Lady Tan's Circle of Women - Lisa See

Lady Tan's Circle of Women

By Lisa See

  • Release Date: 2023-06-06
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
Score: 4.5
From 859 Ratings



From “one of those special writers capable of delivering both poetry and plot” (The New York Times Book Review) an immersive historical novel inspired by the true story of a woman physician in 15th-century China—perfect for fans of Lisa See’s classics Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane.

According to Confucius, “an educated woman is a worthless woman,” but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient.

From a young age, Yunxian learns about women’s illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other’s joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom.

But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights.

How might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions and lead a life of such importance that many of her remedies are still used five centuries later? How might the power of friendship support or complicate these efforts? A captivating story of women helping each other, Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a triumphant reimagining of the life of one person who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.


  • Loved this book

    By pmg11111
    Great storytelling and very enjoyable read
  • Captivating

    By ms risaa
    Over a lifetime of reading her novels, Lisa See is one of the few authors that I feel safe “judging a book by its cover.” Yet again I am entranced as Lady Tan enhances my understanding of who I am (woman, daughter, mother) as she relates the story of a life so seemingly different than my own. The storytelling - so vibrant, so lush - I am transported to Wuxi to drink Pu-erh and experience the ups and downs of close-hearted woman-kinship. Lisa See books always feel like the embrace of a grandmother, inviting the reader to pause.. reflect.. and feel.
  • Wow! What a fantastic historical fiction novel!

    By KThugs3
    “Store up good deeds and you will meet with good. Store up evil actions and you will meet with evil.” “He who depends on himself will have the greatest happiness” 4.5 stars!! This book was great and was also a quick read. I have never read a book that was in the perspective of an elite woman of 1400’s Chinese dynasties where they were required to have their feet bound for the males pleasure and weren’t allowed to leave their compound. I had no idea how much women were treated like objects for men. After all, they said men were made from the Heavens and were therefore above women, who were made of the Earth and came from the filth & being stepped on and such. 🙄 There is no way that my strong spirit and opinions would have lasted back then because I am not a docile woman. While I wasn’t always a biggest fan of some of the characters, I did love how they each seemed to grow throughout. While I definitely disliked the villain in the story, I didn’t see the twists coming. And I also liked learning just the tiniest tip of the iceberg of Chinese medicine from the 1400s. (Which I think can still come in handy.) It makes me want to study it more and definitely read more historical fiction stories that take place during the 1400s in China.
  • Beautiful

    By laaaineee
    Listened to this on audiobook - such a beautiful, well written story with so many important lessons. Truly made me wish Lady Tan (& Lady Rue) were my grandmothers and that their healing practices were things I was taught.
  • Interesting, informative of ancient Chinese culture

    By KathyNYC
    Holds your attention. Amazing how people’s feeling of self worth can be ruled by society. The lack of respect and compassion for human life is mind boggling. Very interesting and a page turnet
  • My favorite book this year

    By @Adrienne.
    This is not only a wonderful story, but also a fascinating look into the culture of 15th century China.
  • Lady Tan’s Circle of Women

    By Readingbythesea
    Enjoyed reading the story, lots of interesting details with the history, culture, traditions of that time.
  • Lady Tan’s Circle of Women

    By 323EL
    Lisa See is able to capture without prejudice another century and without preaching, about the injustices that happened due to that society’s mores. Her characters are always interesting and her descriptions make the historical background seem as real as the present.
  • Nah mostly details on pregnancy

    By Lareding
    Too much emphasis on the bloody parts of pregnancy.
  • Strong Women Anide in Every Age

    By Connelly D
    Well and beautifully written; bringing the lives of strong women of the era front and center where we can meet, admire and celebrate them.