Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Dilemma of China

Two years ago, I read a riveting book called Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, a young woman raised in China during the Cultural Revolution of Mao Tse Tung, and who left China to study in England in 1978.

Despite its length (524 pages), I could not put the book down. I was captivated by the telling of history through the young eyes of Ms Chang. She began with what she knew of her grandmother, who became a concubine of a warlord general in 1929, then traced the escape of her grandmother and the birth of her mother, through the huge cultural shifts taking place in China. From a rural lifestyle to life in a large city, Chang details what it was like to be the daughter of parents who joined the Communist party, only to later have her father arrested and tortured by the same party.

This book began a process of thinking about China, something I had not really done before. Being concerned with the subject of abortion, China comes to the forefront because of the one-child policy, which includes forced abortion and sterilization, plus state control of a couple's fertility. Many times, I remember a girl I worked with, in Toronto in the early 70's, telling me about this wonderful book she was reading called Fanshen, a Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village; she was enamored of how society was changing in China, for the better she thought. I wonder what she thinks of that now, given the fact that revolution came at the price of so many lives and the destruction of the traditional way of life.

Forward to November 2009 and I came across a book called The Lost Daughters of China; Abandoned Girls, Their Journey to America, and the Search for a Missing Past.
Written in 2000, by Karin Evans, a Californian journalist who with her husband, adopted a baby girl from China. The book chronicles their journey through married life without children, to desiring a child, to taking the necessary steps to adopt an infant from China. Evans details the emotions involved in the long wait; she describes their eventual journey to China to an orphanage to obtain their daughter; she continues with descriptions of life with their little girl Kelly Xiao Yu and gives the reader a glimpse into the thoughts of those who adopt these little orphans.

What is so wonderful about this book is that, all through it, Evans speaks of Kelly's Chinese mother and what she must have gone through in giving her up. She writes with a mother's heart when she describes her bond with little Kelly in sentences that brought me to tears many times.

Kelly Xiao Yu and I spent our first full afternoon together at the hotel, rolling around on the bed, making friends... We laughed and played with each other's fingers and noses. We were getting to know each other on some primal level... When I hugged her, she felt full and warm - and necessary - in my arms, as if she were settling into a dent in my chest that I hadn't realised was so cavernous. Babies are made for this, I know, thanks to some evolutionary scheme that opens mysterious places in us into which only babies can fit.

This is a book written by a woman who has consented to love unconditionally. She is a woman who understands a mother's heart, for she writes:

This baby was found; she was meant to be found- that is the important point here. The story that Kelly's mother had to offer, I realized was closer than we thought. The best evidence was Kelly herself. Her sweetness and courage, her humor and grace. Her mother left the biggest clue of all in this baby's ready smile. Her mother loved her. If I know nothing else about this woman who gave me the gift of this beautiful child, I know this: When she cared for this baby, she cared wholeheartedly. When she set her down, she set her down gently.

A marvellous read, this is a book with a personal angle that helps to paint a better picture of China than any history book. An incredibly complicated and beautiful country, subject to centuries of oppression and now Communism, the Chinese people are resilient, gentle, and remarkably non-antagonistic. I noticed this during 40 Days for Life, when so many Chinese university students passed us during the prayer vigil. Every single one of those students would have had their lives touched by abortion; almost every one of them would be single children, or would have lost siblings to abortion, abandonment, or worse. Yet their faces were not hostile; perhaps they are so caught up in the learning of the English language and in their studies (it is well known how hard Chinese students work) that to be rebellious simply does not occur to them. At least not to the Chinese youth that we saw this fall.

This book reveals to me how much we do not know about China, how incredibly intricate their historical tapestry is, how much there is to learn about this mysterious vast country that has produced 1/4 of the world's present population.

Obviously, I recommend this book for you to read. Be sure to have your box of tissues nearby.

No comments: