Lady Tan’s Circle of Women [Book Review] #HistoricalFiction #medicine #Friendship #BookBlogger #booktwitter #bookworm

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See is inspired by a real life woman physician living in China in the 1400s.

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women by Lisa See

Lady Tan's Circle of Women by Lisa See (cover Image: white and gold text over a portrait of a beautiful Chinese woman

Genre/Categories/Setting: Historical Fiction, Biographical, Chinese Medicine, Friendship, Women Supporting Women, 1400s China

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.

Tan Yunxian was born into an elite family but she had a difficult childhood. She survived Small Pox, and her mother died when she was young and she was sent to live with her grandparents. She did have a best friend who brightened her days. This friend was from a lower class so their lifelong friendship was always filled with challenges. Yunxian’s grandmother is one of only a few female doctors in China and she teaches Yunxian Chinese medicine. Yunxian demonstrates extraordinary abilities in the field of medicine. Her best friend becomes a skilled midwife. They often work together to care for women who are neglected and misunderstood by the male doctors. Lady Tan plays the part of a proper wife but finds ways to secretly treat women within her compound and those who come to the back door. Some of her remedies are still used today.

My Thoughts:

Difficult Read

For a few reasons, this was a difficult read for me.

  • The explicit descriptions of foot binding and consequences of foot binding were sometimes difficult to read about. Although I’ve heard of foot binding, I actually had no idea of the process or the pain and risks involved.
  • The ownership, confinement, and treatment of women during this era is always shocking.
  • Swift and severe judgement and punishment for crimes
  • The story is relentlessly sad.

However, the history and culture is so well-researched and well-described that I was also fascinated by the storytelling.

Women Supporting Women

What I appreciated most about the story is the theme of women supporting women….the “circle of women.” At this time in history and in this specific culture, a woman’s most important resources were the women in her life. Lady Tan’s friendship with Meiling and her interactions with the various women in her husband’s home were the significant relationships in the story.

“Friendship is a contract between two hearts. With hearts united, women can laugh and cry, live and die together.”
“We are the circle of good that surrounds her.”
“Life without a friend is life without sun. Life without a friend is death.”

~Quotes from Lady Tan’s Circle of Women

Ancient Chinese Medicine

A heavy emphasis on eastern medicine will appeal to readers who have embraced holistic treatment methods or who have medical knowledge and training. These readers will make better connections with the content than I could. I love this imagined characterization of the real Lady Tan and her gift of healing the sick.

Meticulous Research

Readers can depend on Lisa See to provide rich historical details. During my reading experience, I was intensely immersed in the culture of 15th century China. Customs, roles, relationships, responsibilities, traditions, individuals, and setting are vividly described in great detail.

The Core of the Story

Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is about women: their roles, their aspirations, their relationships, their responsibilities, their families, their friendships and alliances, and their struggles. The story’s title is perfection.

Content Consideration: content warning for explicit medical descriptions and conditions, miscarriage, some violence

Recommending Lady Tan’s Circle of Women

If you are looking for well-researched biographical historical fiction, a story about women supporting women, an introduction to one of the first female doctors in China, and enjoy medical content, I can highly recommend Lady Tan’s Circle of Women. The discussion possibilities are rich.

Related: Find my reviews of Island of Sea Women and Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane (scroll down page) also by Lisa See in these links.

Lisa See shares supplemental resources about Lady Tan’s Circle of Women here.

My Rating:  5 Stars

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Meet the Author of Lady Tan’s Circle of Women, Lisa See

Author of Lady Tan's Circle of Women, Island of Sea Women, and Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa Lee

In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Island of Sea Women, Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy, and China Dolls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the strong bonds between women. These books have been celebrated for their authentic, deeply researched, lyrical stories about Chinese characters and cultures. Ms. See’s new novel, Lady Tan’s Circle of Women, is inspired by the true story of Tan Yunxian—a woman born in the 15th century who became a doctor of women and girls. Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is not only a captivating story of women helping women, but it is also a triumphant reimaging of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable and inspirational today.

Ms. See has always been intrigued by stories that have been lost, forgotten, or deliberately covered up, whether in the past or happening right now in the world today. For Snow Flower, she traveled to a remote area of China—where she was told she was only the second foreigner ever to visit—to research the secret writing invented, used, and kept a secret by women for over a thousand years. Amy Tan called the novel “achingly beautiful, a marvel of imagination.” Others agreed, and foreign-language rights for Snow Flower were sold to 39 countries. The novel also became a New York Times bestseller, a Booksense Number One Pick, has won numerous awards domestically and internationally, and was made into a feature film produced by Fox Searchlight.

Ms. See lives in Los Angeles. To learn more, please visit her web site at You can also follow her adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Is this new Lisa See on your TBR or have you read it?

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I purchase or borrow from the library all books I review unless explicitly stated that the book is free (arc).

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  1. This sounds fascinating, Carol. I love The Tea Girl, and still have the Island of Sea Women to read. I will have to put this one on my wish list. Excellent review.

    • Lisa See is a dependable author for fascinating, engaging, and well researched histfic! I think Tea Girl is my fav because of the adoption theme.

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