The Concubine’s Daughter

Written by Pai Kit Fai
Review by Lucinda Byatt

The wealth of detail about Chinese history and culture gives this book an edge over other stories that tell a similar tale. The author spent over thirty years in the Far East, mostly in Hong Kong and Macao, and this knowledge animates his descriptions of the places and people. In the early 20th century, Chinese women and girls were brutally exploited: female infanticide was commonplace and those that did survive were often sold as children, their sung-tip contract bonding them into a lifetime of slavery. This is a story of three generations of courageous women who use their minds, whether through scholarship, business or the age-old discipline of Tao learning and martial arts, to break out of this mould and find love and fulfilment. It explores China at a time of extraordinary opportunity when vast fortunes were made by the Chinese and, above all, westerners from opium and silk, but society – and the secret circles of the Yellow Dragon triad, or the sau-hai sisters – was merciless to those who broke the unwritten rules. The last half of the book, focused on Siu-Sing, the Red Lotus, is the most compelling.