Monday, December 13, 2010


Sometimes in the byways and pathways of your life you meet a person who sincerely impresses you. Tulip is such a person for me.

Tulip is a student in my sophomore Business English class, and the first thing that makes her stand out is that she is the best and brightest student in that class. Another outstanding attribute is that she is ravishingly beautiful. But the most outstanding quality this young woman possesses is her remarkable poise and regal bearing.

Tulip carries herself in such a manner that you might believe she is royalty. This posturing and these mannerisms are no sham where she is concerned. She is truly that balanced, mature and self-possessed. It could be the result of the port-wine colored stain covering ½ of her face.

Tulip is a victim of Capillary Vascular Malformation, a condition that causes such stains. This condition is sometimes remedied through neurosurgery and more recently with laser surgery. The success rate of these surgeries is about 80%, meaning that up to 80% of the stain can be eradicated, but the stain never completely goes away. Sometimes, as the sufferer ages, the stain intensifies and develops bumps and lesions. These stains can appear anywhere on the body and are present from birth on; about 20% of sufferers bear stains on their face. One remarkable feature of facial stains is that they generally affect only one side of the face.

That makes life rough on Tulip for two reasons, the first being that she is a girl. Traditionally females are less valued in Chinese society than males and until recently female infanticide was the norm for families desiring a male heir. Enter the Spring Blossom Project, which I will talk about in just a few moments.

The second strike against Tulip is that in China, any type of handicap or disfigurement generally leads to abandonment of the child, even nowadays. Just today I read in ChinaDaily about a boy who had been abandoned because he was mentally challenged. Such practices are considered socially acceptable here. Each couple has only one chance to produce a viable heir; for that heir to be somehow defective is intolerable and a source of shame, usually for the mother. The father does not produce bad genes… one of those gender inequity situations that are so rampant here. Abandoning a ‘defective’ child gives the parents license to produce another one if they have the courage and the money to, or at least absolves them of the shame and stigma of having defective genes.

There is a new awareness dawning in China, both about the value of girls and about the psychological impact of abandoning a child. The first is indicated by the societal concern that there is now, a mere thirty years after the inception of the one-child policy, a dearth of marriageable girls, compounded by the fact that female offspring are more likely to care for elderly parents. The second is shown in studies of orphaned children and their psychological adjustment to foster care versus actual adoption.

I don’t want to get too in-depth here (although the research is fascinating – at least to me), but I do want to touch on one more improvement of Chinese society: the Spring Blossom project. Stunned by the rate of female fetus abortions and the ratio of live female births versus male births, the Chinese government started the Spring Blossom Foundation to provide parents with incentives to bear and raise females. Such incentives include financial assistance for education, and enrichment programs such as dance and music for the child, as well as psychological assistance for the parents and the families so desiring of a male heir.

It seems that the Spring Blossom project is effective: the ratio of live male to female births has evened out – more or less in China. There are now only 1.14 male births for every female birth; a substantially improved ratio over a mere 15 years ago when the male/female birth ratio was nearly 2.5 to 1.

Tulip’s life may well have been spared by a combination of her parents’ genuine love for her and the Spring Blossom project. I’ve been given to understand that the bounty afforded parents by the Spring Blossom project is fairly substantial and, Tulip’s family being rural, they would have benefited handsomely from that extra money.
I intuit her parents have a deep love for this stunning creature they’ve produced, and rightly so. In a nation of beautiful women, she truly stands out. In a society that prizes intelligence, she is endowed with a supreme ability to absorb knowledge. Tulip fairly glows when she mentions her mother and her beautiful eyes just light up when she talks about going home for the upcoming Spring Festival holiday. I don’t think there is any shortage of positive emotion for Tulip at home, as I sense there is for certain other students of mine.

I wonder: what made this young woman into the regal, poised being that she is? Was it all the taunts she surely suffered as a disfigured child? Could it be her parents did have some violent arguments about her disposal during her youth? Maybe other family members were cruel to her and she had to bear it all in silence and shame. Maybe it is just her character and her destiny to be as she is.

I have to admit I am a bit intimidated by her. It is not often that one encounters a person who is so down-to-earth and yet so ethereal, so real and yet so illusory, so lacking in artifice that their poise and centeredness is a natural to them as breathing. Tulip so embodies the female essence that sometimes I forget that she is just a girl of 20, with her whole life ahead of her and only has rudimentary experience in navigating the adult world.

But oh, my! When she discovers herself… watch out, world!

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