Title/Author: Message from an Unknown Mother/Xinran Publisher: Chatto & Windus
No. of pages: 212
In a nutshell
Ever wondered why there are so many orphaned girls in China? Why many were given away for adoption? They have been adopted overseas, by around 120,000 families in 27 countries, but some others have suffered a worse fate. Just today, as I was about to complete my review of Xinran’s Message from an Unknown Mother, I came across this appalling headline: China Hospital Dumps 21 Babies as Medical Waste into River. This atrocity never ends.
In China, it is known that most families are to have only one or two children, preferably sons, and abandoning, killing or aborting girl babies are common. In the West, many believe that it’s the ‘one-child’ policy that is responsible for unwanted girls, but from her research in the last 20 years, Xinran began to discover, there’s more to that. In a typical Chinese culture, the males have a higher status in the family especially for the agriculture areas, and in the tax system set from the 200 BC, if you have one more boy, you could have one more piece of land from local authorities. But if you have a daughter, you either have a small share (in some areas), or nothing at all. This system is still being practiced in the countryside.
These 10 chapters unlocked the stories that have been kept hidden in the hearts and minds of many mothers in China, mothers who had to part with their girl babies even before they had a chance to embrace them in their arms. Mothers who had people telling them, “It’s not a child, if it was, we’d be looking after it, wouldn’t we?” And this baby would later be
dropped alive into a slop pail and ‘taken away’. Some, if ‘lucky’ enough, will be given away for adoption, or left at train stations in the hope that someone would give them a better life, or be placed at orphanages. But before 1990, the Chinese orphanages were places society had forgotten, and sending the girl babies to the orphanages is the same as giving them a death sentence.
These stories are specially written to tell the daughters of these mothers, that they have been and are still loved. Tears welled up in my eyes when I read this in Xinran’s ‘Foreword’:
“At a talk I gave at the International Book Fair in Melbourne, Australia, in 2002, someone asked me: ‘Xinran, what is your dream?’
I said: ‘To be a daughter.’
There was uproar from the audience of several hundred people. ‘But you were born, so you must be someone’s daughter!’
‘In a biological sense, yes,’ I responded. ‘But I was born into a traditional culture, I experienced brutal political upheavals as a child, and my mother and I lived in times which did not consider bonds of family affection important. The result is there’s not a single occasion I can remember when my mother said she loved me, or even hugged me.’
After the meeting, I found a line of silver-haired women standing waiting for me by the car which was to take me back to my hotel. They were there, they said, to give me my mother’s embrace. One by one they came up to me, put their arms around me, and kissed my forehead…”
These heart-rending stories made me realise how extremely fortunate I am to be given a life and to be loved. And thank you, Xinran for lending your voice to the biological and adoptive mothers. Thank you for letting their daughters know that they are still loved or have always been loved. Last but not least, thank you for setting up Mother Bridge of Love.
Have a box of tissue with you. Don’t read it at night if you want a good night’s sleep. To mothers-to-be, if you can, please do not read this. It’s too painful and sad. And to mothers out there, wherever you are, I salute you.