• Zhuqing Li

    Professor, Faculty Curator | Brown University




    "This powerful page-turner of a family

    torn apart—and surviving—is as unforgettable as it is important.”

    Nicole Mones, author of The Last Chinese Chef



    Available on:

    Norton Amazon Barnes and Noble  Harvard Book Store  Target  Walmart  Audible



  • Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden:

    Two Sisters Separated by China's Civil War

    Published June 21, 2022


    Sisters separated by war forge new identities as they are forced to choose between family, nation, and their own independence.


    Scions of a once-great southern Chinese family that produced the tutor of the last emperor, Jun and Hong were each other’s best friends until, in their twenties, they were separated by chance at the end of the Chinese Civil War. For the next thirty years, while one became a model Communist, the other a model capitalist, they could not even communicate.

    On Taiwan, Jun married a Nationalist general, established an important trading company, and ultimately emigrated to the United States.

    On the Communist mainland, Hong built her medical career under a cloud of suspicion about her family and survived two waves of “re-education” before she was acclaimed for her achievements.

    Zhuqing Li recounts her aunts’ experiences with extraordinary sympathy and breathtaking storytelling. A microcosm of women’s lives in a time of traumatic change, this is a fascinating, evenhanded account of the recent history of separation between mainland China and Taiwan.

  • Praise

    Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden: Sisters Separated by China's Civil War

    "A heartrending story, beautifully told, about the struggles and triumphs of two sisters separated by the Taiwan Strait, but united in their determination to pursue meaningful lives amid political upheaval. I couldn’t stop reading it."

    Amy Stanley, author of Stranger in the Shogun’s City


    “Li Zhuqing has captured the agonizing struggle of late-20th-century Chinese history within the microcosm of her own extraordinary family, split by chance in the tumultuous summer of 1949. This is a tale of accidental exile, capitalism and communism, medicine and mercantilism, lifelong nostalgia and willfulforgetting, and the breathtaking resilience of two sisters, Li's indomitable aunts. How lucky we are that their niece has the skill and devotion to tell their story so well. “

    Janice Nimura, author of The Doctors Blackwell


    “With sensitivity and sincerity, Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden takes readers through the most complicated, difficult, sorrowful, and indecipherable years in China’s modern history.Zhuqing Li’s beautifully narrated family stories are tightly entangled with the wider historical context, unfolding on a magnificent scale, and evoke unique feelings of pain and helplessness that belong to that era.”

    Ai Wei Wei, author of 1000 Years of Joys and Sorrows


    "In gorgeous prose, Zhuqing Li tells a story that is at once distinctive and familiar, of Chinese families of a certain generation that lived through wars, revolutions, separations, and reunions. I couldn’t put it down. A lovely book.”

    Mae Ngai, author of The Chinese Question


    Beginning in war-torn China, Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden tells a compelling story about diaspora, root-seeking, and the triumph of familial love and human perseverance.”

    David Der-wei Wang, author of The Lyrical in Epic Time



    At last, a profoundly human story that illuminates the staggering personal consequences of China and Taiwan’s historic split—from both sides. Rare is the author who can portray war and its aftermath so evenhandedly. This powerful page-turner of a family torn apart—and surviving—is as unforgettable as it is important.”

    Nicole Mones, author of The Last Chinese Chef

  • Awards and Honors

    Brown University Book Award 2023

    Five Books The Best China Books (2022)

    The New York Times recommended in The Morning newsletter "What to Read" 6/21/2022

    The Wall Street Journal "10 Books to Read: The Best Reviews of June" (2022)

    BookBrowse 20 Best Books of the Year (2022); 6 Best Non-fiction for Book Clubs 2024

    Arab News What We Are Reading Today (August 1, 2022)

  • Reviews


    "Riveting...absorbing...exceptional...in telling this gripping narrative of one family divided by the “bamboo curtain,” Li sheds light on how Taiwan came to be — and why China might one day risk everything to take it."

    THE NEW YORK TIMES Book Review

    "The book’s gripping narrative reveals the devastating human cost of the Chinese Revolution... The author’s perspective, from having lived both inside and outside the People’s Republic of China, yields exceptional insight into her aunts’ personal histories and the constantly shifting political vicissitudes they endured. She unspools the unexpected, accidental swerves each life took with spellbinding grace."



    "Li’s book explores the momentous impact of momentary decisions on people’s lives in the context of massively disruptive historical events."



    “A poignant story of sisterly love and the search for self-knowledge in the face of considerable challenges....Beautifully woven family memories coalesce into a vivid history of two very different Chinas.”



