China is one of the few countries where female suicides are higher than male ones, by 25 per cent to be exact.
At the end of 2006 there were over 120,000 registered adoptive families for Chinese orphans, almost all girls, in 27 countries.
After reading Xinran’s Message from An Unknown Chinese Mother you can understand why.
There are few places more hostile to a baby girl born to an impoverished peasant family than China, thanks to the gender apartheid created by the 1979 one-child policy, which has resulted in untold female infanticides by poor families desperate to produce a son.
To answer the pleas of parents who adopted girls from China and the these girls who grew up to asks the question, ‘Why did my real mother let me go?’ Xinran sets out to write this book.
Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother is made up of the stories of Chinese mothers whose daughters have been wrenched from them, and also brings us the voices of some adoptive mothers from different parts of the world. These are stories which Xinran could not bring herself to tell previously – because they were too painful and close to home. In the footsteps of Xinran’s Good Women of China, this is personal, immediate, full of harrowing, tragic detail but also uplifting, tender moments.
Ten chapters, ten women and many stories of heartbreak, including her own: Xinran – the country’s first agony aunt on her seminal Chinese radio programme, Words On The Night Breeze – has already told the stories of many Chinese women in her book The Good Women Of China; here she gives a voice to the grieving mothers, forced to abandon their daughters to state orphanages and Western adoptive parents, or worse, in the street.
Xinran once again takes us right into the lives of Chinese women – students, successful business women, midwives, peasants, orphanage manager, all with memories which have stained their lives. Whether as a consequence of the single-child policy, destructive age-old traditions or hideous economic necessity….. these women had to give up their daughters for adoption, others were forced to abandon them – on city streets, outside hospitals, orphanages or on station platforms – and others even had to watch their baby daughters being taken away at birth, and drowned.
There is a naive girl student who have made life-wrecking mistakes; the ‘pebble mother’ on the banks of the Yangzte still looking into the depths for her stolen daughter; peasant women rejected by their families because they can’t produce a male heir etc.
The author has her own stories to tell too. She reveals that years ago in China she herself, well able to bear the cost, and the mother of a son, tried to foster a little girl orphan, called Little Snow. After a few weeks of keeping her, Xinran was warned, she would violate the one-child policy. Had she refused, not only she but her senior colleagues would be punished. The little girl soon vanished; the orphanage to which she had been sent was demolished to make way for a new highway. There were no records of her whereabout.
I couldn’t imagine what cruelty human are capable of until I read about this:
- One particularly heartless incident, she witnesses a midwife drown a newborn in a slop bucket.
- There is the ‘extra-birth guerrillas’ who travel the roads and the railways, evading the system, trying to hold onto more than one baby. When they gave birth to a new baby, the elder one was left in train station to fend for him or herself.
- I thought cruel things like this happened to poor peasant families, I was incensed to know of incidents where mothers abandoned their baby girls for the mother’s own selfish reason and convenience.
- A another story about the mother, Na, thinking that if the baby went to America, some day Na might find her. Na agreed, learning only after she had moved to America that there were already 30,000 adopted Chinese children there. She had sent her baby to the orphanage with some keepsakes, so that some day ‘we’d always have this means of identifying each other’. Many mothers did this, and in every case the orphanage got rid of the clothes and objects.
Xinran wrote the book with the aim to document the love and loss of mothers who abandoned their children; and to show them how things really were for their mothers, and to tell them they were loved and will never be forgotten. I don’t quite buy it.
Mother love is supposed to be such a great thing, but so many babies are abandoned, and it’s their mothers who do it. They’re ignorant. They feel differently about emotions from the way you do. Where I come from, people talk about smothering a baby girl or just throwing it into a stream … to be eaten by dogs, as if it were a joke. How much do you think these women loved their babies? (page 138)
If birds can feel like this and never abandoned their babies, then how is it possible for human parents to give up their own children? Again and again. I cannot and will not believe that outdated customs combined with government policy can really force human beings to renounce that most beautiful and basic of human feelings, the parental instinct. It should not be possible, but it is. (page 95)
Parental instinct, is not always an instinct.
A book not for the faint and soft-hearted. Some parts read like horror stories.
I am reading this for non-fiction 5, China Challenge and A to Z reading challenge.
Hardback. Publisher: Chatto & Windus, 2010; Length: 212 pages; Setting: 60’s to present China. Source: Library. Finished reading at: 27 June 2010