Study Guide

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan study guide I
Sitting Quietly

1. Why do you think the author chooses to have the narrator tell the story from the point of view/vantage point of an 80-year-old?

2. What is the root of every problem the narrator has experienced in her life?

3. Define mother love (“teng ai”).

4. List two examples of foreshadowing found in this chapter.

5. What does the fan represent to the narrator?

6. What might the quote “but inside I also waged something like a man’s battle between my true nature and the person I should have been” mean?

7. What is the narrator’s purpose for “writing these pages”?

Daughter Days

“Milk Years”

1. What kind of family and living situation does Lily come from? Why might See have chosen to use this description?

2. How does Lily’s mother look at her?

3. When Lily looks back on her trip to the Xiao River, two things stick out to her very clearly. State these below.


1. Define “little daughters-in-law.”

2. Why does See have Lily go “quietly to the top of the stairs so I could eavesdrop”?

3. During the meeting with Madame Wang, what does Lily realize about her mother?

4. Notice (on page 20) how the author has the narrator speak in second person. What effect does this have? Why might See choose to do this?

5. What is the difference between nu shu and men’s writing?

6. How does each of the three girls respond to the footbinding?

7. According to the narrator, what is the most important lesson for women?

8. On page 32, Mama shows a mother’s love when she says of the Third Sister “I would rather keep her on this earth unmarried than lose her forever.” Yet, this isn’t “mother’s love.” Why not?

9. How does foot size determine how marriageable Lily will be?

“The Fan”

1. What is the custom of buluofujia?

2. Summarize “The Tale of Sangu.” What is its significance?

3. What is the difference between a laotong relationship and a marriage?

4. What difference do you see between Snow Flower and Lily’s first fan messages?

“Snow Flower”

1. Notice that Snow Flower wears a sky-blue silk tunic embroidered with a cloud pattern. (You will see this again–so keep your eyes open for that.) How might Snow Flower’s personality be reflected in her wardrobe?

2. Keeping yin and yang in mind, describe what you know so far of Snow Flower and Lily’s personalities.

3. Knowing what you do of their personalities, can you think of any places in their pact that may be difficult for the girls to honor? Why?

4. Notice See’s use of dashes when the girls are talking after they’ve signed the pact. What does this tell us about their conversation and about their friendship?

5. Twice now, Lily has mentioned the fact that Snow Flower calls Madame Wang “auntie.” Why do you think See wants us to notice this?

6. How can the women’s chamber room and the window be seen as a metaphor? Explain.


1. Explain the farming metaphor.

2. What does Snow Flower include in every message?

3. What kinds of things does Snow Flower teach Lily? What does Lily teach Snow Flower?


1. What is odd about the visitations between Snow Flower and Lily?

2. How would you describe the voice of the narrator when she explains “…she’d dress in her overly bright clothes, rouge her cheeks, and come nosing around our house like a — well, like a she-dog in heat” (67)?

3. What kind of marriages are arranged for Lily, Beautiful Moon, and Snow Flower?

4. What does Auntie say about communication in nu shu?

5. Summarize the story of Nu Shu’s inception.

6. What does Madame Gao reveal about Snow Flower’s situation?

7. How are Mama’s words to Elder Sister reflective of the “yin – negative, dark, and female”?

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan study guide II

Hair-Pinning Days

“Catching Cool Breezes”

1. What happens between Snow Flower and Lily on the third night of the Catching Cool Breezes Festival? Is this sexual, sensual, or emotional in nature?

2. What might be See’s purpose in including this chapter?

“Beautiful Moon”

1. What do we learn about the significance of the quilts and shoes that the young women make?

2. What do the shoes that Snow Flower makes for her mother-in-law look like?

3. What happens to Beautiful Moon?

4. What does Madame Wang have Snow Flower do because “No mother should see her daughter this way”?

5. How does Auntie respond?

6. What is the purpose of the flower tower?

“The Flower-Sitting Chair”

1. Summarize “The Tale of the Wife Wang.”

2. How is the horse nature described?

3. What is the motherly advice that Lily receives prior to her marriage?

4. How does Lily’s wedding ensemble reflect the marriage she is entering?

5. What does the narrator reveal about buluofujia?

6. What does Snow Flower’s note reveal?

7. How would you characterize Lily’s wedding night?

8. Why is Lily disappointed on her third day of marriage?


1. What is Snow Flower’s home like?

2. What is the one thing Snow Flower thought Lily knew?

3. What is Snow Flower’s new husband’s profession? How does this connect to “The Tale of Wife Wang”?

4. Who does Lily ultimately blame for the deception?

5. Why do all of Snow Flower’s dowry items look familiar to Lily?

6. How has “women’s work” been used to change the life of Snow Flower?

7. Why won’t anyone come to Snow Flower’s Sitting and Singing?

8. How does the narrator compare Snow Flower’s and her own horse natures?

9. When Lily confronts Madame Wang to find out if she is truly special, what does Madam Wang say?

10. What kind of woman is Snow Flower’s mother-in-law?

“The Temple of Gupo”

1. How does Lily rebel against her family’s deception?

2. What does Lily realize about her mother’s show of mother love during her footbinding process?

3. See uses foreshadowing in this chapter, explaining how Lily behaves one way in an outward show of filial piety and yet feels another on the inside. What is it that she does for a few terrible moments before holding onto her grudge?

4. What are some ways that Lily grows in her independence?

5. What is the most important relationship in Lily’s marriage?

6. List some of the old wives tales that the women believe about pregnancy.

7. What is the connection between shoes and children?

8. Why does Lily believe her “real life” will begin after the baby is born?

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan study guide III

Rice-and-Salt Days


1. Why are the first five years of life insubstantial for boys and girls?

2. Why do the young women decide to start writing “stock letters”? What content/form must the married lady’s letter contain? Why?

