Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love. I hadn’t heard any reviews of this book, written or by word-of-mouth; it simply caught my eye at the library.
At the time, I made some notes for a review, but have never gotten around to writing it. The simple fact is that the stories in this book were heartbreaking, and some were downright appalling. When I finished, I thought to myself, “China is the most dysfunctional place I’ve ever heard of.” (This was also my impression, some years ago, when I read Jung Chang’s book Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China.)
Xinran points out the reasons that so many mothers give up their daughters: their society depends on hard manual labor for survival, meaning that males are favored; sexual ignorance leads to women giving birth to infants they cannot care for; the one-child-per-family policy leads mothers to give up their daughter so that they can try again for that elusive son.
She shares heartbreaking stories, of mothers who give up their daughters, and of mothers who “do” their daughters – a euphemism for killing their infants.
One woman was abandoned by her husband, because she couldn’t produce a baby boy. She found work in the city, at a restaurant. When she saw a family holding a birthday party for their daughter, she tried to kill herself. She said, "Why couldn't my daughters have lived? Why did I have to kill my own daughters? I wish they could have had just a mouthful of that delicious birthday cake, just one mouthful! If only they could have put on those pretty clothes, just for a day!"
A couple is trying to have a son, so that the husband can return home and become the head of his clan. In the meantime, they travel, to avoid being detected as having more than one child. They abandon each daughter in turn, as they try again for a son. Asked if he doesn't worry about his daughters, the husband replies, "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." He comments, "I'm just longing for the day my wife gets it right."
The worst story was of Green Mary, who worked with orphanages. She and her husband had a comfortable life, and could care for their daughter. And yet, they convinced themselves to pass her off as an orphan, so she could be adopted. Writing about this woman, Xinran wrote "Just how 'civilized' were we becoming? What was education and work really for? And all this struggling to complete and to succeed, at what price? Why had our modern civilization discarded that ancient blind animal instinct to protect our young?"
Surely these stories are the exception to the rule; surely there are families in China who love and care for their daughters as well as their sons. I need to find a book about those families, a book that presents a more optimistic and balanced viewpoint.