The novel reflects on a turbulent history of human reproduction over six decades in Chinese countryside through relating the life of Auntie, a country doctor with more than fifty years of experience in obstetrics.
The author spent more than a decade gestating the novel, four years writing and completing the final draft following three rounds of revision. It consists of four long letters addressed by Kedou, a Chinese playwright, to Sugiya Yoshihito, a Japanese writer, and a drama script. The first letter introduces the theme by mentioning Literature and Life by Sugiya, whose father was an officer in the Japanese army that invaded China. Sugiya guides and encourages Kedou. The letter gives rise to the story, which culminates in the drama.
Against the backdrop of early PRC era, the Cultural Revolution, Reform Era and the 21st century, chronologically, this book, through relating the impact of policy shift during these four periods in family planning on the society, deeply reflects on history and human nature.
The story is first and last about dignity and the respect for human life. The names of the characters, such as Wan Xin (heart), Chen Mei (eyebrow), Chen Bi (nose), Xiao Shangchun (upper lip), Xiao Xiachun (lower lip), Wu Guan (features), Yun Sai (cheek), Wang Gan (liver), Wang Dan (gallbladder), Li Shou (hand), Wang Jiao (foot), Hao Dashou (big hand), all reference the human body and echo the theme of human life. The images of the ubiquitous clay baby mass-produced by master craftsmen Qin He and Hao Dashou and the frogs and tadpoles of the bullfrog farm of Yuan Sai also reinforce the theme of human life. Such symbolic and allegorical devices elevate the novel to new heights of respect and awe for human life.