Lady Tan's Circle of Women

Lisa See

Scribner, 2023

Agent: Sandra Dijkstra

The latest historical novel from New York Times bestselling author Lisa See, inspired by the true story of a woman physician from 15th-century China—perfect for fans of See’s classic Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and The Island of Sea Women.

According to Confucius, “an educated woman is a worthless woman,” but Tan Yunxian—born into an elite family, yet haunted by death, separations, and loneliness—is being raised by her grandparents to be of use. Her grandmother is one of only a handful of female doctors in China, and she teaches Yunxian the pillars of Chinese medicine, the Four Examinations—looking, listening, touching, and asking—something a man can never do with a female patient.

From a young age, Yunxian learns about women’s illnesses, many of which relate to childbearing, alongside a young midwife-in-training, Meiling. The two girls find fast friendship and a mutual purpose—despite the prohibition that a doctor should never touch blood while a midwife comes in frequent contact with it—and they vow to be forever friends, sharing in each other’s joys and struggles. No mud, no lotus, they tell themselves: from adversity beauty can bloom.

But when Yunxian is sent into an arranged marriage, her mother-in-law forbids her from seeing Meiling and from helping the women and girls in the household. Yunxian is to act like a proper wife—embroider bound-foot slippers, pluck instruments, recite poetry, give birth to sons, and stay forever within the walls of the family compound, the Garden of Fragrant Delights.

How might a woman like Yunxian break free of these traditions, go on to treat women and girls from every level of society, and lead a life of such importance that many of her remedies are still used five centuries later? How might the power of friendship support or complicate these efforts? Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is a captivating story of women helping other women. It is also a triumphant reimagining of the life of a woman who was remarkable in the Ming dynasty and would be considered remarkable today.


New York Times Bestseller, Editor's Choice

Time's Best Books of Summer

Amazon Best of the Month, June

Indie Bestseller List, Hardcover Fiction


"Lady Tan’s Circle of Women has everything you could want in a dramatic tale of female friendship." – Katie Couric Media

"Based on the writings of an historical Ming dynasty female physician, See’s accomplished novel immerses readers in a fascinating life lived within a fascinating culture." – Starred Booklist

"Engrossing…rich…packed with historical detail…Women’s friendships in a world where they have little freedom shape a quietly moving book." – Kirkus Reviews

"If you loved Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, you'll love Lisa See's latest novel. Inspired by a 15th century female physician, the story follows Tan Yunxian, who i sbeing raised by her grandparents in an elite family. Tan apprentices with a midwife-in-training who becomes a close friend and learns to brilliantly treat all "women's issues" - until her arranged marriage lands her with in-laws who demand she stop. And yet, she finds a way to not only go on, but to become a legendary leader." -Good Morning America, June Picks