Born in 1903 as Peng Jianqing, Helen Wang was raised in a traditional scholarly family within a confined compound in Wuhu, Anhui Province. She was the only girl and her parents’ favorite. At thirteen, her father moved the entire family to Shanghai so she could attend St. Mary Girl’s School. While there, she learned English, read Western literature, enjoyed music, and adopted the English name of Helen (Shen 56). Before she graduated, both her parents passed away, leaving her in the care of her eldest brother, who soon married her off to a man working for a Sino-Japanese mine in Fengtian (now Shenyang) that was more than a thousand miles away from Shanghai. Sixteen-year-old Helen bore her husband’s debauchery and anti-Chinese deference to his Japanese employers for a brief time before returning to Shanghai to try to make her own life. Since her brother was unwilling to take her back in, she took up residence with her godmother and managed to secure a job as a typist in a company under British American Tobacco (S. Zhang 404).
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