February 25, 2010

"PLEASE GIVE US A PEACEFUL OLD AGE":

Throw it in a stream: a review of Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran (Jonathan Mirsky, 2/24/10, Spectator)

I know a British couple with a Chinese daughter, pretty and fluent in English. Of course the little girl was adopted. It is necessary to steel one’s self against three agonising thoughts: how did such children come to be here, why does one never meet an adopted Chinese boy, and what does one reply when the adopted Chinese child asks, ‘Why did my real mother let me go?’

There is already substantial information on this subject, including television documentaries, none of it mentioned by Xinran. No one has exposed the scandal of Chinese orphanages, the starting point for the traffic in babies to foreigners — there are now well over 120,000 such children living abroad — better than the Scottish academic and journalist Robin Munro and it would make this troubling book even better had his exposés been noted by Xinran.

But never mind. No bleaker picture exists of the fate of Chinese female infants, whether murdered at birth or abandoned, than Messages from an Unknown Chinese Mother. One woman’s story reveals this black mark in Chinese culture, both traditional and contemporary. She had lived and worked almost her entire life in orphanages, and told Xinran that little girls sometimes arrived there with scars between their legs. Oil lamps or candles had burned them.

The first thing the village midwives did when the baby was born was not to clear its airway but to check [by the light of the lamp or candle] whether it was a boy or girl, because that was what the family wanted to hear. Some of the burns were on the baby’s private parts …


Posted by Orrin Judd at February 25, 2010 6:58 AM
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