I also listened to Xue Xinran being interviewed on the radio. I had read The Good Women of China a few years ago, and it was extremely helpful to me to read of other women also discovering how to respond to abusive circumstances. Xinran was being interviewed this week on Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love. Here is one of the stories from her book,
My life is full of strong Chinese women. Are we providing any kind of model for women in our western world with a presidential candidate who claims to be a submissive wife? I think not. But I have benefitted from watching and learning from the financial intiative and solidarity of Chinese women.
Visiting a peasant family in Shandong, she sees a newborn baby girl snatched from her mother and dumped headfirst in the chamber pot: the head of the family demands a son and, because of the one-child policy, will not let the daughter live. Two years later, the young couple pays Xinran a visit. They, along with the rest of the young people, have left their village to look for work in cities. The mother says she had two more daughters but her father-in-law gave them away to foreigners for adoption. “Have you seen any foreigners?” she asks Xinran, fearfully. “Do you think the foreigners know how to hold my baby?”
At the tiny restaurant where Xinran eats lunch, the waitress tries to kill herself twice, each time after a little girl’s birthday party. The woman is tortured by the happy faces because, thinking it her duty to produce a male heir, she had smothered her baby daughters. She survives because, as well as the bottle of agricultural fertiliser she swallowed, she drank one of washing-up liquid, thinking that any chemical in a bottle was poison. The detergent diluted the fertiliser’s fatal dose.
Cycling to work one winter’s day, Xinran has a flat tyre. The woman who repairs her bicycle turns out to have been a midwife. Under the author’s patient questioning, she reveals the pricing system of her trade: three times the normal price for a first-born son; six times more if the father is first-born, too; yet more if a daughter is “done”. The trick is to strangle the baby with the umbilical cord as it emerges, and call it stillborn.Most of Xinran’s mothers submit stoically to the cruelties of “son preference” and the one-child policy. But a few go to extraordinary lengths to have more than one child. On a train journey she meets one of China’s so-called “extra-birth guerrilla troops”—families with daughters who leave home and move secretly from city to city, hoping to escape the birth-control regulators long enough to produce a son. The father rocks his daughter tenderly to sleep, as he explains the dangers of their life. At the next stop, Xinran sees the young girl talking to a food seller on the platform and waves goodbye, assuming the family has got off. But later she meets the father on the train: he has abandoned his beloved daughter to strangers because his wife is expecting another child and the family cannot hide more than one. She was the fourth daughter they had given up.
Mercifully, here we are not in the same situation with regard to our babies. But let us raise our sons and daughters to have mutual respect, and to have equal value to their families.