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Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love (Anglais) Broché – 3 février 2011

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It took a long time for me to summon the courage to relive the personal memories and experiences of my life as a reporter in China. In The Good Women of China, my first book, published in 2002, I wrote about those brave women who had told me their stories when I worked as a radio presenter. But there were some stories I could not yet bring myself to tell. They were too painful and too close to home. I am not a particularly courageous woman; I am just a woman who longs to feel a mother’s embrace and that lifelong bond of love and dependence between mother and daughter. Little by little, that longing seeped through me until it began to dominate my thoughts night and day. Reawakening the memories threatened to reopen old wounds: I would miss my own mother more than ever and would feel even more bitterness that I would never have that kind of love.

At a talk I gave at the International Book Fair in Melbourne, Australia, in 2002, 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 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 that 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 waiting for me by the car. They were there, they said, to give me a mother’s embrace. One by one they came up to me, put their arms around me, and kissed my forehead. …

I could not help myself, tears poured down my face. In my heart, I cried, “I’m grateful for their genuine affection, but how I wish my own mother could have held me like this. Every day, since I was a little girl, I have missed my mother’s love so much!”

In 1958, when I was just thirty days old, I was sent away to live with my grandmother. Like millions of Chinese women, my mother believed that anyone who put their family and children before their country and the Party was at best selfish and at worst criminal.

My earliest memory of my mother is of her walking toward me on a very quiet platform in the Nanjing railway station. She was a cloud of purple—her silk scarf draped over her shoulders waved in the breeze. She smiled sweetly and opened her arms to me like a dancer on the stage.

I was five years old and had never called anyone mother before. That day, at my grandmother’s urging, I called my mother “aunty”—what children call any female stranger in China—and as I whispered the word this beautiful woman stiffened and a solitary tear fell down her face.

In 1966, only two weeks after I had begun living with my mother, the Cultural Revolution began. My parents were both sent to a political jail within a month of each other. My younger brother, who was only two and a half, and I became orphans. Ten years later we were all back as one family but no one has ever spoken about how we survived the struggles during that turbulent time.

In 1989, after twelve years of studying and working at a military university, I became a radio presenter. The first time I went to a small village in the countryside, I was devastated by the poverty-stricken lives I witnessed. It was only a forty-minute drive from the city I worked in, but they were so poor that in the summer most children did not even wear trousers, they only had a pair to provide warmth in the winter. I was so shocked to hear from the people I interviewed, face-to-face, the real numbers on how many lives had been lost in the past one hundred years within China. I was so ashamed by my lack of knowledge of traditional Chinese culture and the real history of China.

Until then, I never realized how ignorant I was about the real China and how misguided I was in my education about my mother’s and grandmother’s generations, so I started to reeducate myself by learning the truth from people. I went on a journey to find out the answers to my bewildering questions from my country and my people. Over the next eight years, I traveled around and met more than two hundred Chinese women for my radio program. I listened to them, and their stories struck a chord deep within me. I found myself as one of them—as a daughter, our lives watered down by the tears from our past.

I moved to London in 1997. After eight years of digging, searching, and feeling for Chinese women, I felt empty and run-down. During my time as a radio presenter I had received about a hundred letters every day with personal secrets full of dreams and confusion, and I had witnessed my country jumping onto a rapidly moving express train toward the Western lights, but the people still lacked the necessary education to grasp the massive force of change that was sweeping across the country. Therefore, as a Chinese woman who had walked a long march to find out who I am, I chose to start afresh in London, where I could deepen my understanding of the world.

But once there, I was stunned and hurt by how little Westerners understood the Chinese people. And on my many trips back to China I discovered how little the younger Chinese understood about their parents’ generation. I found that our children have been cut off from the real history and even from their own family history. They have no idea about what kind of life their mothers and grandmothers have endured; they don’t even believe that they have love stories.

Then one day in 1998, while I was teaching at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, an Italian student came to me with a book he had been reading and asked me, “Is it true that Chinese women physically lack emotional cells and are mentally short of love as described in this book?” I was flabbergasted. Finally, through gritted teeth, I told him, “I am going to write a book that will move this world to tears about the Chinese women I know, on their rich feeling, their deep love and unconditional giving.”

Since I began writing books about the lives of Chinese women, I have been fortunate enough to receive countless letters, photographs, and videos from adopted Chinese girls and the adopting families from all over the world. Their letters, like the two that follow (and the others on p. 187 and pp. 195–199), bring me comfort, and it is with their encouragement that I have finally managed to write down the stories of Chinese women who were forced to abandon their babies.

