Chinese Cinderella

Chinese Cinderella

Niang is Father’s second wife and Adeline’s abusive stepmother. She is the memoir’s primary antagonist. Niang is a half-French, half-Chinese, and her European heritage contributes to her extreme vanity. She despises the five children of her husband’s first marriage, favoring her own two biological children to an extreme degree by giving her children good food, fashionable modern clothing, and every luxury they desire, while denying the stepchildren any provision aside from the barest minimum. However, even towards her own children, Niang is occasionally psychotic and abusive: when Little Sister is reunited with Niang as a toddler, Niang beats her furiously for not wanting to be held by Niang and for accidentally breaking her necklace. Niang also demonstrates an extreme level of narcissism and is enraged anytime that Adeline—whom she hates and regards as utterly worthless—has any sort of success or happiness, such as when her friends throw a surprise party to celebrate Adeline’s election as class president. Though the youngest adult in the house by many years, Niang dominates the family, due in part to her control over Father and in part to her furious demeanor. She subjugates both Ye Ye and Aunt Baba, especially when they show compassion to the stepchildren—this causes Aunt Baba to go live in Communist-controlled Shanghai after Adeline has been sent away, rather than in the same house as Niang. Pointedly, Niang is never depicted as having any character development. She is depicted as evil and selfish throughout the length of the memoir until Adeline leaves for England.

Niang (Jeanne Prosperi) Quotes in Chinese Cinderella

The Chinese Cinderella quotes below are all either spoken by Niang (Jeanne Prosperi) or refer to Niang (Jeanne Prosperi). For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ember edition of Chinese Cinderella published in 2010.
Chapter 1: Top of the Class Quotes

“But then Mama died giving birth to you. If you had not been born, Mama would still be alive. She died because of you. You are bad luck.”

Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 5: Arrival in Shanghai Quotes

As we climbed the stairs, Big Brother muttered, “To her, we are not separate people. Here we have become one single unit known as all of you. Seems like this is how it’s going to be from now on.”

Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 7: Family Reunion Quotes

In those few moments, we had understood everything. Not only about Niang, but also about all the grown-ups. Now that Nai Nai was dead, there was no doubt about who was in charge.

Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9: Chinese New Year Quotes

We began to question Third Brother’s sanity—had he imagined that Niang overheard us?—but he stuck to his story. “Perhaps,” he suggested darkly, “we’re being kept deliberately in a state of uncertainty because that’s what Niang most enjoys. The cat-and-mouse game.”

Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:
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I was no longer the lonely little girl bullied by her siblings. Instead, I was the female warrior Mulan, who would rescue her aunt and Ye Ye from harm.

Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 11: PLT Quotes

I felt quite guilty about my favoritism and couldn’t help blaming myself for not having gotten more worms that each duckling could have its own.

Related Symbols: PLT
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 13: A Birthday Party Quotes

Finally, I sat there with my eyes tightly shut, wishing with all my heart that when I opened them again, I would be Jackie and Jackie would be me.

Page Number: 104
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 14: Class President Quotes

“It’s because we won the election today. I’m now class president. We worked hard at it—”

Niang interrupted me in the middle of my explanation. “Stop bragging!” she screamed. “Who do you think you are? … You are getting altogether too proud and conceited! No matter what you consider yourself to be, you are nothing without your father. Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!”

Related Symbols: The Holy of Holies
Page Number: 117
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 16: Hong Kong Quotes

That was how [Aunt Reine’s] family treated me throughout the time I spent with them. They made me feel as if I were their third child. For the first time in my life, I did not automatically get the short end of the sick but was given an equal share, just like Victor and Claudine.

Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 17: Boarding School in Hong Kong Quotes

Afterward, Ye Ye and I sat by ourselves on the long couch, not saying a word. I looked at my grandfather defeated and resigned with a blanket around his drooping shoulders in the blistering heat, his face contorted with sadness and anguish. A tired old man with no one to turn to, imprisoned by his love for his only son.

Page Number: 159
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 20: Pneumonia Quotes

“Don’t talk like that! … You mustn’t talk like that! You have your whole life ahead of you. Everything is possible! I’ve tried to tell you over and over that far from being garbage, you are precious and special. Being on top of your class merely confirms this. But you can vanquish the demons only when you yourself are convinced of your own worth.”

Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:
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Niang (Jeanne Prosperi) Character Timeline in Chinese Cinderella

The timeline below shows where the character Niang (Jeanne Prosperi) appears in Chinese Cinderella. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Top of the Class
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
A picture of Adeline’s Father and stepmother falls out. Adeline asks Aunt Baba if she has any pictures of her “dead mama,”... (full context)
Chapter 2: A Tianjin Family
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...hold it against her. Father married a seventeen-year-old half-Chinese, half-French woman whom the children call Niang, which is Chinese for “mother.” Together they had two more children: Fourth Brother and Little... (full context)
Chapter 3: Nai Nai’s Bound Feet
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...arm, angry at her for showing off her achievement. Third Brother pointedly does not intervene. Niang, Father, and Big Sister all enter the dining room and Second Brother instantly leaves Adeline... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Although Niang’s two children are still too young even to eat with the family, everyone knows they... (full context)
Chapter 4: Life in Tianjin
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...the police, no one knows anything of what happened to him. A few months later, Niang takes Fourth Brother and also disappears very suddenly and mysteriously. Although it is strange, the... (full context)
Chapter 5: Arrival in Shanghai
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...a formal living room, lavishly and expensively decorated, that shocks the children in its luxury. Niang greets her stepchildren there. (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Niang explains that the stepchildren are only allowed to enter and exit through the back door... (full context)
Chapter 7: Family Reunion
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...Little Sister arrive in Shanghai. Little Sister, nearly two years old now, has not seen Niang in a year and a half. The toddler has started walking and talking, running around... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Niang forcibly picks up Little Sister, loudly screaming at her to keep still as the infant... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Aunt Baba gives Adeline a warning glance not to speak anymore, but Niang is already enraged. She fumes at Adeline, pointing a finger at her and telling her... (full context)
Chapter 8: Tram Fare
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Despite the family’s obvious wealth, Father and Niang set up an “austerity program to teach us the value of money.” The stepchildren are... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...money and insists to Father that the stepchildren need an allowance for the tram fare, Niang is enraged that they dare take the tram at all. She demands that they must... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...initially furious and determined to resist, but within ten days, Big Sister caves and begs Niang for the tram fare. The three brothers, who have the longest distance to walk, endure... (full context)
Chapter 9: Chinese New Year
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...is the gifting of a new set of clothes, which symbolizes “a new beginning.” Although Niang’s own children received fancy, Western-style clothing in the latest fashion, the stepchildren are all given... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...other that they are only allowed a couple meals a day of cheap food, while Niang’s children are given all sorts of snacks whenever they want and constantly are seen throwing... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...settling on the idea that Big Sister will write Father an anonymous letter in Chinese—which Niang cannot read—to explain their grievances. (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
As they are doing this, Third Brother opens the door and steps outside, finding Niang with her ear pressed against the door, listening to the conspiracy. Third Brother is too... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Rather than strike back, Niang breaks up the resistance by bribing Big Sister into aligning with her, offering her a... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...Baba and their shared room becomes a place of safety for her. She knows that Niang hates both of them and that Aunt Baba is in a strange and terrible position,... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...she has a loving family rather than reveal the truth: her family resents her and Niang makes her feel worthless and ugly. This becomes a great burden for Adeline, filling her... (full context)
Chapter 10: Shanghai School Days
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...one morning and asks her driver to offer Adeline a ride. Adeline refuses, fearful of Niang’s wrath. However, two weeks later in the onset of a typhoon, Chun-mei and her father... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
In the spring of 1946, Father, Niang, Big Sister, Fourth Brother, and Little Sister all leave Shanghai for several months to take... (full context)
Chapter 11: PLT
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Niang, Father, and the other children eventually return. Shortly after, some family friends come with a... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...also warns her not to mention that Jackie attacked her, since he is Father and Niang’s pet. (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...have pet ducklings. Both children smuggle their food off the table to avoid eating it. Niang makes a remark about Jackie’s obedience lessons, which are taught by a high-end German trainer.... (full context)
Chapter 12: Big Sister’s Wedding
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Father and Niang, who often travel to Tianjin for business meetings, begin taking Big Sister with them. In... (full context)
Toxic Family Theme Icon
As wedding gifts are sent to the house for Big Sister, Niang sorts through them and takes all of the best items for herself. Grand Aunt delivers... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...celebration, Adeline is in a bathroom stall when she hears Grand Aunt enter, followed by Niang. They are unaware that Adeline is in the stall. Grand Aunt makes a casual remark... (full context)
Chapter 13: A Birthday Party
