Chinese Cinderella: Characters & Quotes

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  • 0:01 Deja Vu
  • 0:32 Adeline
  • 1:45 Niang
  • 2:54 Father
  • 3:22 Ye Ye
  • 4:06 Aunt Baba
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

The autobiography 'Chinese Cinderella' provides an inside look into a true life account similar to the fairy tale Cinderella. This lesson will go over the major characters and include quotes to better illustrate them.

Deja Vu

Adeline Yen Mah's Chinese Cinderella has a lot of the same elements of the fairy tale Cinderella, except this story is true. We meet the poor, unwanted protagonist, and we want her to succeed and be treated fairly. Throw in an evil stepmother, an indifferent father, and a few mean siblings and privileged, spoiled half siblings, and you have the makings of a story guaranteed to bring out the sympathy in you. Let's take a look at characters and quotes that make up this story.


Adeline is the youngest of the five siblings, and she was only an infant when her father married her 'evil' stepmother, Niang. Her brothers and sisters call her the unwanted child, and they like to taunt her and blame her for their mother's death. They cry out, '...Mama died giving birth to you. If you had not been born, Mama would still be alive.'

She is twice unwanted - she is a girl (in Chinese culture, girls are not as valued), and she is seen as the cause of her mother's death. Her fate is sealed. But, Adeline believes that if you 'Transcend your abuse and transform it into a source of courage, creativity and compassion' you can make a difference, and that is what she tried to do.

Adeline poured her heart and soul into school. She excels and even wins medals. She shows them proudly to get attention from her father, saying, 'I was winning the medal every week and wearing it constantly. I knew this displeased my siblings, especially Big Sister and Second Brother, but it was the only way to make Father take notice and be proud of me.' It takes her a long time to realize that pride for her accomplishments should come from within. Then and only then is she free.


Enter the stepmother, Niang who makes no bones about the fact that she does not want anything to do with the children her husband had before they were married. She makes sure they know that they are unwanted, unloved, and a bother in her life. They are not welcome in the family home; they must stay in the basement level.

When Adeline's friends from school stopped by for a visit to celebrate her election to class president, Niang goes crazy. She slapped Adeline and said, 'Do you hear me? I want them out of the house this minute. Are you deaf? Tell them to gun dan (get lost) and never come here again. Never! Never! Never!' The rules in the house are clear, and Niang defies them. No going out to visit, and no one coming to visit.

Niang's stepchildren pay a great price. She shuns them, beats them and mistreats them, and Adeline receives the worst of her mistreatment. When Niang is finally angered enough because she cannot break Adeline, she ships her off to a boarding school, away from all that she knows. Niang wins a few battles, but Adeline emerges victorious in the end.


Adeline's father is a wealthy businessman who is ambitious and dedicated to his work, but oblivious and neglectful when it comes to the needs of his children. It appears that there are only two things he values in life: his beautiful French-Asian wife, Niang, and succeeding in business.

Adeline's main goal is to please her father. She can see he is happy with her when she does well in school, and because she has been so starved of attention, she works harder in school to gain his approval.

Ye Ye

Ye Ye is Adeline's grandfather on her father's side. There was a time when he and his wife Nai Nai played a significant role in the running of the household. But once Niang moves in, all that changes. While he has a close bond with his son, Ye Ye is not happy with the way his son behaves.

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