There was once a girl in Shanghai whose name was Sun Shuying but who was referred to within her family as either Third Daughter or Third Sister. Although she was born in the Year of the Sheep – 1931 – she looked like a plump little monkey; at least that’s what one of Eldest Sister’s suitors thought when he came courting under a balcony and saw Third Sister leaping about. “She’s totally annoying and you should ignore her,” was Eldest Sister’s yelled advice to her Romeo below.
Big sisters everywhere are like that and on the whole – so Third Sister always told herself when she looked back (which she didn’t tend to do, preferring to face forward) – there were plenty of happy moments in her childhood. She loved the symmetry of the rosewood baxianzhou or “eight fairies table” where the whole family – parents, grandmother and five children – could sit together, waited on by the servants.