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...Adeline to come over to her house for her birthday party. Adeline keeps refusing, since Niang has forbade her from going to any friends’ houses. Chun-mei persists, insisting that it doesn’t... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...be expecting her home for lunch. Chun-Mei is disappointed but Adeline is insistent, fearing that Niang will discover the ruse. As Adeline is hastily leaving, she thoughtlessly gives Chun-mei her phone... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Adeline arrives home earlier than she would have on a normal school day and Niang is instantly suspicious. Adeline also has a silver dollar in her pocket that Aunt Baba... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Niang confines Adeline to her room until Father gets home, telling her that she has her... (full context)
Chapter 14: Class President
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...proud of her. As she walks home that afternoon, Adeline reflects on how this proves Niang and Father wrong. How can she be worthless or have bad blood if she has... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...chanting, singing, not realizing that Adeline is fearfully silent. The maid soon tells Adeline that Niang is demanding to see her in her room, and Adeline momentarily excuses herself from the... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Niang and Father are sitting together in the Holy of Holies, furious. Niang accuses Adeline of... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
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When the friends have gone, Father and Niang order Adeline to throw all the gifts that were brought for her in the trash.... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...version of herself that her classmates recognize and the version of herself that Father and Niang see, wondering also if Father will love her again if she can bring him just... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...a suitcase. Ye Ye looks saddened and the maid informs Adeline that tomorrow Father and Niang will fly with her to Tianjin, where they will leave her in an orphanage. Adeline,... (full context)
Chapter 15: Boarding School in Tianjin
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Niang’s brother meets them at the airport in Tianjin with his chauffer and they all drive... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
...often, since she never gets anything. Though she does not know it at the time, Niang ordered all incoming and outgoing mail to be intercepted and forwarded to her in Shanghai. (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...foreign-looking woman in a Western suit who tells Adeline that she is Aunt Reine Schilling, Niang’s older sister. Aunt Baba remains in Tianjin. According to Aunt Reine, she has not seen... (full context)
Chapter 16: Hong Kong
Friendship Theme Icon
...daydreams about Aunt Reine adopting her and living with them forever, never having to see Niang again. “Then I…remember my true status and my heart [is] touched by ice.” (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
Though Adeline dreads it, they finally arrive in Hong Kong, but Father and Niang are not at the dock to meet them. Aunt Reine’s family and Adeline pile into... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...the driver tells them that Adeline’s family lives in an apartment across the street. Father, Niang, Fourth Brother, Little Sister, and several maids appear in a flurry of activity. None of... (full context)
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...of the diamonds she had smuggled out of Tianjin in the lining of her coat. Niang is thrilled, “clapping her hands like a child.” Aunt Reine remarks that better than Niang’s... (full context)
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...a cot placed in his room and that she should move her things there while Niang is distracted. As Adeline unpacks her belongings into the room, she realizes that the undefinable... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
...shopping together. Ye Ye insists that he stay home, since his neck is bothering him. Niang looks to Adeline and tells her that she will stay behind, as well, to massage... (full context)
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Each day for the rest of the week, Niang takes Aunt Reine’s family on outings into the city, always inviting Ye Ye but never... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
Friendship Theme Icon
On Sunday, Niang organizes a long scenic drive for everyone to go on, and Ye Ye decides that... (full context)
Chapter 17: Boarding School in Hong Kong
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...Ye is sleeping, so the only people to go wherever Adeline will be taken are Niang, Fourth Brother, and herself. Fourth Brother is still furious with her, since earlier in the... (full context)
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...a luxury hotel. When the concierge tells them that it will be a long wait, Niang insists in her best heavy European accent that they be seated, and gives her French... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
After tea, Adeline is taken to a combination orphanage and Catholic boarding school. While Niang is meeting with the administrators, Adeline is fearful that she is being abandoned to the... (full context)
Chapter 18: Miserable Sunday
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
The Power of Stories Theme Icon
...pathos” of it and the way it astutely described Ye Ye’s imprisonment in Father and Niang’s house. Adeline makes a false pretense to escape the library and the conversation. (full context)
Chapter 20: Pneumonia
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
...never be sent abroad to study like Third Brother will. Father treats her like trash, Niang treats like a “leper,” and they hide her away in boarding schools. After all these... (full context)
Chapter 21: Playwriting Competition
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
The Power of Stories Theme Icon
School resumes. Adeline writes several petitions to Father and Niang to send her to study in England, but they never reply. During the year, her... (full context)
Physical and Emotional Abuse Theme Icon
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
Toxic Family Theme Icon
...playwriting competition, which he had inspired her to enter. As the family leaves the funeral, Niang remarks that Adeline is looking uglier than ever the older she gets. Niang also informs... (full context)
Coming of Age and Self-Worth Theme Icon
 The death of Adeline’s grandfather and Niang’s declaration that her school would no longer be paid for sends Adeline into an anxious... (full context)