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Farewell My Concubine

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  1,079 ratings  ·  102 reviews
Beginning amid the decadent glamour of China in the 1930s and ending in the 1980s in Hong Kong, this brilliant novel, which formed the basis for the award-winning movie, is the passionate story of an opera student who falls in love with his best friend, and the beautiful woman who comes between them.
Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 3rd 1994 by Harper Perennial (first published 1985)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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 ·  1,079 ratings  ·  102 reviews

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Apr 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
The movie adaptation of Lilian Lee’s Farewell My Concubine is widely renowned and celebrated, but the novel perhaps not as much, and that’s a shame. As with all original sources, this is more flushed out, subtler, and more enjoyable in many ways than the movie. While I loved the movie, especially the dynamic between Gong Li’s Juxian and Leslie Cheung’s Dieyi, the movie took certain liberties that I didn’t care for, but didn’t know initially because I watched the movie prior to reading this lovel ...more
Dec 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: gay-historical
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vanessa Wu
Feb 01, 2012 rated it liked it
This is a poignant, short novella that lasts just over 3 hours in the unabridged version I listened to.

The bare bones of the story form a very potent plot but the narrative is somewhat dry. Since it spans over 50 years and the lives of the main characters are set against the turbulent political changes in China during those years, from the Japanese invasion, through the rise of Mao Zedong to the end of British colonial rule in Hong Kong, it is hard for the author to squeeze in the telling person
Astrid Reza
Dec 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-book-shelf
i have to say, when seeing the movie first then reading the book, it always fell beyond expectation. thought having it the other way around, mostly it pissed me off because i always felt that the movie is lack of details than with the book. so, i really enjoy reading the book after. i tried to remember the detail of the film, but it shortly failed me with the sad, short tone of the entire novel.

i felt sad finishing the book. tragic is more fitting i believe. it's like seeing another version of
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
Having taken lots of courses on 'gender' in my Latin American lit classes, this was a really interesting take on the roles of all-male theater. Lots of neat symbolism and a nice blend of eastern and western writing aesthetics (although other translations might be different). I also like any book that can teach me a little history through the story rather than vice versa. I'll probably check out the movie and maybe some of the author's other books. Seems like a good way to learn more about China ...more
Nov 23, 2012 rated it liked it
As with many translated novels, some of the subliminal beauty of descriptions gets lost when translators may tend to focus on literal meanings rather than implied impressions. It was a quick read with most of my joy found in the writer's passion towards the same point as the book's main protagonist, Dieyi. This story shines at the start where an animated childhood and the love of opera are colorfully painted. I would love to have experienced China during this time of unrestrained artistic freedo ...more
Jul 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is a whole ass mess but I love it, it has a lot of inconsistencies and the translation is just ok but I still read an emotional story that sort of feels like it’s an opera itself the ~drama~ of it all....
Ana Silva Rosa
Apr 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
(view spoiler) ...more
Dec 02, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It's not often a book falls short of fulfilling the promise of a movie. Where the film "Farewell My Concubine" was lush, rich, nuanced, brightly colored, emotional, layered, and beautiful, the book was flat, affectless, emotionally distant, uninspiring.

It could be that the richness of the story was lost in the translation from the Chinese, or that the subtleties of an oppressed Chinese life in the 40s, 50s and 60s are just too subtle for me to grasp. But it felt like not enough time was given t
El Hunter
Mar 24, 2019 rated it it was ok
I had to read this book for school, so I wasn’t expecting much. However, I quite enjoyed the process of over analysing the plot and the characters. The story itself to me seemed like a mix of excitement and this strange feeling of uncertainty.

It is definitely unlike anything I have ever read before. It’s a very powerful story, but it didn’t make me want to own a copy of this book and to ever re read it. Would I still recommend it? Yes, as I said it’s a powerful story.
Sammy Pan
Jun 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A book less about the beijing opera but more about how the history of china affects the daily lives of millions of Chinese people, and their culture. I loved the story. Being a Chinese, this book reminded me of how much has been lost, and that is truly grievous.
Helen Lind
May 03, 2009 rated it it was ok
I read this after seeing the movie. It was OK, kind of hard to read at times. I did learn a bit about the Cultural Revolution, so it wasn't a complete waste of time. ...more
May 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Farewell My Concubine, based on the novel by Pik Wah Lee

A different version of this note and thoughts on other books are available at:

- and

Farewell My Concubine is a mesmerizing movie.
You can find it on the New York Times ‘Best 1,000 Movies ever made list:


It won the most important award in cinema-in my view:

- The Palme d’Or

And some cherries on top:

- The Golden Globe and BAFTA for Best
Feb 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Read it as part of the English course. It's sorry to see how much is lost during the translation, those lines that portray the dilemma, those punctuations, those poetic and drama like wordings. It did a great job using two small and normal people's lives in reflecting the bigger context in China. It was an extremely unstable and miserable era. it leads to 2 good artists failing to devote their time and passion to arts. Dieyi is always figuring out who he is: Yuji, Xiaolou's partner or even lover ...more
Lynette Lark
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
This book was slow to warm up and I almost abandoned it, but because it was made into a movie, I wanted to know why. The unrest in China was interesting because I haven't read a lot about the Occupation and the Revolution (what an ego-maniac Mao was with his "for the people" BS!). I will never understand what makes a dictator want to totally destroy culture--but the entire indoctriNATION system was unfathomable in its cruelty with the Red Guard (literally, children) going house to house looking ...more
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
A beautifully narrated tale of unrequited love and repetitive loss that left both a sad and joyful taste in my mouth. From the characters, who are retold in an almost poetic fashion, to the incredible world of Peking opera that Lee envelopes and showcases to her audience, it was a uniquely magical tale. Though I wish there had been a little more in depth into the characters, there was no doubt in my mind that the horrors and the accomplishments of the cast was felt. In a way, Lee captures the su ...more
Crystal Li
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
An interesting read for those interested in the old Republic of China, Liyuan and the Cultural Revolution.

I may have too high of an expectation for the book due to the amazing fame of the movie adaptation, but the bond between the two male protagonists saddens me nevertheless. If only their time could stop in the teenage dreams.

The themes of masculinity & individuality are interesting to explore as well. I’m the traditional society those Dan males are being bent on their recognition of sexualit
Sherika Dew
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Having seen the movie I was ecstatic to find out it was actually a book first. I loved the movie and only love it more after reading this book. The book was hard to understand in the beginning from all the uses of the different opera terms but I was able to follow along after a while. It really goes into the blending of real life and opera for the main characters and how their choices influenced the events to come.

This book isn't well known but I would definitely recommend it for any historical
With emotional, but unsentimental, evocations of deep longings, unexpressed love, bitter gratuitous resentments, depressing disappointments or sadistic public tortures, transposed in such memorable scenes as the abandonment of a child by a mother, the hard educational exercises, the public `political' confessions or the unexpected encounter of old, but not `intimate friends', Lilian Lee wrote an unforgettable masterpiece.
A must read.

I also highly recommend the movie with the same title by Chen K
Nov 12, 2017 rated it liked it
Okay, so the writing was great, but the story...while the story is undeniably a good one, I didn't particularly love it. It's queer literature, for one, and some of the scenes can get explicit, so there's that. It's also rather depressing. But as a topic for my research paper, this was a great source, so...I'm torn.
Overall, writing = good, storyline = questionable.
Kezia Ratna
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The description of China throughout the years is what keeps me interested. However, I feel it also compromises an opportunity to explore deeper emotions of the characters. There are things that just do not make up. Although the story in general is heartbreaking, it doesn't make me linger on the emotions much, though perhaps it was the writer's intention. ...more
Feb 03, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: love-unrequited
Ugh. This was a poor translation, or maybe it was just bad writing. The prose had so many problems I couldn’t get into the flow of the story. I see a lot of favorable reviews, but that’s what makes the world go around: we each have our own viewpoints.

I can’t recommend this, but perhaps the film is better and would be a good alternative.
Christine Sinclair
Mar 01, 2021 rated it liked it
This is the dramatic story of two Peking opera singers, set against the revolution and its effect on the art and culture of China. Their lives are tragically intertwined from childhood to old age, and although it is well-written, I thought it was depressing and often violent. I will pass on seeing the movie.
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I liked the second half of this book much better. That is where I gained an increased understanding of what it was like to live in China during the Cultural Revolution, as seen through the eyes of two opera singers. It was sad to see how much their lives were affected by the Revolution.
Νάγια Γρίβελλη
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Captivating with nice pace.
Adam Crossley
Feb 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This story takes an interesting love triangle and tosses it into the middle of fascinating and terrifying historical events. It makes for a great read! I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Mar 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very delicate.
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
From the spoilers I've read the movie would be better.

But this one is good enough.
Jan 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
I prefer movie ending. But still good to read.
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born Lee Bak (李白) or Lee Pik-Wah(李碧華), Lillian Lee, she is also known by Li Pi-Hua, Li Bihua.

The last name is often what her English language novel translations are listed under regarding copyright.

She is a graduate of True Light Middle School, Hong Kong.

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