    This historical biography adds to the oeuvre of similar works (Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister and Wild Swans, both by Jung Chang) but is no less intriguing, as it’s only since recently that these stories can be told with the dignity and honesty they deserve. Cinematic in scope, each sister goes through parallel epic sagas that are sure to entrance the reader. VERDICT: A wonderful addition to any library that will appeal to a wide audience interested in historical narrative, Chinese, history, family dynamics, and generally as a story of struggle against the odds.



    "Li eloquently tells a moving story of her aunts and their resilience throughout one of China's most fraught centuries"



    “Laced with frank reflections on the author’s own experience as a Chinese immigrant to the U.S., this is a poignant and intimate chronicle of the Chinese diaspora.”


  • Author Biography


    Li Zhuqing is a professor at Brown University and a faculty curator at the University’s Rockefeller Library. She is the author of four books in her academic discipline, but Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden, a longtime personal project, represents her first foray into family history and memoir. The book follows the extraordinary lives of her two maternal aunts, women whose experiences traced China’s journey through war and upheaval across three quarters of the last century. 


    Zhuqing was born in Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian province on China’s Southeast coast. The daughter of university professors, she spent many of her childhood years shuttled from one relative to another given that her parents had been exiled to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Indeed, for part of that period, Zhuqing herself was sent to the countryside to be with her parents. By the time they were able to return to the city to resume their teaching, she was already in middle school. Then, at age 16, Zhuqing attended Zhongshan University, a 36-hour train ride from home. This disjointed life continued once Zhuqing graduated from university and was assigned by the state to teach English at a local college. Though she hoped to continue on to graduate school in China, her employer forbade it and refused to provide permission. 


    It was at that point that Aunt Jun, a relative from Taiwan who she never even knew existed, returned to China for a visit, and ultimately provided her a path to attend graduate school in the United States. Zhuqing would ultimately go on to earn a PhD in Asian Languages and Literature from the University of Washington. 


    Academic studies are systematic and logical, yet for Zhuqing, they cannot explain life’s randomness and disjointedness. It is that intermixing of fate and human agency that is so central to the story of Zhuqing’s aunts presented in Daughters of the Flower Fragrant Garden.

  • Media



    The Atlantic  
    What Ukrainian Families Can Learn from Taiwan

    "...long after the guns are silenced, even if the best efforts at reconciliation are undertaken, separation doesn’t end when the war does."


    How the Women in My Family Fought for Their Daughters' Education

    "Knowledge is something no one can take away from you."


    South China Morning Post Magazine

    Amid China's Civil War between Communists and Nationalists, How Two Sisters Were Separated by Fate and Kept Apart through Their Successes


    Association for Asian Studies: Education About Asia

    Sisters and Enemies: A True Story of Two Sisters

    Washington Chinese Daily News 華府新聞報

    Introducing Prof. Zhuqing Li and the Story in Her New Book 《花香園的女兒們》李竹青教授的新書與故事


    World Journal 世界日報週刊

    親子 :教育至上的四代母親

    World on Air 6/21/2022 "Sisters' 33-year Separation: Chinese-American Professor Lifts the Scars from the Chinese Civil War between the Nationalist and the Communist -- a Podcast

     Brown Alumni Magazine "Divided Lives" (January-March, 2023)

  • Public Events


    January 19th, 2023, 6-7pm

    Queens Public Library NY

    "Literary Thursdays" 6-7pm (Webinar)

    January 28th, 2023, 3pm

    The Foundry, Cambridge, MA

    Conversation with Nina Simonds and Elaine Shiang as part of the Chinese New Year's Celebration

    March 7th, 2023 7-8pm

    Lexington Cary Memorial Library MA

    Book talk, Q/A

    March 16th, 2023 7-8pm

    Cambridge Public Library MA

    Book talk, Q/A

    March 21st, 2023 7-8pm

    National Consortium for Teaching About Asia (Webinar)

    March 23rd-24th, 2023 

    Indiana University, Bloomingdale, IN

    spring 2023 East Asia Colluquium Lecture Series


    May 15th, 2023 4-6pm EST

    Conversation with Professor Perry Link, UC Riverside



    May 29th, 2023 8-9pm EST

    Brown University Alumni Zoom talk

    July 24th-25th, 2023 

    The Mount, Lenox, MA

    30th Summer Lecture Series


    September 29 - October 1

    History Book Festival

    Lewes DE

  • Contact Me

    For all media inquiries, bookings, and interviews please contact: kradler@wwnorton.com


    Contact the author directly or give your thoughts about the book, find me at @ZhuqingLi1 on Twitter.