Shanghai Girls

By Lisa See


This eloquently written novel, by Lisa See, represents the hardships of the Chinese minority circa early 1900's. Written from the point of view of the main character, Pearl Chin, Lisa See moves the reader into understanding not only the process of getting into America, but also the many reasons for leaving the beautiful city of Shanghai. Through their difficulties, the two sisters form an unbreakable bond which gets stronger as their suffering continues, and ultimately realize that no matter where they might find themselves, they will always be together.

Character Analysis

As the protagonist, Pearl Chin always felt the need to protect her younger sister, May, from any harm that could be brought to her. Growing up as a beautiful girl, Pearl was used to living a wealthy lifestyle, until everything changed. Learning of the deal her father made to pay for his personal debts, Pearl decides to hide until the men she was arranged to marry in the deal, left for American shores. Nothing but bad luck seems to hover over this family of two, like a storm cloud that relishes watching the tortured people below. From one event to the next, the girls push their way to America after their beautiful city is bombed, suffering greatly along the way. Pearl is a unique character because she describes these horrific events with such a calm tone-as if they were not bad at all.

Knowing only of the treasures money could buy, May Chin, the youngest of the two girls has to come to the harsh realization that her life will never be the same. Strong hands and a tough build could've helped her after the deal her father made came up, but sadly, May had done nothing but pose for various artists her whole life, and was not prepared for what lay ahead. Although her body may be weak, Mays attitude throughout the whole novel was nothing but strong. As the reader delves into this novel, they find out that May is tougher than she seems to be. From giving up her child to keeping that secret for almost twenty years as her once-child now believes she is the aunt, May continuously surprises the reader with her inner strength. For example, after May finds her mother dead in a shack, along with her sister on the verge of dying, she summons enough strength within her to push Pearl miles upon miles to keep her alive.

How the story begins...

Bustling streets filled with various people and smells, Shanghai held nothing but beauty in the eyes of Pearl Chin. From the architecture to the clothes, Pearl loved everything that had to do with Shanghai and believed there was no better place on earth. Posing for ZG, the beautiful girls calendar artist, was one of her favorite pastimes along with her sister, May. Falling for him deeper and deeper each day, Pearl dreamed of a life with ZG that involved nothing but happiness. All this beauty and promise held within Shanghai's walls suddenly disappeared the day Pearls life changed forever.