January 22, 2011

The other Chinese mother

Not Amy Chua, who has so successfully stirred up controversy and interest in her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, with her provocative WSJ piece of last week, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. With Chinese President Hu Jintao coming to the US this week to meet with President Obama and enjoy a state dinner in his honor, another kind of Chinese mother demands our attention.

Though I take issue with almost everything Chua advocates, from her ends to her means to her ends-justify-the-means philosophy, I have to say this in her defense: She may have occasionally called her daughters "garbage" but she never actually threw them away.

That has been the exact fate of countless female babies born in China. Xinran's Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother documents the horrors of the Chinese culture of death, in which not only the state but sometimes even parents see their babies as offal to be literally thrown to the dogs. Jonathan Mirsky wrote about the book last year:

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 … 
[. . .]

Mother love is supposed to be such a great thing, but so many babies are abandoned, and it’s their mothers who do it. They’re ignorant. They feel differently about emotions from the way you do. Where I come from, people talk about smothering a baby girl or just throwing it[!]into a stream … to be eaten by dogs, as if it were a joke. How much do you think these women loved their babies?
Other mothers suffer endlessly at the loss of their daughters
Whether as a consequence of the single-child policy, destructive age-old traditions or hideous economic necessity... these women had to give up their daughters for adoption, others were forced to abandon them -- on city streets, outside hospitals, orphanages or on station platforms -- and others even had to watch their baby daughters being taken away at birth, and drowned.
Mark Steyn noted:
When state-of-the-art totalitarianism meets primitive village culture, the result is industrial-scale depravity. 
A variety of human rights advocates plan to protest Chinese president Hu's visit to Washington this week:
Also at the press conference will be Chai Ling, a student leader in the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square that were met with a violent government crackdown. She now runs a nonprofit called All Girls Allowed that battles the one-child policy in China, which has resulted in many parents selectively choosing a male child, and draws awareness to forced abortions that ensure compliance with the policy.
The fleshed-out truth behind "selective choosing" and forced abortions is a nightmare that's impossible for most Americans to comprehend.

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