October 01, 2012
A Galaxy of Immortal Women by Brian Griffith
I'm fascinated with Chinese culture and with Women studies. So a book that combined the both of them was right up my alley. And this book was truly interesting. Coming from an author who himself says he's not sure he's qualified to write this kind of book, I appreciated his honesty and his want to learn more about the culture; it's like he tried to really talk to the women of China and understand what they were saying. And I think that even furthered the enjoyment of the book a little more for me. This book not only details some of the history of China, but it also explores its religions, and its outlook on women.
All kinds of topics are explored in this book. Confucianism, Daoist, Goddess religions. They're all here and women's impact on them are explored as well. It also offers a very broad history of China and its rulers, mainly focusing on the aspects religion played upon the different rulers, and how each ruling society treated women and their place in the household or government at large. Several small stories, such as legends about different figures considered to be raised to goddess-hood are included in the book. And a particular favorite of mine was the short story of the two lovers, separated in the stars by an overbearing father. These little gems of stories helped explain the people's thought processes through time and their secret hopes for what they wanted with their lives. There were also topics considering the Partnerships formed between women and men, family values as considered by different ruling regimes and even a glossary was included to list the Goddesses and other religious beings. There was also a great deal of sources listed and an index.
There were many people mentioned in this book. Some real, some not, but they were all treated with the same courtesy. I was actually a little amazed at how non-judgmental this book seemed to me. Different figures were presented factually without a lot of bias thrown against them. The author was just doing that, stating facts, rather than going on long tirades against different decisions and political aspects. I did like the mentions of the different goddesses (the outhouse goddesses were especially interesting). Each had their own unique story and something different that they represented and some of them were even real people at some point so it was interesting to see what qualified someone to become a religious figure. Since this book is mainly about women, the men may be described a little overbearing, but it wasn't done accusingly at least.
I liked all of the different topics this book covered. In fact, my only complaint is that I had a hard time keeping track of the timeline in this book as it bounced around a bit. There were some charts in front to help with that, but I would have liked for a little more of a straight timeline to keep things in line in my head. But other than that it was a very easy to read book considering the it covered a lot of big topics. The language was clear and precise and not hard to understand despite it being an educational sort of book and I can see most people picking it up and enjoying it. Although it is more geared towards women, I can see men interested in history, China, or religion enjoying this book quite a bit. It does offer a different view of China than what one normally expects. And although I don't know enough about China or its history and religions to comment on the authenticity of this book, it seemed exceptionally well researched and the large index bears witness that some research was actually done, so I'm satisfied with that.
A different look at China and its religion; a good non-fiction to pick up if you're interested in the country.
A Galaxy of Immortal Women