The story of UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE is a complicated one. It began in the late seventies, right after the devastation of the Cultural Revolution, when a young girl, Jingqiu, fell in love with a boy nicknamed “Old Third”. Jingqiu was from a politically suppressed family, while Old Third was the son of a powerful army general. She knew there’d no hope for them, but Old Third did everything within his power to protect her and finally won her heart. Their budding romance was cut short by fate, as Old Third was diagnosed with leukemia and died before there could be any ending for them, happy or otherwise.
Later, Jingqiu would leave China for the United States, eventually becoming a university professor. She got married, and had a daughter, but she could never forget Old Third, the man who loved her with a passion so pure and steadfast that she believed it could last forever. Then Jingqiu met another Chinese immigrant, Ai Mi, who wrote fiction online. She decided to give Ai Mi her diaries and notebooks, hoping she would give voice to her story, never imagining it would become the phenomenon it is today.
Ai Mi started posting UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE on her blog in 2007, and it quickly became the reading sensation of the year. People in their fifties, who experienced the Cultural Revolution firsthand and who had been “zhiqing,” or educated youth forced to leave the cities and went to the countryside for re-education, saw themselves in Jingqiu and Old Third. Young people born in the 80s and 90s, on the other hand, were moved by the purity of their love, which is all the more precious in a time when sex is easy and available everywhere.
In September 2007, UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE was published in book form in China, with a staggering first print run of 700,000 copies. The publisher printed five hundred galleys and sent them to celebrities, corporate leaders, authors and critics, creating an unprecedented buzz. Almost everyone cried after reading the book, and female readers were especially touched by the tragic love story. The word spread, and by the time the book hit the shelves, UNDER THE HAWTHORN was already destined to become a bestseller. Internationally renowned director Zhang Yimou snapped up film rights, and success at the box office further propelled sales of the book into the millions.
UNDER THE HAWTHORN TREE has since been translated into 16 languages, transcending international boundaries as well as those between truth and fiction, literary and commercial, becoming a cultural phenomenon and the classic Chinese love story for a new generation. Ai Mi, however, chooses to remain anonymous, connecting with her fans through her blog but never making any public appearances.