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Within the common destiny is the individual destiny. So it is that through the telling of one Chinese peasant woman's life, a vivid vision of Chinese history and culture is illuminated. Over the course of two years, Ida Pruitt—a bicultural social worker, writer, and contributor to Sino-American understanding—visited with Ning Lao T'ai-ta'i, three times a week for breakfast. These meetings, originally intended to elucidate for Pruitt traditional Chinese family customs of which Lao T'ai-t'ai possessed some insight, became the foundation for an enduring friendship.

As Lao T'ai-t'ai described the cultural customs of her family, and of the broader community of which they were a part, she invoked episodes from her own personal history to illustrate these customs, until eventually the whole of her life lay open before her new confidante. Pruitt documented this story, casting light not only onto Lao T'ai-t'ai's own biography, but onto the character of life for the common man of China, writ large. The final product is a portrayal of China that is “vividly and humanly revealed.”

“This is surely the warmest, most human document that has ever come out of China....The report of her life and labors has the lasting symbolic quality of literature.”—The American Journal of Sociology

“No recent book has better portrayed the common man in China....This short autobiography is right in description of Chinese Social customs....In writing this book, Ida Pruitt has rendered a great service to the Chinese people...She has written a personal story through which the spirit of the common people of China is vividly and humanly revealed.”—Pacific Affairs

“This book opens a window into the Chinese world. Although the story is of one Chinese woman, the events of her life reach out into the experiences of many other people. They are a part of that wider social and imaginary world from which the Chinese draw meaning to their life.”—The Far Eastern Quarterly
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