The Crystal Ribbon is a beautifully woven historical fairy tale about a poor farmer’s daughter that is sold into marriage to a wealthy but cruel family. Li Jing becomes a tongyangxi, a child bride. It is an ancient Chinese practice in which a family adopts a pre-adolescent daughter as a future bride for a pre-adolescent son, often becoming a nurse maid for their husbands.
This book deals with some extremely difficult topics. Child marriage is the most prominent but there were many others and I was caught off guard with how startlingly dark Jing’s journey was. There were times that my stomach lurched with anxiety as I delved deeper into the story. Jing is a strong willed heroine thrown into some of the worst circumstances imaginable, her strength lies in her dreams of going home to her family.
What makes this story truly magical are the jing, mythical creatures of Chinese folklore. Jing’s destiny is tied to her village jing whose name she shares, the Golden Huli Jing, a fox spirit. Jing encounters multiple jing on her journey of both the good and bad variety as she takes control of her destiny. I loved the blend of history and fantasy in this book that made the Song Dynasty come alive within its pages.
“Strength of character is never with those who blindly follow. You need to be able to make your own choices and walk your own path.”
There was something that I noticed about two of the other important female characters that I felt deserved special note. While the prominent female characters all came from drastically different backgrounds, it was clear that Jing, Yunlil, and Chang Er were not so different afterall. I won’t go into too much detail about who they are and their roles in the story due to spoilers, but there was one thing that was evident between the stories of these girls. No matter where a woman comes from, no matter how poor or privileged or famous she may be, the role of women in society is the same: a commodity that is to be consumed by the men, no price too high to claim her freedom.
The Crystal Ribbon is a coming of age novel that absolutely blew me away. It is a story about the messy and difficult path to adulthood, about growing up too fast and finding a personal sense of freedom in owning one’s destiny. We can’t help the things that happen to us, but we can take control of our fate by deciding how we want to let the events in our lives shape us. It is about the power of love, of home, and of family. It is about the sacrifices that we make for those we care about and learning to forgive ourselves and others. This is a book I won’t soon forget.
In the village of Huanan, in medieval China, the deity that rules is the Great Huli Jing. Though twelve-year-old Li Jing’s name is a different character entirely from the Huli Jing, the sound is close enough to provide constant teasing-but maybe is also a source of greater destiny and power. Jing’s life isn’t easy. Her father is a poor tea farmer, and her family has come to the conclusion that in order for everyone to survive, Jing must be sacrificed for the common good. She is sold as a bride to the Guo family, where she will be the wife and nursemaid to their three-year-old son, Ju’nan. It’s not fair, and Jing feels this bitterly, especially when she is treated poorly by the Guo’s, and sold yet again into a worse situation that leads Jing to believe her only option is to run away, and find home again. With the help of a spider who weaves Jing a means to escape, and a nightingale who helps her find her way, Jing embarks on a quest back to Huanan–and to herself.