Baba: A Return to China Upon My Father's Shoulders

Yang, Belle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey
  • Date of entry: Aug-16-2001
  • Last revised: Nov-28-2006


Belle Yang has created a beautiful and lyrical tribute to her father (Baba) and to her Chinese heritage. She has illustrated the folktales and life of her father with her own brilliantly colored paintings, which complement her vivid and colorful prose. Several stories concern doctors and healing in early to mid 20th century China. For example, in the chapter titled "Secret Family Recipes," the tale of Daye reveals the intricate world of family relations, social structure based on wealth and family position, and country versus city prejudices.

Daye is a poor relation but a hard-worker. After he and his wife take an old traveling doctor, "jangling the healer’s trademark ring-shaped rattle," into their humble home, the old doctor teaches Daye how to heal and gave him his "family recipes" for healing. However, Daye’s troubles are not ended, as the townspeople call him a charlatan and quack. Daye does, though, possess the power to heal.

When a wealthy magnate is injured, Daye stakes his life that he can save the man’s leg, even though all the important doctors of Western medicine advise amputation. Daye saves the magnate’s leg, is catapulted to become the head of herbal medicine at the medical institute and passes on the "family recipes" to his daughter, "a short, squat, swarthy woman with bulbous eyes and yellow, ratlike teeth that sprouted between her normal adult ones, leaning every which way like disrupted roof tiles."


Amy Tan, in her preface to the book, gives high and well-deserved praise for the book and its author/artist: "Belle Yang senses the lost world of her father in Chinese: the brusque and matter-of-fact rhythms of life, the folk imagery, the historical undertones of classical art, the noisy onomatopoeia of country and city life . . . Yet she conveys all this with English, with poetry, with the universal power of language." It is this bridging of two worlds which makes the book so magical.


Harcourt Brace

Place Published

New York



Page Count