Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

A Novel

Book - 2005
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Lily is haunted by memories--of who she once was, and of a person, long gone, who defined her existence. She has nothing but time now, as she recounts the tale of Snow Flower, and asks the gods for forgiveness.

In nineteenth-century China, when wives and daughters were foot-bound and lived in almost total seclusion, the women in one remote Hunan county developed their own secret code for communication: nu shu ("women's writing"). Some girls were paired with laotongs, "old sames," in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments.

With the arrival of a silk fan on which Snow Flower has composed for Lily a poem of introduction in nu shu, their friendship is sealed and they become "old sames" at the tender age of seven. As the years pass, through famine and rebellion, they reflect upon their arranged marriages, loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their lifelong friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a brilliantly realistic journey back to an era of Chinese history that is as deeply moving as it is sorrowful. With the period detail and deep resonance of Memoirs of a Geisha, this lyrical and emotionally charged novel delves into one of the most mysterious of human relationships: female friendship.
Publisher: New York : Random House, c2005
ISBN: 9781400060283
Characteristics: 258 pages ;,25 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
May 08, 2019

Set in nineteenth-century China, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan tells the story of Lily, a young girl who is given the opportunity to learn to read and write in order to correspond with another girl her age, Snow Flower. However, she must eventually redeem herself after cutting Snow Flower off based on a misunderstanding. This book offers an incredible insight into Chinese culture, both the beautiful aspects like the laotong matches and the horrific aspects such as the agonizingly painful process of footbinding. Lily and Snow Flower’s powerful relationship makes it worth investing in this poignant and touching story. The way that Lily navigates her relationships and reacts to events in her life was realistic and emotionally intense, though she sometimes seemed to lack a distinct personality. See’s language is musical and captivating, and I was immediately swept right into the story. @amiwrite of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

Feb 10, 2019

A beautifully told story of two childhood friends whose divergent lives give insight into a lost culture. I listened to the audio book and I was sorry it had to end.

Feb 10, 2019

Nothing but a little girl's fancies. Mediocre writing, dull storytelling, characters with no personality, not a book for adults. An infomercial promoting barbaric cultural practices paid for by the Republic of China.

Sep 01, 2018

I thought that this book was beautiful. Beautiful composition juxtaposed against harsh ideals and traditions. A symbol itself for beauty through extreme torture. The description of footbinding - though not a unique theme in eastern literature was so expertly woven that I had to put the book aside and collect myself. A ancient yet relevant tale, who has not experienced that outpouring of venom that stems from hurt and betrayal? Who has not both received and given it? I read ravenously till one am. I could not have severed myself from this novel if I had wanted to.

ArapahoeKati Mar 28, 2018

It had been several years since I read this, but I am so glad I reread it. I forgot how many interesting historical details there were, plus I fell in love all over again with the characters. Highly recommend!

Mar 13, 2018

This was a good family story but it was a fascinating cultural story as well. Highly recommended if you enjoy reading books set in other countries.

Jul 05, 2017

This book will transport you to another time, another place when women were treated quite differently. This is the story of Snow Flower and Lily, two women from different villages and different circumstances and status'. The journey of these women's lives will make you laugh, then make you cry. This story brings to light the indifference to women's plights during this time and the cultural norms then. The writing is beautiful and poignant. This touching novel is well worth reading over and over again.

Jan 30, 2017

Lily is from an upper middle class family where the traditions of foot binding, arranged marriages, and the total sequestering of women is a way of life. Their value is only in how advantageous a marriage they can enter into. The matchmaker begins her work years before marriage is possible. First she must examine all Lily's omens, celestial signs and zodiac portents to find Snow Flower, the perfect 'sworn sister' for her. They begin a lifelong friendship meant to carry them through all their life long. Each follows all the customs and traditions expected of them, but their paths diverge. Lily is married into a wealthy family while Snow Flower is matched to a butcher, a profession deemed unclean in their society. Their friendship hits rocky patches and leaves Lily bewildered as to what is happening. She must re-evaluate her life as a woman in feudal China. All in all a very good read. Be warned, the passages dealing with foot binding might be too graphic for some readers.

Jun 22, 2016

Watched the film and decided to give the book a try ... a bit slow but really an unique experience about a lost culture. Noted that there are no quotes posted yet and decided to add a few, see "Quotes."

PimaLib_PearlD Sep 24, 2015

Lisa See is one of my favorite authors of historical fiction. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan led me to read her other books. Her books are of the very interesting lives of Chinese women and the hardships they endure.

View All Comments


Add a Quote
Jun 23, 2016

Many memorable quotes in Goodreads:

Jun 22, 2016

“Beautiful Moon, we hope the flower tower brings you peace. We hope you forget about us, but we will never forget you. We will honor you. We will clean your grave at Spring Festival. Do not let your thoughts run wild. Live in your flower tower and be happy.”
“She loved you as a laotong should for everything that you were and everything you were not,” Plum Blossom concluded. “But you had too much man-thinking in you. You loved her as a man would, valuing her only for following men’s rules.”
“My writing is soaked with the tears of my heart, An invisible rebellion that no man can see. Let our life stories become tragic art. Oh, Mama, oh, sisters, hear me, hear me.”
“The bed is lit by moonlight. I think it is the light snow of an early winter morning. Looking up, I enjoy the full moon in the night sky. Bending over, I miss my hometown.”

Jun 22, 2016

“A woman without knowledge is better than a woman with an education.”
The letter began in the traditional opening to a bride: I feel knives in my heart as I write to you. We promised each other that we would never be a step apart, that a harsh word would never pass between us.I thought we would have our whole lives together. I never believed this day would come. It is sad that we came into this life wrong—as girls—but this is our fate. Lily, we have been like a pair of mandarin ducks. Now everything changes. In the coming days you will learn thingsabout me. I have been restless and filled with apprehension. In my heart and in my mouth I have been weeping, thinking you will no longer love me. Please know that whatever you think of me, my opinion of you will never change.

Jun 22, 2016

“People may speak of us as girls who married out,” I sang, in the direction of Snow Flower, “but we will never be separated in our hearts. You go down; I go up. Your family butchers animals. My family is the best in the county. You are as close to me as my own heart. Our futures are tied together. We are like a bridge over a wide river. We walk side by side.” I wanted Snow Flower’s mother-in-law to hear me. But her eyes stared back at me suspiciously, her thin lips pressed into a slash of displeasure. As I came to the end, again I added a few new sentiments. “Don’t express misery where others can see you. Don’t let sobbing build. Don’t give ill-mannered people a reason to make fun of you or your family. Follow the rules. Smooth your anxious brow. We will be old sames forever.”

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability
Feb 03, 2018

blue_dog_12102 thinks this title is suitable for All Ages

Aggie3 Apr 08, 2014

Aggie3 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over

amysueoreilly May 14, 2012

amysueoreilly thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


Add a Summary
Jan 03, 2017

Lilly tells her and Snow Flower's story - beginning in 1823 in a remote Hunan village - laotongs, Daughter Days, foot binding, Hair-Pinning Days, husbands and babies, the Taiping rebellion, the secret language. Graphic wrenching detail.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Related Authors


Subject Headings


Find it at my library

To Top