Dear Xinran,

I am the (adoptive) mother of two beautiful daughters of China. My daughters are now 11 and 9. They both are very happy in our family and much loved. They also will never forget they have a birth family in China. They love their birth mothers and both of them, like you, would very much like to see their birth mother’s face and hear her words. Please write your book. In this way they will know the heart of their birth mothers. Though we have told them we will look for their birth mothers if they desire to find them, we have also told them such a search may not be successful. The message you send from birth mothers may be all they ever have of their Chinese family.

One thing you can tell the Chinese birth mothers is that their daughters have not forgotten them. In our family their birth mothers are honored. My daughters and I study Pu Tong Hua. We have already returned to China 2 times with our daughters. They love the land of their birth, as their father and I do. We are proud to be an American Chinese family.

Please send our love, gratitude, and honor to their Chinese mothers.

Thank you,

The Macechko Family


Dear Xinran,

So lovely to hear from you. I know just what you mean about how it takes days for your “head” to arrive back after your body. Flying around the world is such an odd experience in that way. Please, please, please do write Messages from Chinese Mums. You have to write it for all those girls. Mei and Xue even now ask why their “tummy mummy” couldn’t look after them. I have to say, I don’t know. Because I do not know. I can’t lie. I can only guess—maybe poverty, maybe postnatal depression, maybe rape, maybe the fact that they are girls, maybe she was a teenager?

I can only guess at the pain. I save all books and newspaper clippings of China, so that when the girls are big, they can read what life was like and try and understand—maybe understand what their birth mother experienced. But, if you wrote some stories of the Chinese mothers, it would be more clearly explained.

I couldn’t read The Good Women of China because I found it too painful. I cried and cried and cried. Each woman I thought of as Mei and Xue’s mother—and what she had to bear and what loss for her to leave her babies. Some day all those adopted girls have to understand that their mothers gave them up—(HOPEFULLY) not because she didn’t love them, but because life was too hard and too painful to bear. They must understand this fully. This is the only way to heal the pain for them of being rejected in that way.

Mei and Xue have brought such joy to our lives. Barry and I are complete with them and our family is a tight, beautiful bond. But I am aware that somewhere there is a mother (if she is alive) who has a deep pain about her girls. I want her to know that the girls are alive and happy and for her not to worry. But I also know that life is very complex ... --Ce texte fait référence à une édition épuisée ou non disponible de ce titre.

Revue de presse

"This is an extraordinary book told with generosity and warmth by a brilliant storyteller" (Hilary Spurling Financial Times)

"Xinran rages against the system and gives voice to adoptive mothers overseas who have rescued young Chinese girls and desolate birth mothers who grieve and feel guilt for the loss of their daughters" (Iain Finlayson The Times)

"One would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved" (Economist)

"No bleaker picture exists of the fate of Chinese female infants...than Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother" (Spectator)

"Harrowing and heartbreaking yet important tales" (SHE Magazine)

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur (beta) 59 commentaires
83 internautes sur 88 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Caution: Sensationalism vs. An Evolving and more Hopeful Reality 18 mai 2011
Par Junlei Li - Publié sur
Format: Relié
(An updated and detailed review is posted under the newer version/release of the same book on amazon)

Like the other reviewers, I am also an adoptive parent of two girls. Unlike most other adoptive American parents, I am also a Chinese American and a child development psychologist, and I actually started working in Chinese orphanages to understand and improve care since our adoption.

I do very much doubt the truthfulness some of the author's stories (mostly in chapter 5 and beyond). The ones that I do believe are true (the killing of female infants, for example), I wouldn't know how to begin to tell my own daughters. But just like the local television evening news that only shows crime, car accidents, fire, and animal abuse during the first 10 minutes of broadcast, a book focused solely on atrocities (and the most extreme at that!) may do a dis-service to China, its people, and most importantly, the girls we have adopted from there.

Here's a litmus test. Does the book make you feel friendly towards China, Chinese people, or even some of the Chinese mothers/fathers/grandparents described in the book? (One of the well-to-do married mother in the book "apparently" abandoned her daughter to be adopted by American parents because she works too much at a high-level government job, her husband is too exhausted, and neither of them trust babysitters). Or does the book make you feel friendly towards the author, who comes off as the sole consistent heroine in every chapter - whether rushing to the aid of an orphan on the street (where many anonymous Chinese people simply stared), or rushing supplies to a broken-down orphanage, or taking in a migrant worker that nobody wanted, or unlocking the sad secrets buried for decades from broken women, who now runs a wonderful charitable foundation to continue her work? (The only other credible hero in the book is Red Mary, who got one chapter worth of mention.)

