Li Hui graduates from university and is assigned a position teaching in another province. Only an assignment in the right city—Beijing—will please Father. Li Hui defers, then loses all chance of working as a teacher in China. So begins Li Hui's real education in life.

Li Hui arms herself with Mao's dictum that "Women hold up half of the sky" and moves forward. Can she care for her parents, choose romantic love over an arranged marriage, and become a teacher? Each person she encounters influences her choices and successes:

Mother has failed to produce—or adopt—a son. Feng Gu runs a tea shop where Li Hui is pressed into service. Corrupt Snakehead Chairman Huang smuggles workers to other countries and offers Li Hui alternative avenues to prosperity. Madame Liang's son Guo Qiang lives in Singapore and needs an appropriate Chinese wife.

The most important person who enters Li Hui's life is Chan Hai, who would face criticism if only to help an old woman with her shopping bags. He too has dreams to fulfill while personal burdens, local politics, and economic realities intervene.

Li Hui finds valuable counsel in folktales and memories of Waipo, her beloved grandmother. And Madame Paper Cutter, the itinerant crafts woman who lives in the local park, has more folk tales with different interpretations. Even Lee Sa, that strange, loud and crazy American woman whom she meets in Singapore could be helpful.

This is a novel of people and culture, romance and expectation. It brings into our lives the vivid and powerful culture of China along with the realities and results of that ancient country's history and politics. All these elements come together in Li Hui, a young woman who only wants to hold up her half of the sky.

    cast of characters
Jana McBurney-Lin
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