Saturday, January 23, 2010

New Book: Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother

Click here to read a fascinating excerpt from a new book coming out next month, Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories Of Loss And Love, by Xinran. You probably know Xinran from her book, The Good Women of China, or her organization Mother's Bridge of Love, which profits from the sale of the adoption-themed children's book Motherbridge of Love.

In this excerpt she writes of the problem of abandoned girl children in China in the 1980s, and of witnessing the killing of a newborn girl, which was explained to her as follows:

"It's not a child," she interrupted. "It's a girl baby, and we can't keep it."

"A girl baby isn't a child, and you can't keep it?" I repeated uncomprehendingly.

"Around these parts, you can't get by without a son. You city folk get food from the government. We get our grain ration according tothe number of people in the family. Girl babies don't count. The officials in charge don't give us any extra land when a girl is born, and there's so little arable land that the girls will starve to death anyway."

This was 1989 and I did not know until then that a 2,000-year-old system for allocating land was still in use in Chinese villages near the end of the 20th century.
This is the first I've heard of such land and grain allocation policies. I know that over-quota children aren't counted in such allocations, but this is the first I've heard that girls didn't count. Anyone else know another source for this?

Xinran also tells of the abandoned child she took in, despite already having a child, with the intention of adopting, and why she felt compelled to take her to an orphanage instead:

I really thought by some devious means I'd eventually be able to adopt Little Snow, find loopholes in a policy that grew stricter by the day. I was extremely naive in those days.

* * *

Then, straight after New Year, the head of the radio station came to see me for a private chat. He advised me to give up Little Snow. Not long after that, I was warned by personnel that if I did not act soon, the head might lose his job, and I mine, because I had disobeyed the one-child family planning policy. This was equivalent to taking a colleague's dinner bowl away from him, because it was the workplace that
administered the almost military-style rationing system of those days.
She kept visiting Little Snow after taking her to the orphanage, but one day she found the orphanage closed down and all the babies gone. She tracked down the official in charge and recounts this conversation:
The children were redistributed among other orphanages.

"Was each child given a number before they went?" I asked the official claiming to be in charge.

He looked at me in surprise. "What for?"

"Are there files on each child?"

He looked even more taken aback. "What files?"

"Then how will they ever be able to trace their birth families in the future?" I burst out.

He laughed at me: "You must be joking! No orphans ever find their mothers."
She learned later that all the children were adopted, likely abroad. She, herself, went abroad in 1997, and writes as a mother who lost a child:

As the years went by and I travelled around, I could not help searching for Little Snow. And looking at all these Chinese girls who had been adopted by families around the world, I had mixed feelings. Were they China's daughters? What did they know of China? Did their unknown Chinese mothers feel joy or sorrow, knowing their beloved daughters were happy in another mother's arms?
Sounds like this will be a fascinating read about a time in China when the one-child policy was being rigorously enforced and international adoption was just starting. I think it's important to see it in that historical context, rather than thinking it is completely true for China today that girls are still so undervalued, or that it was ever true for all of Chinese people.

I haven't found the book available at any U.S. site -- the link above is to Australia Borders. And Amazon shows it as unavailable-limited availability, but with a publication date of March 2010.


a Tonggu Momma said...

I look forward to reading this. As to the land laws, I do remember reading somewhere (perhaps "Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son?") that families received more land for sons, but not for daughters. It referenced inheritance laws.

Michele Huff said...

Tower Books appears to have the book available for preorder and scheduled to be released on February 4, 2010.

Diane said...

"It's not a child," she interrupted. "It's a girl baby, and we can't keep it."


Thank you for this and for keeping on top of the Haiti discussions. Truly appreciate all of your research.

meadow said...

it's available on

they ship internationally.

Anonymous said...

It was Chairman Mao who sent up the grain policy and thus, many feel he is responsible for the overpopulation problem. This was a time when people were starving, and any child over the age of 3 years (I think that was the age) received grain as an adult. Now, I have never read that there was a gender component to the grain laws especially in an era where women where suppose to be holding up half the sky (although clearly, it is a possibility.)


A Chinese Dad said...

I don't know if it was a law of that era or simply a tradition dating back to hundreds of years in China that girls did not receive land. At any rate, it was very true. I grew up in China in the 70's. My maternal grandparents, who were farmers in the countryside, did not receive any land under the name of my mother. And because my mother was their only live child (3 other siblings died of starvation from 1959 through 1961 due to Mao's Great Leap Forward political Campaign), my grandparents only received a very small parcel of land. Abandoning baby girls in China was still common even up to the year 2000. I heard of an incredible story of an abandoned baby girl in a suburb of Beijing in early 1999, which touched me so much that I started a project to rescue abandoned babies in China. Reading your blog and others have helped me get a better idea of how to go about "rescuing" these babies without becoming an enabler of baby abduction or arrogant religious nut.

It's hard being girls from poor families in China. Some unforunate baby girls used to be killed right after birth. Today many middle school girls in inner provinces like Guizhou, Guangxi and Sichuan are being forced into prostitution and oftentime to service local Communist leaders. Forced prostitution of young girls is a big unjustice in China today. Many policies in China are just so ridiculous that outsiders would not even believe them. Growing up in the 70's in China, we were not even allowed to grow vegetables to feed ourselves when we were so hungry because government hand-out (food) was so little. We raised chickens and ducks in the countryside but government confiscated them as soon as the officials found out. My family had a "weekend home" (for lack of a better word) in the mountain where we raised and kept our livestock to feed our family.

Yeah right. China is a wonderful country!

Mi Hilo Rojo said...


Did you heard about this book. Tower sent the money back becuase they didnt receive the book!

If you all now where I can buy it, let me know.


Sophia's Mama and Baba said...

Can't wait to read this..Thanks for posting about it.

Anonymous said...

You're naive to think that this does not still happen in China. As long as there's a market in the west for Chinese babies, for parents who should have never conceived, or decided to have kids "late in life", there will be a thriving industry of gendercide and baby girl trafficking. Your comments are telling and are clearly worded to give yourself, and other selfish individuals like you, comfort. Open your Entitled eyes. If you weren't able to conceive, maybe that's the universe telling you something. Why help perpetrate an industry that, in the US or Canada, would be considered a capital crime. Shame.

Michelle said...

the comment left by "Anonymous" is really mean and weird. You think if people cannot conceive that they should not adopt? You sound like a very ignorant and unfeeling person.