“Aren’t you worried what might have happened to them?”
“What’s the point in worrying? If they’re very lucky, they’ll survive. If not…Girls are born to suffer. It’s too bad they’re not boys.”
Xinran is a Chinese journalist who has compilied the stories of Chinese women who have had to give up or abandon their daughters because of political, economic, or social and cultural reasons. The women’s stories may have varying circumstances but the overwhelming pain permeates each story. Due in part to the one-child policy, economic hardships, and the desire to have a male heir to carry on the family name and spiritual duties, many women are forced to abandon or kill their daughters. What I could appreciate most about these stories is that Xinran invites the reader to get a better understanding of the many forces at work behind these heartrenching decisions. Xinran at times marvels over her lack of understanding and naiveness of the many cultures and ideas that exist in the country where she grew up. We see that these mothers are not heartless and cruel but are operating under tense and mostly inflexible constructions. These women range from students to the richest and the poorest, they are educated, they are all of us. There are even families who try to evade the authorities by travelling constantly so that they can keep their girls. These “extra-birth guerilla troops” risk everything to keep their families together. The women Xinran writes about greive for their lost daughters but know that they must not bring shame to the family or disobey the policies. It’s very hard to do this book or an explanation of the culture any justice, but just know that reading it will bring about a new understanding that you would never get from Western media.
There is a scene in the one of the stories that remains with me. An orphanage worker remembers the babies that are brought to the steps of the building. Some of them have a small X on their pinky, some have their familiy history and stories or poems and words of love written on their clothes, some mothers have embroidered elaborate pictures on their clothing. It as if the mothers hope to be reunited one day or to at least have the baby know where they come from and and that hey were loved once they are old enough.
The collection of stories as told to Xinran by the women themselves, serves a few purposes. They are to help Chinese children who have been adopted to understand the circumstances their mothers may have faced in giving them up, they are to help adoptive families to obtain a bit of information about their children’s familial culture, they are to help Westerners and outside cultures to understand how social structures and economic and political climate influence the actions of a country. These stories also serve as a place of healing for the author herself, who was not adopted as a child but says she barely knew her parents (because of their involvement and circumstances related to the communist party at the time) and still feels the strains from what she sees as a lack of love and displays of affection. Xinran also recounts the story of fostering an abandoned baby girl, whom she had to give up to adhere to the one-child policy.
These stories were amazing on so many levels. I think I can safely say that all of us at bookclub have had our eyes and hearts opened, we’ve had our ideas and convictions changed a bit.
As we said good-bye, Mary said to me: Print what I said, please, so those little girls can read it and will never forget their Chinese mothers.”