If I read the book correctly, nearly all the stories are pre-2000, and most of the stories actually took place between 1970s to early 1990s). For readers and those adoptive parents interested in an update, here's what I have seen since then (note that the author claimed that she never stepped into an orphanage, even in the late 2000s, that was up to par). Like many other countries, China is evolving. In the orphanages I've been to (not as a visitor, but actually spend hours and days observing and studying care-giving and child development inside the rooms), things have improved a great deal. Throughout China, I have met dedicated parents, teachers, professionals, and government officials who worked against all odds for the abandoned children. Likewise, the flow of girls into orphanages are now mostly a thing of the past (sadly, the % of children with disabilities is at 90%+). Domestic adoption and foster care are growing, thanks for Chinese efforts and aid from abroad. Attitude towards girls have dramatically improved, along with the economic position and earning power of girls. (The flow of special needs children continues to be a major issue, and NGOs started by adoptive parents are helping to make a difference!) Even the orphanages have improved -- China has a higher level of care than most other countries. U.S. studies of adopted Chinese girls almost always found them to be healthier and better adjusted than children adopted from other countries. In all the travels of myself and my colleagues, we have seen over 100 orphanages. Only one or two fit the Dickensian description. Most are run by well-intentioned administrators and hardworking (low-paying) caregivers. Just last month, I interviewed three staff who 10 years ago slept in a farm house, all to one bed, with no shower or in-door plumbing, in order to start a foster care village which now houses over 200 children. They are government employees (people most often derided and vilified in the book). I've met former orphanage directors who rose through the ranks, and continued to work tirelessly for both international adoptions and domestic foster care/adoptions. I've met an orphanage director who started out as a special ed teacher in an orphanage, and just declined a promotion so that she could stay with the children's services.

I read the entire book but cannot give this book to my girls, even after they grow up -- for the same reason that I turn off the television when news bombard us with the latest stories that bleed. Yes, my own girls' lives started on a street corner, but the world (even in China) isn't all dark and cruel. I think of the mother who might have fought to spare the girl's life, who probably waited in hiding until the child was found. The strangers who found her and called the police. The doctors who labored to keep her alive (due to prematurity). I know personally the caregiver who took my baby into her arms on day 1 and helped her grow up attached and well for two years. I may be wrong to focus just on the kindness of strangers. But no more wrong than a book that seems to go out of its way to find atrocity and has largely ignored the enormous positive movement spurred by the Chinese people and the adoptive families during the last 10 years.

As a journalist semi-fictionalized expose of past atrocities, perhaps the book is suitable for a college course on gender and culture -- as a piece to tell my two girls about their life stories and their people and country, or even their birth mothers, it is not.
31 internautes sur 33 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
worth a spot on your reading list 13 mars 2011
Par Seek Felicity - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
This book recounts the personal stories of Chinese women who have lost their daughters. As a Chinese radio journalist, the author interviewed women from all over China to gather material for the radio program she hosted. The author found that many women shared stories of heartache, remorse, and guilt over the baby daughters they never saw grow to adulthood.

The book can be emotional as it chronicles some tough topics, including gendercide and gender inequality in China. For parents who are facing questions from children they adopted from China, this book is something you should read to learn more about country, the status of women in China, and other issues. One of the many points the author attempts to show is that just as your child has questions about his/her biological mother, the Chinese women who gave up children wonder where their children are and whether they have found mothers who love them. The author does a good job outlining the inner anguish felt by mothers who were separated from their daughters; these sentiments might be beneficial to share with adopted children who ask questions like, "Why did mommy give me away?"

All of the stories are unsettling. A former midwife tells of her pricing structure and the cost to deliver a highly prized boy over a girl and the preparation of a pot of water that could, depending on the baby's gender, be used to cleanse or dispatch a newborn. There is the account of the woman who cannot view a birthday party because of her past deeds. There is the story of the couple that had ten years to provide a male heir but all their pregnancies produced girls, leaving them to decide what to do with their daughters. These are only a few of the stories within the book.

The author discusses why Chinese families frequently prefer boys over girls. These reasons can include laws that prohibit females from inheriting property, traditions that require a son to care for aging parents, preferences for males who can work the land, and policies limiting the number of children a family can have. The author also highlights the treatment of mothers who bear daughters. Women, according to the author, are frequently subjected to years of verbal, emotional, and/or physical abuse and left without any standing within the community. Many are so consumed with guilt over the daughters that were killed or abandoned that they attempt suicide. The author outlines the various ways that a baby girl can be eliminated when unwanted by a family. If not selectively aborted, she may be drowned or smothered within moments of birth. Baby girls who do not meet these fates, may be abandoned, perhaps in the countryside, to fend for themselves.

In addition to the stories of women who were separated from their infants, the book includes sections on letters from mothers who adopted Chinese children, Chinese adoption laws, and the incidence of suicide among the Chinese.

