of View: First person, narrated by Lily as an old woman

Extra Credit for Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

The Golden Lily. Bound feet that finished at less than 4 Western inches in length were considered "golden lily" feet, while feet that ended up longer were considered silver (4-5 inches) or iron (5 inches or more) lilies. Lily's feet end up being 2.75 inches when her binding process ends, which is the width of an iPhone 6.

Three Fingers. Lisa See admits to typing all her novels (nine as of 2017) using only three fingers.