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The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl

Region: East Asia, China

Author: Ma Yan

Original Language: Mandarin

Translators: He Yanping (translated from Mandarin to French), Lisa Appignanesi (translated from French to English)

Characters: Ma Yan, Mother, Father

Genre: Nonfiction (memoir)

Descriptors: School girl, diary, journal, studies, education, memoir, China, village 

Age: 9-14 years old

The Diary of Ma Yan: The Struggles and Hopes of a Chinese Schoolgirl is the diary of Ma Yan as she grows up in the small village of Ningxia, in China. Ma Yan was about 13 or 14 when she wrote this diary. She and her two younger brothers had to walk four miles to school every day, even in the harshest winter weather, while often, her family would not have enough money to buy warm clothes or vegetables for their lunch. Ma Yan would write a diary entry nearly every day although there were gaps of time in places where passages of her diary were lost or destroyed. In the book, Pierre Haski would periodically insert an informative section about what life was like in their village and give insight into the culture in which Ma Yan was growing up. 

Most of Ma Yan’s entries were about school. It was apparent that she felt an obligation and responsibility to excel in school; it was the only way for her to help and lift her family out of poverty and relieve her parents of the back-breaking daily labor that allowed them to provide food for the family and send their kids to school. Ma Yan focused on and worked tirelessly at school with a clear vision of succeeding someday and helping to provide for her family. This book is an important immersive read for kids and adults to have an inside perspective of growing up in China. The differences between Chinese and Western cultures and lifestyles are portrayed through this young girl’s diary, and the translation preserves the rich original meaning of  her words and expressiveness even though it went through multiple translations to get to English.  Ma Yan’s is an exceptional writer and her story is one that will linger in the reader’s mind.  

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