3. How does Lady Lu feel about Snow Flower?

4. Discuss the differences between men and women’s writing as described by the narrator.

5. What happens to Snow Flower’s parents? What does this mean for Snow Flower?

6. What axiom does Lily learn from her mother-in-law? What does this indicate about women’s power?

7. Again, we see more of the lattice windows—how has this metaphor developed as the girls have aged?

8. How does Lily apply the axiom that Lady Lu has taught her?

9. What happens to Snow Flower’s daughter? In her letter to Lily, is her tone personal and frank or aloof and formal? Why?

10. How does Lily respond to this news?

“Joy and Sorrow”

1. Why does Lily hope for a daughter with her next pregnancy?

2. When Jade and Spring Moon are born, what taboo do Lily and Snow Flower plan to break?

3. Historically, what is happening during this time? How does it affect Lily’s family?

4. Consider the diction of “My boy had lived eight years now.” What is the tone? How does this demonstrate Lily and her culture’s outlook on life?

5. What might the “practical realities of rice-and-salt days” be?

6. What about Snow Flowers and Lily’s personalities make the statement that Snow Flower “had always been more interested in the outer realm” than Lily, ring true?

7. How is traditional hierarchy questioned by the Taipings?

8. Why might widows kill themselves according to the narrator?

9. Where do the men take the children to wade and to swim? Why is this significant?

10. How does Lily protect her family from typhoid fever?

11. What is the “terrible choice” Lily must make?

12. Name at least five people who fall victim to typhoid fever in this chapter.

13. Notice the diction (on page 183) of the narrator’s statement that “Our first duties were to be the best mourners the country had ever seen.” What is the tone? What does this imply?

“Into the Mountains”

1. When Lily finally goes to visit Snow Flower, she wears a lavender silk tunic. Connect this back to the lavender outfit Snow Flower wore as a young woman back in the chapter “Learning.” What might be the symbolic implications here?

2. Why do Lily and Snow Flower’s whole family head into the mountains?

3. Why do the women have such a difficult time traveling?

4. Notice all the questions posed at the end of this chapter. Why doesn’t the narrator offer answers?


1. How is the perception of Snow Flower’s husband changed on the mountain?

2. Why do Snow Flower and Lily begin to share Lily’s portion of food? Why won’t Lady Lu stand up to Snow Flower’s mother-in-law?

3. Why can’t Lily allow Snow Flower’s eldest son go without food?

4. On page 203, the narrator describes a wife’s duty. Summarize what she says below.

5. How does Lily respond to Snow Flower’s challenge “Do you like him enough for him to become your son-in-law”?

6. Why do you think snow Flower’s affection begins to change for her first son?

7. How and why does Snow Flower seem “happy in a way I had not seen her in years”?

8. How does the butcher respond to the death of his son?

9. How does the narrator explain her inaction?

10. What begins to happen to Snow Flower mentally and physically?

11. What is ironic about Lily’s statement to Snow Flower that “you don’t have to lie. I’m your laotong. You can be truthful”?

12. How does Lily’s aunt continue to influence Snow Flower?

13. Describe the reunion between Lily and her husband. Why do you think she responds this way?

“Letter of Vituperation”

1. Why do all scholars, no matter where they live or what dialect they speak, read the same texts and take the same exams?

2. Why does Lily say, “It was as though she had jumped off the cliff after all…” (217)?

3. How might Lily’s comment that, “still, in my own mind I had to prove him wrong and myself right” tie into her initial comment that “…inside I also waged something like a man’s battle between my true nature and the person I should have been”(5)?

4. Lily states on page 218 that “We can shift fate if we try hard enough.” Does this seem to jive with her position on fate as shown previously through the story? Explain.

5. Why do you suppose “the bold horse of Snow Flower’s childhood had been broken in spirit” (219)?

6. Paraphrase the message that Snow Flower writes on the fan to Lily (220).

7. Is it REALLY strange that “An image of my mother came to my mind” (221) when Lily considers her love and her anger for Snow Flower? Explain.

8. List some significant and/or interesting events tied to Jade’s footbinding.

9. What is a letter of vituperation?

10. Summarize Snow Flower’s complaint.

11. Summarize Lily’s response/complaint.

12. Explain the metaphor of the bindings at the top of page 230.

“Into the Clouds”

1. What has happened to Snow Flower?

2. Has Lily changed at this point, or is she still hiding behind convention? Explain.

3. What does Yonggang bring to Lady Lu?

4. Why does so much of what happened remind Lily of “the didactic story that Aunt used to chant about the girl who had three brothers” (240)?

5. What do the three sworn sisters share with Lily that leads to her greatest shame?

6. What mistake has Lily made as a woman who is literate in nu shu?

7. What does Plum Blossom mean when she says Lily has “had too much man-thinking” in her?

Sitting Quietly


1. What happens to Spring Moon?

2. How does Lady Lu interfere with the outer realm of men?

3. Why do you suppose Lady Lu obtains concubines for her husband? How has her relationship with her husband changed?

4. What does Lady Lu plan to do with Snow Flower’s granddaughter?

5. How does Lily’s son describe the foreigners he sees?

6. In what ways does Lily confine Peony?

7. What does Lily say about her feelings for her husband?

8. What will Peony become once the narrator passes away?

9. Where does Lady Lu’s contentment come from at this point?

10. Why does Lady Lu charge women to write their stories?

11. What does the narrator say about the way a man values (or doesn’t value) his wife?

12. What were Snow Flower’s last words to Lily?

13. What is the narrator’s purpose for sharing this story?