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A Thousand Pieces of Gold: My Discovery of China's Character in Its Proverbs
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A Thousand Pieces of Gold: My Discovery of China's Character in Its Proverbs

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  656 ratings  ·  57 reviews
In this poignant memoir the New York Times bestselling author of Falling Leaves, Adeline Yen Mah, provides a fascinating window into the history and cultural soul of China. Combining personal reflections, rich historical insights, and proverbs handed down to her by her grandfather, Yen Mah shares the wealth of Chinese civilization with Western readers. Exploring the histor ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published August 31st 2003 by Harpercollins (first published 2002)
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Average rating 3.84  · 
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Jul 29, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend was raving about this book and lent it to me. Initially, I was rather skeptical: after the success of "Wild Swan", there were tons of 'me-too' books wailing about the hardship of living under Communist China and how they got new lives overseas. One of which, I thought, was Adeline Yen Mah's Falling Leaves.

But I had to eat my words. This is a very good book: 1/3 autobiography, 1/3 chinese history, 1/3 proverb explanation. Weaving two parts (autobiography and chinese history, ancient and
Lucy B
Aug 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Biography of an unwanted Chinese girl. Adeline is a real fighter. You won't only read her story, you'll feel it. One of my favorite books. ...more
Oct 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
If you have any interest in China or Chinese history, this is a great book for you. It's interesting, informative, and well written, but not heavy reading at all. ...more
Oct 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: advisory-09-10
Adeline Yen Mah has become one of my favorite author. After reading her novel "Falling Leaves," I was fascinated by her storytelling and how she recalled her childhood experiences. In "A Thousands Pieces of Gold," Yen Mah provides the history and culture of China combined with her own personal experiences and the proverbs learned from her Ye-Ye(grandfather). In the book, she writes about the first and second emperors of China and as well as two warriors and constantly compared Mao Zhe-Dong with ...more
Jan 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
I love anything this author writes. I enjoyed the history, culture and proverbs from this book.
Alyssa Nelson
A Thousand Pieces of Gold is a unique memoir that highlights various Chinese proverbs and uses the history of China to show how the proverb came into use; Adeline Yen Mah adds a personal touch to this by showing how that proverb relates to every day life by relating it to her own personal experience. I feel like this book is everything at once. It is informative and poignant and so beautifully crafted.

I am in awe of Yen Mah’s ability to weave together such different stories into something seamle
Lyn Haines
Jun 17, 2017 rated it liked it
A Thousand Pieces of Gold: My Discovery of China's Character in Its Proverbs is fascinating blend of memoir and history written by Adeline Yen Mah the author of Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter.

‘The best proverbs come from our history ... Proverbs mirror the past to benefit the present.’
Bob Reed
Jan 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
This is an incredibly sweet and wonderful book. The author weaves her personal life into a collection of famous Chinese proverbs, at the same time taking the reader through the early history of China, including the coming to power of the First Emperor of China, and ending with the establishment of the Han Dynasty. Oh, and did I mention that the author relates the book to current events in history, and an evaluation of Mao Zse Tung? Breathtaking! And it's the kind of book that I love: history, bi ...more
May 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
The story of a young girl who's father, although he calls her his treasure, ultimatly sells her when the family face famine in China in the 1870's. She ends up sold again, comes to America where she is enslaved until she is eventually lost (and ultimatly won) in a poker game. From her very grim beginnings, Lalu/Polly triumphs as an inspiring woman - a true heroine. ...more
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a very enjoyable and informative book. Adeline Yen Mah has pulled off a well balanced fusion of biography, ancient history, and modern history, whilst explaining Chinese culture through its proverbs. It sounds like too much to cram into one book, but somehow she did it. It was interesting the way she intertwined several different storylines and made them all relate to each other through the themes of the Chinese proverbs, showing how history repeats itself both on a national and a person ...more
Richard Grayson
Feb 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
A Memoir of China's past through it's Proverbs.

This book was written by Adeline Yen Mah. I have written a review on her first book Falling Leave.

When she was young, her Ye Ye (grand father) taught her and told her stories of China's history through proverbs. This book i think is her dedication to her Ye Ye.

With each proverb (for each chapter), tells us the stories of the rise of First Emperor (Qin) of China till the fall of his empire, in between she also wrote about her life and China during C
Aug 22, 2011 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 14, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The library houses this volume in the "folk literature, fairy tales, and proverbs" section, which somehow piqued my curiosity. I would say it falls more into either autobiography or history of China, but had it been in either of those places I would never have picked it up. The author is best known for her two autobiographical works FALLING LEAVES and CHINESE CINDERELLA.

