Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

By: Lisa See, Smore By: Sarah Brewer

When and Where

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" takes place in in nineteenth century China: a time when Chinese traditions flourished. Starting in her small village of Puwei, Lily, the narrator, tells her life tale beginning at age five lasting until age 80.

Social Context

Foot binding was a popular and required Chinese tradition for young girls. This process requires the foot and toe bones to be broken in order to shape the foot into an arch. The bound feet became much smaller than normal feet in length; Lilly's end up being seven centimeters. In the Chinese culture, the smaller the feet, the more suitable and attractive women seemed to men, and were more likely to be married. China in the 1800s was not a place women wanted to be, and they knew it. Girls were brought up thinking their only reason for being was to have boys and to make their elders happy. A majority of the novel is based upon social concepts. All throughout her life, Lily makes the journey from a worthless little girl to one of the highest ranked women in her village. Social standings were extremely important in the Chinese culture and through this novel, the reader learns the struggles girls went through to fulfill their purpose in this world.

Political Context

The novel takes place in the mid 1800s, which was also a horrific time for Southern China. The Chinese were in the middle of the Taiping Rebellion led by Hong Xiuquan who wanted to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. During this time, women were seen as property, which only adds to the negative view of women that is constantly brought up in the story.

Modern Context

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" is significant to our world today because of its strong sense of feminism. Lily's journey from a worthless little girl to being the head women of the most prosperous family demonstrates the strength women have. The process of foot binding in general shows great strength and tolerance, which men found attractive. In today's society, the fight for equal rights amongst genders is constantly in the media. "#FeministFriday" is a popular hashtag used to spread feminist ideas of empowerment, mainly to show the strength women have. Though the views on women have come a long way since 19th-century China, many believe there is still and unfair difference between men and women.

Significance to Peers

This text hold significance to the modern young adult reader through its powerful examples of strength and determination. Lily and Snow Flower power through the painful process of foot binding, but also push through the hardships of being seen as a lesser person. People today, especially teens, sometimes see others as above or below them. This novel is a great example of how it is possible to overcome belittling opinions and have strength that impacts everyone around them. Also, the story between Lily and Snow Flower, her "old same" or Laotong, (aka a sister for life, they grow up as best friends that are destined to be together through every aspect of life), is an example of how friendships can overcome anything. As Lily's life only gets better, Snow Flower's family goes from high status to living in dirt. The two work together to overcome their differences, but still manage to have each others back through any problem. In the lives of young adults, friendships are a key component, yet many fail due to petty reasons. This novel shows how two can stick together, which many people cannot do nowadays.

Literary Value

"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" is full of literary elements that make the read even more intriguing. Throughout the novel, the act of foot binding is constantly mentioned. As stated above, this practice was to seem attractive to males, but even deeper, it was a test for strength. It seems ironic that in a society that believes women are basically worthless, they endure such a painful practice that proves how strong they really are. The one literary aspect that stood out the most was the use of narration. The novel is told from Lily's perspective in flashback as she tells the story of her life from age 80. Constantly, Lily comments on what is to come by saying phrases like "this later proved to be true" and "eventually I would find out". This perspective flows the story so well it feels like Lily is sitting in front of you telling the story with such ease yet such emotion. Because it is told in flashback, the reader is able to predict what will happen from the comments Lily makes as she tells the story of her life.


"Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" by Lisa See is the life story of a girl named Lily and her Laotong (lifetime sister) Snow Flower. The two are paired together by a matchmaker due to their striking similarities. The novel describes every tradition Chinese women went through in the 19th century included the now extinct practice of foot binding. The duo's lives are displayed through Lily's flashbacks of their days as children, their time preparing to wed, and the challenges they face through marriage and with their families. All the while, their friendship is kept alive through messages written in nu shu, a writing only known to women, on a fan the two pass along throughout their lifetimes.

Lisa See does a phenomenal job of not only telling the tale of two friends, but also describing the horrific historical acts in the 1800s of China. See lets the two concept flow together in a way that makes the reader want to keep reading, but while also drawing plenty of emotions out through her strong use of imagery. Every moment of the girls' lives were somehow written about, which at times, got tedious to read, but overall allowed me to grasp the feelings and ideas See wanted the reader to reach. Many life lessons are present in the book, such as friendship can overcome anything, you are who you surround yourself with, and patience leads to reward. These themes, and many others that can be drawn out from this novel, are all ones that can be related to life today. Even though the story takes places two centuries ago and many traditions are not the same, the girls go through struggles that girls today still face. See's use of universal themes make the novel more interesting because any reader can connect to the relationships and conflicts the characters go through.

Overall, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan" was without a doubt worth the read. The reader get a lesson in a dark history, but also realizes they relate to those characters and their situations. Lisa See has an impeccable eye for detail. She describes several parts of Lily's life which makes it seem like Lily is an old friend next to you telling this story; it flows so well and does a great job of keeping the reader interested.


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Recap

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