Review of Xinran’s “Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother”

“Someone asked me, ‘Xinran, what is your dream?’ I didn’t even have to think about the answer. I said, ‘To be a daughter.'”

There are some things I wish I didn’t have to know about China, and this book, with it’s brutal tales of the treatment of baby girls and their mothers, is about some of them: Casualties of China’s One Child Policy. Seriously, don’t read this review unless you’ve braced yourself first.

8 thoughts on “Review of Xinran’s “Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother””

    1. Assuming you can get it in Tianjin….

      I would try Taobao or dangdang. But I wonder if it’s even available in China. I haven’t decided if I’m going to read it or not. I read her other two books, but this one would make me sick, so I need to think about whether the increase in my understanding is worth the exposure to that kind of content.

      By the way, have you seen Rob’s blog? He’s the latest blogger from Nankai: Nankai Rob

  1. I will go and buy it here in Germany. I valued the other two books and will try this one, maybe on chapter at a time.

  2. After reading the New York Time’s review of Bob Dylan’s concerts in China and Vietnam I am not sure I can believe anything they say about either Bob Dylan or China.

    As horrific as the accounts given by Xinran may be the point is most people recognise that the One Child Policy was a major factor in China’s rapid economic growth and the increasing standard of living of most Chinese. The rise incomes and the availability of higher education has provided many millions of women with career and opportunities in terms of choice and feeedom that women in China never previously had. Thw Western media tend to focus on the negative aspects and usually ignore the positive aspects. This does not justify and abuse of women and young children but I just wish to point out Xinran’s account is not the whole picture.

    1. I have to agree that the emphasis on the One Child policy — whether in this case it’s from the author or from the NYT, I don’t know — seemed a little unbalanced. Gender-selective infanticide was around long before the One Child Policy, which no doubt exacerbated it, but certainly didn’t create it. I suspect it’s more comfortable for Chinese people to blame politics rather than their culture, at least when addressing outsiders, and of course the NYT is more interested in political rather than cultural factors.

  3. I started reading the book.
    Since I am an adopted child myself it speaks in a special way to me.
    I was working with a chin. lady who had a similar situation as Xin Ran writes at the beginning; seperated from her mother when she was very little, raised by grandmum and returning to her mum and dad when she was around 14. She says, this long time of seperation still creates problems today.
    I remember volunteering in a chin. orphanage, were approx. 80% of the kids are handicapped and most of the kids are girls. Maybe it is a consequence of One-Child-Policy and culture! I think those two influence each other.
    And I remember when I was part of a medical short-term summer team in a remote area encountering all these women who had some physical problems. When asked about the time when those problems started most of them said they did start when they were taken from their villages and brought to a town clinic for sterilisation years ago. The emotional wounds these woman were carrying ever after this treatment manifested themselves physically – maybe the only way to express them.
    And I remember holding the hand of a woman while she had an abortion because she was not allowed to have another child.

    I can very well imagine that the author is not exasperating. She is the one who heard and still hears all these stories first hand.
    Yes, there are much more possibilities for women – not only in China but elsewhere but very often this freedom comes with a very hight price! And it is still the women who have to pay it!

  4. me and my English!
    In my last paragraph I wanted to say “I can very well imagine that the author is not exaggerating” – not exasperating.

  5. And I remember holding the hand of a woman while she had an abortion because she was not allowed to have another child.

    I don’t know what to say about this. That is brutal.

    they were taken from their villages and brought to a town clinic for sterilisation years ago

    Do you know why were those women sterilized? Had they already had one child?

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