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Living Treasures

Huang, Yang

117 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0989596052 / ISBN 13: 9780989596053
Published by Harvard Square Editions, 2014
Used Condition: Good Soft cover
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Bibliographic Details

Title: Living Treasures

Publisher: Harvard Square Editions

Publication Date: 2014

Binding: Paperback

Book Condition:Good

About this title


Silver Medal: Nautilus Book Awards, Fiction
Gold Medal: Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Multicultural Fiction
Bronze Medal: Living Now Book Awards, Inspirational Fiction

Shortlist: The International Rubery Book Award, Fiction
Finalist: INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award, Historical Fiction
Shortlist: Santa Fe Writers Project, Fiction
Finalist: Pen/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction

A woman can have a career and family, but which comes first?

A starving panda eats a hen in order to nurse her cub in the dead of winter--there begins the perilous adventure of Gu Bao, a girl who grows up under the Chinese government's one-child policy. Bao falls in love with a handsome soldier during the tumultuous Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. The demonstrations transfix her fellow students and kill one of her friends. Bao finds herself pregnant and faces the end of her academic career. Her grieving parents arrange for a secret abortion and ship her off to her grandparents' house in the remote countryside where she was raised. 

Bao searches for her inner strength while exploring the evocative Sichuan mountain landscape. She befriends a panda mother caught in a poacher's snare, and an expectant young mother hiding from villainous one-child policy enforcers bent on giving compulsory abortions. All struggle against society to preserve the treasure of their little ones. Can Bao save a rural family from destruction, and help a giant panda along the way? She devises a daring plan that changes the lives of everyone around her.

A deeply moving story of family, passion, and courage, Living Treasures is both a gripping page-turner and an incisive social critique, portraying a young woman's quest for romance and justice in a rigid society. Bao, a law student, aspires to have both a career and family, but which comes first? A baby rarely arrives at a convenient time. The decision about the woman's body is not an easy choice but rather a compromise that comes with a dear price. Bao's struggle encapsulates many women's journeys through life, as they experience the triumphs, suffer the heartbreaks, and learn to live with the consequences.

From the Author:

A Conversation with Yang Huang on Living Treasures

: Living Treasures is full of surprises, as nothing is what they seem at first. How did you plot the story? Why did you begin with this strange scene: a panda eats a chicken? Aren't giant pandas herbivores?

Yang Huang: I was fascinated with giant pandas, although I only saw them in the zoo, chomping bamboos. I set out to write a story about a panda. Through my research I found out that panda is bear, with the digestive system of a carnivore. Pandas in the wild occasionally eat fish, mice, and birds if they can catch them. I also learned about the mudslide and earthquake that happened in Sichuan province in 1976. On top of that, bamboos died after mass flowering and caused the pandas to starve. Living Treasures begins with a panda mother eating a chicken in order to survive the winter and nurse her cub. In this world, pandas and people look to each other for inspiration and support, persevere, and thrive in a harsh environment. The story goes on to show people, like the pandas, are the living treasures of China.

Question: The first half of the story is about Bao facing her dilemma as a university student. The second half moves to the countryside. Why did you divide this story into two worlds?

Yang Huang: China is a vast and diverse country. At the beginning, Bao lives a sheltered life. She succumbs to the parental pressure to have an abortion. Then she goes to the country, lives with her grandparents, tends to the bees, and makes new friends with farmers. There she learns to work and becomes self-reliant. Bao grows from a naïve student to become an independent woman who stands up to the bully.  

Question: There are rich details about the mountains, village, people, and food. It seems so authentic. Is this based on a true story? Is it autobiographical?

Yang Huang: I lived through that time and knew this world intimately. Bao is more courageous than me and my friends. My life was boring, so I made Bao's story exciting. I later learned that all the events happened to real people in China. But I personally didn't know of anyone who experienced Bao's ordeal.

Question: You mentioned "grass people" a few times in the novel. Do you mean: commoners or farmers? Are Orchid and Candor the "grass people"?

Yang Huang: They are, and so are Bao, her parents and grandparents. In China, more than 99 percent people have no political power, their voting rights a mere sham, for they can only vote for the preselected candidates. "Grass people" are not just commoners or farmers. They include the middle-class: successful entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, etc. Even the affluent people don't have the political power. This mass of humanity is humble and resilient like the prairie grass.

Question: China has the world's biggest population. Is the one-child policy not an effective solution?

Yang Huang: Let's look at how it came into being. In 1950s, Chairman Mao banned the family planning and encouraged women to have as many children as possible. The population increased 80% within three decades. In late seventies the government enforced strict controls to slow down the birth rate. Aside from some minority groups, every couple could only have one child.

The problem is: local governments all had their own rules and regulations. Some people lost their jobs after having a second child. Others were fined. Like many policies in China, there was abuse of power and corruption was rampant. In some villages, one-child policy worker team hired thugs to threaten and beat up people, force collect the fines, and even kidnap the women and their relatives. Some women had their full-term babies aborted. If the drugs couldn't kill, a nurse injected medicine on the baby's temple when the mother was pushing.

Question: Is Bao pro-life or pro-choice?

Yang Huang: Bao is a woman with strong convictions. She wants to keep her baby, and she wants Orchid to be able to keep her baby. She is against the political doctrine: the rigid one-child policy. China has 1/5 of the world's population. Family planning is necessary to prevent catastrophic overpopulation. Even in this environment, Bao believes women should be able to make their own decisions. For example: in the cities, many educated people don't want to have children. Bao would argue: give their quotas to the people who need them. The terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are associated with political movements. Bao, like many people in China, has seen their share of political movements that lead to the government's corruption and abuse of power. As an individualist, Bao opposes the political pragmatism that victimizes women.

Question: In the book we meet the villain: Childless Du. How did you depict this chilling character?

Yang Huang: Initially I made the villain a cruel evil person, but he seemed one-dimensional. During the revision, I worked hard to make him a smart person, with a sharp economic sense about his own place in the world. He outwits all the naïve people. What makes him bad is his shrewdness, his naked ambition, and his single-minded determination to carry out a policy by victimizing women.

Question: I didn't expect the book to turn into a thriller at the end. What goes terribly wrong for Bao?

Yang Huang: At the heart of her tragedy is a metaphor for Tiananmen Square massacre. It took me twenty years of soul searching to find a story that captures the fateful moment. Like the students in the square, Bao cannot foresee the swift crackdown on her selfless act of heroism.

Question: How difficult was it for you to tell this harrowing story? I know English isn't your first language.

Yang Huang: I grew up in China. At school we were taught what to think and how to feel. When I wrote in Chinese, I felt the internal censorship that forced me to use euphemisms, symbols, and riddles to tell a story with political implications. I didn't want to write like a dissident. I wanted to be a storyteller. I came to the United States in 1990, and I always enjoyed the conversations between different cultures. I chose to overcome the language barrier and write in English, rather than tiptoe around my internal censorship.

Question: You work as an engineer. How does that inform your writing?

Yang Huang: I had a BS in computer science, an MA in English, and an MFA in creative writing. I work as a computer engineer at UC Berkeley. As a writer I have a rather optimistic worldview. I like to tackle big social problems in my fiction, put my characters under the test, let them endure, and in their darkest and most despairing hours, let them use their ingenuity (much like an engineer), and find some sort of relief or solution, not a cure-all, but a way out, so that they can move forward to rebuild their lives.

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