Lights and Shadows of a Macao Life, the title chosen by Harriett Low for her journal, aptly describes the conflicting emotions of the first American woman to live in China. Making a rude transition from the tranquility of Salem, Massachusetts into a world of sampans and sedan chairs, women with bound feet and men with queues, the lively young American records a detailed portrait of her life in Macao from 1829-1834. The constricted lifestyle of foreign merchants wives, forced by the Chinese to live in Macao while their husbands traded tea and opium in Canton: balls, operas, and picnics; Chinese customs and Catholic processions; true friendship and false; romance or religion are all reflected in the pages of her journal. Throughout nine volumes, Harriett Low displays wit and courage as she metamorphoses from a socially naive girl into a mature, independent woman.
Published for the first time as a complete edition, Lights and Shadows of a Macao Life chronicles not only the impact of Western capitalism on a declining Chinese empire but also the importance of money in affairs of the heart. Forced to reject her fiancé because he lacked prospects, Harriett Low survives by immersing herself in the literature and language she loves, as well as a re-examined Unitarian faith. Independent in outlook, she is an obvious antecedent of a contemporary American woman.