Overall, the book is well-written. There were instances when additional footnotes or editing would have been beneficial. On more than one occasion, a reference is made to a topic that is not to be discussed or explained for several pages. One such occurrence was in the beginning of the book when a reference is made to MBL. The reader finds out several pages later than MBL stands for Mothers' Bridge of Love which is a charity established by the author to help Chinese women who have lost children, Chinese children who have been adopted and may lack and understanding of their cultural background, and children living in destitute conditions in China. In addition, sometimes the author's own commentary is drawn out. The author frequently takes several pages to express her surprise or anger over a story. While I recognize that the author is the medium for transmitting the stories to readers, I frequently just wanted to read the stories in the book and process them without the author's shock. I felt her expanded commentary sometimes detracted from the anguish and sadness of the women profiled and the book's overall themes.

There were times when I was reading this book that I just wanted to say, "Stop. Let this end" Eventually, as books do, the stories ended but my mind kept going and processing. This is not the type of book you forget about and is worth a spot on your "to read" list.
22 internautes sur 24 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Superlative book for anyone who wants to know China 27 juin 2010
Par Jean M. Lipson - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I have two daughters adopted from China and will share this book with them as they grow up. It explains the desperation of the oppressed women of China, the intense need for a son and the social ails that exist. After reading the book, I ordered additional books so each of my daughters will eventually have one plus for several friends with children from China so their children can also develop a better understanding of the land of their birth. THIS BOOK SHOULD BE REQUIRED READING FOR ALL PEOPLE ADOPTIING FROM CHINA! It is both heartbreaking but realistic and will help anyone to know the difficulties of Chinese women, including those who are interested in international studies, women's studies, adoption, international business people and anyone with a general interest in world events.
10 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Though a bookish college student, BEST book I've read in 4 years! 20 août 2011
Par thetotoromonster - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Let me begin that it was by pure chance that I came upon this book. I'm not Chinese (culturally, though I have some Chinese blood), I've never been to China, I am not an orphan, I am not an anthropologist, I am not a mother, I don't know any adopted Chinese girls, nor do I know of any Chinese mothers who have lost a baby daughter... I am definitely *not* in the "target population" for this book. I am just a female college student eager about empowering women and also eager to learn more about women/women's issues around the world. I took a chance, read this book, and can confidently say that it is one of the best decisions in my college career.

When I was on vacation, I couldn't get my hands off this book. Aside from it being just a "cool insight" into the lives of Chinese mothers trying to survive during the Cultural Revolution, the one-child policy, the recent Westernization and huge gains in prosperity, and other important historical events in China; the book tells many poignant and heart-wrenching tales of the reasons why these Chinese women really don't have a social, cultural, or governmental (and sometimes educational) environment that allows choice aside from abortion, infanticide, or neglect. You are allowed a priceless ticket into the life of these Chinese women: the family expectations, the sheer lack of agency, the social stigmas (there are many!), the life-changing decisions, and more! Xinran comes from a one-of-a-kind perspective as she shares intimate stories of Chinese mothers that have been kept hidden for so long.

Though I've been using Amazon since middle school, this book was superb enough to warrant my first Amazon review (as a college student!! ~10 years later). I wanted to cry so many times while reading this book, but I couldn't organize the flood of feelings that the author, Xinran, drew from the depths of my heart - and I'm not even a mother!! So, if you want to read a book that will really get your head spinning from the numerous injustices against mothers/female infants and your heart learning of the beauties and tragedies of unconditional love, I highly, *highly* recommend this book.

Some unsatisfying things:
- This book is very anecdotal and if you're looking for facts and figures about Chinese demographics, you won't find many here. Here's some that I can share with you adapted from Mara Hvistendahl's "Unnatural Selection" and other online sources. As of 2009, more than 30 million people have died from AIDS and another ~33.3 million people currently live with AIDS. As of 2010, more than *180 million* women (more than the entire female population of the United States) are missing from the world from sex-selective abortion, female feticide/infanticide, neglect, and other forms of sexism.
- The "solution" offered by this book is somewhat narrow, which focuses on the lives of adopted Chinese female orphans who are distributed throughout the world. Not much to be said about steps to decrease male sex-selection globally and the devaluing of females in societies (usually just cheap excuse for babysitter/housekeeper in many countries).
- As a college student, I'm looking for current research and current methods and current everything academic. Though this book doesn't explicitly point to further scholarly books or papers, it has lit the fuse for a lifelong interest in everything this book mentions. LOVE IT!

The book is so enlightening and powerfully-written that my dissatisfactions seem very petty. Thanks, Xinran! I can't wait to, hopefully, contribute to the same cause when I become a professional!
17 internautes sur 20 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Beautiful 19 mars 2011
Par Emily Braun - Publié sur
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
I have an adopted daughter from China and this is so near and dear to my heart. A fair warning. Some of the descriptions of how rural Chinese dispose of unwanted girls is graphic and disturbing. The perception and reality in China is that people must have a son. Everything from status, family honor and economics depends on it. It isn't that the girls aren't loved they simply cant be kept. If you loved the Good Women Of China, you will love this too. Enjoy.
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