Friday, February 22, 2013

Frank’s Question

While visiting with Darrell and his family I had the pleasure of meeting Frank and Alice. Wait, NOT Alice. Somehow I always call her Alice but her name is Laura. I don’t know where, how or why I came up with Alice.

She doesn’t even look like an Alice. When I met her I asked her if she had a twin named Alice – that would have been too freaky, no? Might there be another close relative named Alice? Upon her witness I found that she is not even remotely related to anyone so named, leaving me dumbfounded as to why I persisted in thinking of her by that name.

Either way she is quite a lovely young woman: gregarious and engaging, just like her husband. That is important to me because, in the event something should happen to both Darrell and Samantha, Frank and Laura will be Baby Ben’s parents. I don’t want anything to happen to Darrell or Samantha, but it is nice to know that my sweet grandson will be well taken care of in the event of.

Frank is a highly intelligent man, witty, curious and thoughtful. Upon meeting me for the first time, he already had several questions ready about China, Chinese culture and life over here. As most of you know, I encourage such speculation. It gives me a chance to dig in, really research a topic of interest – maybe something I hadn’t before given any thought to?

I was able to answer most of his questions, and Laura’s as well, right off the cuff. The one I couldn’t readily answer was: “is there an orphanage for unwanted baby girls?” It seems Frank had read about an altruist who ran such an establishment.

I remember reading about this man and his social works too, but the ‘baby girl orphanage’ smacked me as wrong. So I did some research.

Frank, here is your answer.

Baby girls are no longer officially stigmatized as ‘less desirable’ in this society. With the recent discovery/realization that daughters are often better caretakers of elderly parents, and the fact that the government offers incentives such as money for education and extracurricular development for parents of baby girls under the Spring Blossom Project, coupled with the fact that, almost thirty years into the one-child policy there is a dearth of marriageable women, Chinese society is slowly turning away from the ‘male heir’ principle. Indeed it is illegal for a doctor of expectant parents to reveal the sex of the baby when ultrasounds are performed.

That is the official, or the party line, if you will. The unofficial story is glee at bearing a male heir, even today when males of marriageable age are having trouble finding a partner and are actually looking beyond China’s borders for suitable mates. The Chinese being endogamous to a fault, marrying a foreigner – someone from, say, Taiwan or Thailand, or even Korea is not necessarily appreciated, but most understand the need for it. If not for those ‘foreigner’ women, how would the family name be carried on?

NOTE: when I say ‘foreigner women’, I mean in the least a woman who is Caucasian or some other ethnicity/race. A woman from an Asian country is acceptable but a woman from Japan is decidedly not appreciated. A woman from the Middle East is also not favorably featured as a marriage prospect. She should at least have features that could be mistaken for authentically Chinese and be willing to convert to or uphold a traditionally Chinese way of life.

The orphanage Frank was questioning was a house for undesired children: children with some sort of difficulty. Either a physical or mental/psychological impairment.

While overall the stigma against baby girls has been at least officially lifted, the shame of bearing a child less than perfect remains, and it is very strong. Parents of deaf, blind, physically challenged children or, as parents are later to learn, mentally incapacitated children of either gender are summarily rejected. Summarily and formally, so that the couple can try for another, more perfect child.        

On the surface that sounds cold and calculating, but again: one must consider this fact in context with the society that propagates that action.

If you are only allowed one child, and that child accounts for your family’s entire future, it would be necessary for that offspring to not be in any way deficient. Each person must compete for scarce desirables in today’s China. Jobs are no longer assigned regardless of gender or ability. Education is a must for proper social positioning and maximum earning potential. If your child is in any way ‘less than’ the other children, he/she cannot possibly win out in the struggle for a dignified, successful life.

Add to that the lack of resources for people who are handicapped. Throughout most of China, people who are physically challenged are just now earning benefits and access to everything available to people who are otherwise healthy, well formed and mentally competent. Here, there is no such thing as handicapped parking and not much in the way of any other concession for those gifted (or cursed, depending on your perspective) with less than perfect bodies/health.

There are audible signals at crosswalks and markings along every sidewalk so that the blind can safely navigate their daily life. However, I’ve yet to see a person who is blind work anywhere, be it a government office or a shopping mall. People who are deaf have even fewer resources given them, and admittedly are much harder to detect because their disability is not readily visible. I have seen people sign their conversations while out and about town but personally do not know of anyone who is deaf that is gainfully employed either in the public or private sector. And I’ve yet to see anyone who is physically challenged fill any job slot.

Of course, I realize I am just one person in one middling large city that is situated in the center of a very large country. I can’t be everywhere at once, monitor everyone’s actions or witness everything. My information is limited to my personal experience and what I can find out with my  limited ability to read Chinese.

Often I turn to Sam or Gary for input on these subjects. They are obviously more informed than I am. From both of them I got the same information: although the tide is turning, it is turning very slowly to regard the handicapped as less than desirable in the job market or elsewhere, including personal relationships.

Of course I’m always ready to amend or outright retract something I’ve reported in error. Please bear that in mind. This whole entry might one day be refuted.

One of the more spectacular notes to underscore how wrong people are in regarding the disabled as completely useless is the couple who perform a ballet routine. She is lacking one arm and he lost a leg, yet they dance with passion, grace and skill comparable to the finest of well formed dancers. They were recently featured on China Has Got Talent. Simply google ‘China’s Got Talent Disabled Ballet Dancers’ to see them in action. I promise they will take your breath away.

Besides this couple there is a troupe of dancers who are deaf and/or blind as well as physically challenged. You can read about them here:  

Of course, if you google the topic you are as likely to come up with negative reports as positive ones. That might be worth bearing in mind. I have no opinion on such reporting, other than it promotes the media’s desire to project China as a country with profound disregard for human rights. 

Clearly there is hope for, and sunny days to come for people in China who are physically disadvantaged. Last semester I personally witnessed no fewer than 3 people on our campus alone who are physically disadvantaged in one way or another. That is 3 more than there were 2 years ago. However, until such people are actually socially accepted, they will remain on the fringes, most likely finding their place at an orphanage. Let’s hope the people on staff there truly are charitable and kind.

And there is your answer, Frank.

Any more questions? Please send them to, or post them in the comment section of any given entry. I will do my best to research and find an answer for you.           

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