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Author Study: Lisa See Curated by Emilie Zhang '20

This is a Libguide dedicated to Chinese-American author Lisa See, her works, and the intricate aspects of Chinese culture within them.



All writers are told to write what they know. My family is what I know...I guess what I’m trying to say is that in many ways I straddle two cultures. I try to bring what I know from both cultures into my work. The American side of me tries to open a window into China and things Chinese for non-Chinese, while the Chinese side of me makes sure that what I’m writing is true to the Chinese culture without making it seem too “exotic” or “foreign.” 
Lisa See, in an interview

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, 2005 Peony in Love, 2007

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is set in Yongming County, a small rural village in China. 

Born in 1823, our protagonist Lily survives foot-binding, a deathly drought, a typhoid strike, and the Taiping Rebellion, "outliving" everyone until she is old enough and lonely enough to tell this tale.

Peony In Love is set in China in the 17th century.

Based extensively on the historical work, The Three Wives' Commentary on The Peony Pavilion and the opera The Peony Pavilion, the novel is largely set in the afterworld, where Peony encounters traditional Chinese traditions.

Shanghai Girls, 2009 Dreams of Joy, 2011

Shanghai Girls is set in both Shanghai and America. 

Spanning from China in the 1930s to America in the late 1950s, this novel includes many iconic events and places, some of which include: the Second Sino-Japanese War, internment at Angel Island, Los Angeles Chinatown, and the Chinese Exclusion Act.

Dreams of Joy is the sequel to Shanghai Girls. Beginning in America in the late 1950s, it follows Joy, daughter to both Pearl and May, as she escapes to China during the Great Leap Forward and the Anti-rightist movements. It is with great difficulty that Joy returns.

China Dolls, 2014 The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, 2017

China Dolls is based in a nightclub in San Francisco.

Three very different girls are drawn together at the Forbidden City, a nightclub run by Charlie Low. Driven by similar dreams, the girls wind their way through World War II while each harbors their own set of dark secrets. 

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane centers on a very unique group of people--the Akha ethnic minority t in the Yunan province of China. Amidst the strict routines, the symbolic teas, and the rich cultures lie the core of Li-Yan's identity.


Because of See's unique background, she attempts to reveal China to her broader Western audience that would have had minimal exposure to Chinese culture, in attempts to portray the multifaceted China today and her long, long history.


What I want people to get from my books is that all people on the planet share common life experiences—falling in love, getting married, having children, dying—and share common emotions—love, hate, greed, jealousy. These are the universals; the differences are in the particulars of customs and culture.