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Adeline Yen Mah
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"Loss of one hair from nine oxen"

Chinese Proverb

This Chinese proverb comes from a book titled Historical Records, written in 100 BC by China's great historian Sima Qian. He had been sentenced to death but survived by undergoing voluntary castration, a fate considered worse than death in those days. Considered a coward, he wrote of his all-consuming desire to write. "If I were to die before the completion of my work," he wrote, "my death would be as trivial as the loss of one hair from nine oxen."

When I was thirteen years old, I begged my father to let me go to university. He refused, saying that educating me further was a task as worthless as the "loss of one hair from nine oxen". Besides, it would spoil any chance I might have of making a suitable marriage. "No sane man," father added, "would want a bride with a PhD".

"Loss of one hair from nine oxen" became the source of my inspiration. I wrote the proverb on the first page of my diary, and set out to prove my father wrong. Every time I wavered, I would look at the proverb and draw upon the experience. A year later, I won an international playwriting competition that enabled me to go to medical school in England. After the death of my parents, I wrote my autobiography Falling Leaves which became an international best-seller. Two years later, I wrote Chinese Cinderella to emphasise the importance of education in a child's life. Hopefully, this proverb will bring hope to every child in the world, not just to me.

Facts on Adeline Yen Mah

Adeline Yeh Mah is a trained physician, though she gave up medicine for her writing.

She has two children and lives in California and London

In 2004, she was voted number 4 on the New Zealand children's bestseller list, just behind The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.


More about Adeline Yen Mah...
Adeline Yen Mah

Author Adeline Yen Mah was born in Tianjin, China, though she now lives in the United States.


Her mother died two weeks after her birth and Adeline was considered to be bad luck by her family.

Her father remarried a Eurasian woman one year later. She was half French and half Chinese and divided the Yen family into two different classes. Adeline's father, stepmother and their two children were the upper class, whereas Adeline and the four other step-children by the first wife were considered second class.

Adeline Yen Mah is the author of Chinese Cinderella: The True Story of an Unwanted Daughter, a book for young readers. Her other books include the New York Times best-seller Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter; A Thousand Pieces of Gold: A Memoir of China's Past Through Its Proverbs; and Watching the Tree: A Chinese Daughter Reflects on Happiness, Traditions, and Spiritual Wisdom.

Millions of readers worldwide celebrate the way she conveys the power of the human spirit in her writings.


Adeline Yen Mah
Her own Moving Words

"Shanghai in the late 1920's was an exhilarating city for a young girl such as Aunt Baba. While the rest of China still travelled by pushcarts, sedan chairs and horse-drawn carriages, in Shanghai shining imported motor cars were speeding down well-paved roads alongside trams and buses. Giant, colourful billboards advertising British cigarettes, Hollywood movies and French cosmetics gazed down at crowded pavements…"

"She was perfectly coifed and sheathed in a bright green, silk Chinese dress. Diamonds sparkled on her hands, ears and wrist. Her long fingernails were painted red, and the strong fragrance of her expensive French perfume filled the air."

"David seemed to grow taller and more luminous before our very eyes…..Speed and power exploded from somewhere deep in his body, spreading itself in sizzling waves not only over Johnny, but the entire audience as well."