Sunday, March 27, 2011

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother. Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran Xue

Again and again, I cannot and will not believe that outdated customs combined with government policy can really force human beings to renounce that most beautiful and basic of human feelings, the parental instinct.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.

Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother is a heart-rending, eye-opening account of women's lives in China. It is a recounting of the "tragic stories of what traditionally happened to abandoned girl babies and what continues to happen." Each of these stories sears the heart as the reader comes face to face with the clash of Chinese culture, traditional and modern, and the deepest desires of the heart in Chinese women.

Xinran's book is a collection of stories told to her as well as personal incidents she experienced when she worked as a reporter and radio broadcaster in China. These are painful stories, told by courageous mothers, to Xinran over a period of years either in person or in the form of letters. It took many years before Xinran could bring herself to tell these stories.

In her travels within China, Xinran discovered the crushing poverty of her fellow Chinese and how little she knew of Chinese history and culture. She came to understand that young Chinese did not know what their mothers and grandmothers had suffered. She also realized from her life in the United Kingdom that many Westerners had no understanding of the Chinese people. When she was asked if it was "true that Chinese women physically lack emotional cells and are mentally short of love" Xinran was devastated and angry.

This book, which she began to write in 2008 was to show that Chinese women have suffered terribly and continue to suffer so. It was to demonstrate the ability of Chinese mothers, daughters and grandparents to love deeply and unconditionally, but that their culture works against their feminine nature in ways that Westerners cannot comprehend.

During the course of writing books about Chinese society and Chinese mothers, Xinran received many letters about Chinese women who placed their daughters for adoption with Western families. By the end of 2010, Xinran writes that the number of Chinese orphans adopted numbers over 120,000 - almost all of whom are girls. Why is this so? Why are the Chinese abandoning their girls?

Xinran believes that girl babies are abandoned in China for 3 main reasons:
  1. traditional practices in Eastern farming cultures in which a preference for boys who can undertake hard manual labour. There is also the ancient system of land allotment in China in which males are given land and therefore are responsible for creating wealth, Females do not have such rights.
  2. sexual ignorance and economics
  3. one child policy which then made it imperative that in order for number 1 to hold, couples MUST have a male child if they wanted to increase their wealth and carry on the family name.
Message from and Unknown Chinese Mother is not for the faint of heart. The stories leave one gasping at the seemingly callous perspective that pervades Chinese society, particularly in rural China, one that holds that girl babies are better off dead than living in any sort of existence. Xinran struggles to understand this mindset and what drives families to abandon their baby girls. Sometimes these encounters occurred during what appears to be an ordinary day - such as bicycling to work.

When Xinran rescued a baby girl abandoned in front of a public toilet she was admonished and harassed.
"The words rang in my ears but I kept repeating to myself:
No, no, I'm not going to let this tiny creature die in front of my eyes. This is a human being. A real live human being capable of giving life to countless other lives."

When she rushed the baby to the hospital Emergency Dept., she was told that without a birth permit, they could not treat the baby. It was only when Xinran threatened to talk about this on her radio show that the nurse relented and the baby was saved. The duty nurse told Xinran that the hospital received so many abandoned baby girls that they had to hire night guards to prevent people from abandoning babies at their doors.

There is no doubt that Chinese women bear a heavy burden of suffering. I agree with Xinran that traditional cultural preferences for male children combined with the draconian one child policy have led to the abandonment and outright murder of millions of Chinese girls.

It's estimated that tens of millions of Chinese girls are "missing". Human rights groups, population experts and social scientists have been warning for many years now of the effects of this gender imbalance will have on Chinese society.

Attitudes towards women and girls need to change in Asia especially in China and India. Public policy also needs to change. Governments have no business telling couples how many children they can have. Young women who become pregnant need the support of family and society to bear their children and if they so choose, to keep and raise them. Culture has no business telling women that girls are worthless. Without women, a society loses it's heart and will inevitably die.

The book I read had the cover shown above. But I have to say that I really love this cover better:

Xinran Xue's book is an important window into Chinese culture. I highly recommend it and also her website The Mothers' Bridge of Love

For more on gendercide you can read the following articles:
The worldwide war on baby girls

China's One-Child Self-Destruction

The following website is devoted to women's rights and focuses especially on the area of forced abortions, sexual slavery and other problems China's one-child policy has created.
The website is Women's Rights Without Frontiers

Book Details:
Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother. Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran
New York: Scribner 2010
239 pp.

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