OF ALL THE STORIES Chinese writer and broadcaster Xinran Xue has told over the years, the most inspirational is her own. Today, 42-year-old Xue is a best-selling international author. Her first book, The Good Women Of China, was published by Random House here and in Britain in June, and has already been reprinted in Australia. She jetted into Hong Kong last week as part of a promotional tour that will take in more than 20 countries over several months. Recently married to one of the most powerful men in British publishing, London-based literary agent Toby Eady, Xue has just secured a ground-breaking deal with Shanghai Joint Publishing House that will see her book published on the mainland. 'I told Chinese women when I left China, 'Don't worry, I will bring more and more back to China',' Xue says. She is also an adoring mother to Panpan, her 14-year-old son from a previous marriage in China. Born into a well-to-do family in Beijing in 1958, Xue's life was turned upside down when, as a seven-year-old, she looked on as Red Guards searched the family home; arrested her father; burnt all the books, traditional furniture and toys they found; then snipped off her 'petit bourgeois' plaits with their 'imperialist' ribbons and added them to the fire. Her mother, whom she only embraced literally for the first time in recent years, was arrested soon after, and Xue and her toddler brother went on to spend five years in a home for children whose parents were in prison. Though they attended a local school, the Xues were segregated and treated as second-class citizens. They were served last in the school canteen because their grandfather, who had worked for British company GEC for many years, had thereby 'helped the British and American imperialists take food from Chinese mouths and clothes off Chinese backs'. 'At that time, I hated my parents,' Xue says. 'I thought they did horrible things to Chinese people.' Even Xue's best friend spat at her, disowning her because of her background. Her parents never knew how badly Xue and her brother were treated in their absence. So after her book, which includes a chapter on the experience, was published, the author knew the time for opening up to them was near. Unfortunately, an English friend visiting China got there first, just three weeks ago. Xue's father was devastated by the news, and suffered a heart attack as a result. He is now recovering. 'When I saw him, I wanted to speak to him, but the doctor warned me, he said 'his blood pressure is 200, be careful'. It was very difficult,' the author says tearfully. The years of the Cultural Revolution were only made bearable by the hours Xue spent exploring a secret library, set up by a brave teacher in a nearby storage hut. The young woman read voraciously, and dreamt of becoming a lawyer, diplomat, journalist or writer. Finally, with degrees in English and international relations and in computer theory, and after 12 years in an administrative job in the army, she was free to choose her own profession, and in 1989, Xue became host of a popular radio programme for women in Nanjing. She was China's first agony aunt. The Good Women Of China is based on the letters (about 200 per day) and phone calls Xue received during the eight years she presented Words On The Night Breeze, its 15 moving chapters providing an insight into the lives of women in late 20th-century China. 'I think my own experiences, especially my childhood, helped me to understand Chinese women,' she says. In one tale, a girl who has been repeatedly sexually abused by her father commits suicide by rubbing a dead fly into a wound. In another, a mother looks on helplessly as her daughter, caught in rubble, dies a slow death over the 14 days following the 1976 Tangshan earthquake. And in perhaps the most moving of all, a young mentally ill woman is rescued too late from 're-education' by the peasants. Her aunt takes the girl to hospital for a full medical examination and falls ill when she receives the results: 'The report stated that Shilin's torso was scarred with bite marks, part of one nipple had been chewed away and her vaginal labia were torn. The neck and lining of her womb had been severely damaged, and a broken branch had been extracted from it. The doctors could not establish how long the branch had been in her womb.' Xue found herself unable to discuss this story on radio. 'The head of my station said, 'You can do the story if you want because China should face the past', but it was too difficult for me,' she says. Little wonder she eventually needed a break and escaped to a new life in London. So, does she find it difficult at times, knowing so much of hardship, then hearing Western women whine about relatively minor troubles, how unfulfilling their jobs or relationships are, for example? 'Yes,' Xue says. '[One woman I know] she is very rich, she complains, 'I'm always shopping, shopping, but this morning I couldn't find clothes to wear'. 'So yes, immediately I thought, this person should read my book.' The writer left China for London in 1997, and it was there, while working on the book about her experiences, that she met Wild Swans author Jung Chang. Chang provided inspiration and encouragement - and one of three introductions to her agent, Eady, who found a translator, secured the Random House publishing deal, and later her heart. 'They recommended Toby and I didn't know why, but he's a very nice man,' she says. 'But I should say that for the first two years we had a lot of arguments.' It was also around this time that Xue was mugged. Returning home from London University's School of Oriental and African Studies, where she was teaching, the slight, pretty author was knocked down by a thug. He tried to steal her bag, but the only copy of Xue's manuscript, which she had just completed, was inside. The author acknowledges that she could have tried to rewrite the book from scratch. 'However, I wasn't sure that I could put myself through the extremes of feeling provoked by writing the book again,' she writes in the prologue. The pair enjoyed this visit and Eady promises to encourage more of his clients to come through Hong Kong. Perhaps best known for bringing Wild Swans to the world, Eady's company, Toby Eady Associates, manages 30 authors, about a third of whom are mainland Chinese. As well as Xue and Chang, Eady manages the literary careers of Wei Hui (Shanghai Baby), South China Morning Post columnist Annie Wang (Lili: A Novel Of Tiananmen), Ma Jian (Red Dust) and Liu Hong (Startling Moon). Once The Good Women Of China was translated, by Esther Tyldesley, Eady edited it before pitching it to publishing houses. While much of the agent's time will be taken up with the promotional tour in coming months, he is also working on the edit of Chang's long-awaited follow-up to Wild Swans, a biography of Mao Zedong which will be published late next year or early 2004. Though never published in mainland China, Wild Swans has sold more than 10 million copies in 20 countries. Eady notes that the book has been less successful in America than other markets. 'It's never been published as mass-market there because it's not Amy Tan,' he says. There will be certain changes made to Good Women for the Chinese market. References to Falun Gong, for example, will be removed. Xue is thrilled, though, that her mainland publisher plans to send the book to 50 universities around China. 'We should let the new generation understand what kind of life their parents and grandparents have led,' she says.