I found her personal applications of the proverbs her grandfather taught her which spring from the time of the 1st Emperor and
Mar 23, 2015 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings about this book and am giving it 3.5 stars. I loved the telling of ancient Chinese history through its proverbs aspect as well as the snippets comparing that history to Mao's era and today. I feel I came away from this book knowing more about China and factors that have influenced its people over the generations and interested to learn more. Where I lost interest was in her personal family outtakes. At first I enjoyed them and saw the value in continuing the explanation of ...more
A Thousand Pieces of Gold is essentially a commentary of Sima Qian’s Historical Records, or 史記 (Shiji). The writing is, at times, extremely tedious and the personal testimonies are unnecessary, detracting from what could have otherwise been a very elegant book. Nevertheless I respect that it would have taken great courage and determination to write this book, and that the Author’s stories about why these proverbs are so important obviously matter to her even if the point is never properly made t ...more
Apr 23, 2015 rated it liked it
This book is actually pretty good, I don't know why it took me so long to read it. Perhaps it was because of its own style, that alternates between Adeline's story and tales of the Chinese Warrying States period.
I enjoyed how she put each proverb into context with either her own life, the war or even the Cultural Revolution, but at some times I struggled to understand why the hell she decided to put the Chinese phrase rather than the translated version. It gave me the same feeling I have wheneve
Eden R
Mar 28, 2016 rated it liked it
While the decades of Chinese history begin to feel much the same after chapters and chapters of battles, schemes, usurping of thrones, and beheadings, the repetitive nature of the subject is no fault of the author, whose handling of her narrative structure is excellent. The way in which she interweaves her own life, the history of the First Emperor, and the history of Mao Zedong allows all three subjects to complement and support one another, giving the reader a strong sense of the circular natu ...more
Oct 14, 2009 rated it liked it
As someone who is fascinated with Chinese history, I love this book that delves into the origins of Chinese proverbs. Many of the proverbs are based on actual historical events, while others reflect universal human values. Yen Mah has created a great resource. I found her writing a bit tedious though, and have to confess I didn't read this book completely through. I will keep it as a resource though, because it references important linguistic features of Chinese that one encounters often while s ...more
Jun 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Adeline Yen Mah gives you ancient Chinese proverbs and then relates them to Chinese history,specifically the beginnings of the first two emperors of China and then the establishment of the Han Dynasty. She also does a little compare and contrast with the first emperor and Mao Tse-tung. She also adds stories of her own life to help illustrate their relevance to today. Worth reading just for the abbreviated biography of the author. She was born in China but most of her family left for Honk Kong du ...more
Jan 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Having read Falling Leaves, I looked forward to reading another of Yen Mah's books. My disappointment in this book stems from a definite relationship to her first book. Undoubtedly, she had a harsh childhood and is a very bright woman. I won't take away from that, but I will look to enjoying anything she writes that tells me she has moved beyond that bizarre childhood and is relishing her successful life. She has way to much too offer to spend her days wallowing in something she cannot change. ...more
May 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
"... the renowned British poet Philip Larkin ... described Chinese proverbs as 'white dwarfs' of literature because each was so densely compacted with thoughts and ideas... He said that the enormous heat radiated by these small stars is equivalent to the vast knowledge and profound wisdom contained in certain sayings gleaned from China."

"General Meng Tian, who built the Great Wall, supposedly first invented the writing brush by binding rabbit or camel hair to a wooden shaft with string and glue
JiaMin Luo
Jun 12, 2011 rated it liked it
I expected more from this book. After finished reading Chinese Cinderella and Falling Leaves, I am obesessed with her autobiographies. So I decided to read this book, "A Thousand Piece of Gold". This book has a lot of Chinese phases and Chinese history. I do not recommend it to people who do not like history or Chinese culture. My favorite part of the book is when Adeline applied the chinese phases to his own life. ...more
I would rate this book 1.5 stars only because it provided a good introduction to the history of the Warring States period. I was not very interested in the author's family history and I had issues with her interpretations on China's history and some of her editorial comments on Mao. Maybe it's because I had not read the author's autobiography, Falling Leaves, and therefore was not familiar with the back stories on her family their actions. ...more
Apr 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
he majority of Chinese proverbs are drawn from the 1st century, when the First King of all China established his leadership over the whole country and its warring kingdoms. In ancient China, a scholar's conversation would be studded with appropriate sayings, and a man's status in society would be defined by his use and knowledge of proverbs. In modern China, much of this is still true, and proverbs are used daily. ...more
Jan 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Read while still in school and reread recently while on vacation to Taiwan and Hong Kong. A fascinating way of putting so much information into context for the unfamiliar reader and a great way to introduce yourself to Chinese history and culture. Adeline Yen Mah's writing is excellent and the story she has to tell is unique and engaging. ...more
The Greatone
Jun 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Ah yes, this is my favorite book by Adeline Yen Mah, I absolutely loved learning about ancient Chinese history and proverbs, it's like you're learning a whole new language! It's great! I highly recommend it! ...more
May 30, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In this book Adeline Yen Mah does well to blend proverb etymology with her life story and Chinese history. At times though, the historical component lacks dimension (and perhaps could have been shortened). Still, a good read if you like proverbs.
Mary Gilmartin
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book gave me insight into the proverbs that the author gleaned from the writings of Sima Qian. Adeline Yen Mah's personal reflections with the history behind this provided a window into the Chinese mind. Reference, Chapter 3: Jing Xi Zi Zhi "Respect and cherish written word" ...more
Feb 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
Really enjoying the Chinese history behind the proverbs. The intermixing with her life parts were fine, but the proverbs and their historical origins were fascinating.
Aug 02, 2011 added it
going to read this in preparation for visiting the british museum next month
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Adeline Yen Mah (Chinese: Yen Jun-ling; Pinyin: Mǎ Yán Jūnlíng; Yale (Cantonese): ma5 yim4 gwan1 ling4) (official birthday 30th November 1937, however real birthday not known, this is in fact her father's birthday) is a Chinese-American author and physician. She grew up in Tianjin, Shanghai and Hong Kong with an older sister, Lydia; three older brothers, Gregory, Edgar and James and a younger half ...more

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