Thursday, June 20, 2013

Whose Child Is This?

Happy International Children’s Day to all children, and all who are a child at heart.

In light of the recent report of the newborn rescued from the drainpipe in China, I find it timely to report that throughout China, and certainly in Wuhan children are treated to all manner of delights ranging from free movie passes to the opportunity to showcase their talents (dance, song, etc). There are contests: skating, biking, playing, beauty – none as brutal as beauty pageants are rumored to be stateside; and others. Everywhere around Wuhan, and all across China, families, merchants and politicians are celebrating and commemorating the young.  

There is no doubt that overall, the Chinese revel in and revere their young. However, no one can ignore the growing number of reports enumerating the ways children are mistreated and/or abused in this country. Let’s talk for a second about that poor babe, delivered into a drainpipe.

This child, conceived in a night of passion, carried in shame and fear by a young woman who experienced sex for the first time, and rejection when she confided to her partner she was nurturing their seed. With no one to turn to, she hid her pregnancy by wearing loose clothing, which just happens to be in fashion over here, and by binding her stomach.

With the growing permissiveness of extra- and premarital relations, more and more women find themselves in this predicament. Unlike America some fifty years ago, China is not so much having a sexual revolution as a sexual explosion.

One hundred years or so ago, it was quite fashionable for well-to-do men to have a wife and several concubines. Emperors of dynasties past were compelled to have many ‘wives’ in order to produce the maximum possible number of heirs. The first wife, with very few rights and no recourse was forced to accept these increasingly younger and more beautiful women as ‘younger sisters’. They were forced to dine, entertain and socialize together. Although the last emperor was dethroned in the early 1900s, wealthy polygamous households flourished until the Cultural Revolution in 1950.

For a graphic depiction of such an arrangement, please watch the movie “Raise the Red Lantern”, starring Gong Li and directed by Zhang Yimou, the director of the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony. It is available in Chinese with English subtitles.   

During Mao’s reign no one could afford concubines, except for Mao – he kept no fewer than four. Quite the contrary, in fact. Marriages were approved by the government. Sex, never a topic of genteel society conversation, became taboo. Its mysteries, historically hinted at in artistic expression, usually poetically, were only ever whispered of from father to son and mother to daughter. During Mao’s reign sex was declared to be for the sole purpose of procreation. All other male/female forms of physical contact that could even remotely be deemed PDA was forbidden. Post-Mao made films and rare photos from those days show those yoked in sanctioned marriage side by side, with hands demurely tucked in front of the body.

Nowadays, except for the ‘wives’ sharing a household, pre-Mao living standards have been reestablished. Concubines are making a comeback. They are not called such a derogatory term, though. They are labeled more degradingly – if such is possible: ‘ernai’ (pronounced ‘R-nigh’), literally meaning ‘second breast’. Being ‘ernai’ can be quite profitable. Some of these ‘seconds’ end up with their own apartment, car, lines of credit and so on. They can even engage in sexual relations independent of their benefactor, provided they are available when Sugar Daddy calls (he provides the cellphone, as well).

In one widely reported case last year, a cat fight between one man’s wife and his ‘ernai’ depicted the wife’s rage at the mistress, and the unprecedented legal battle for the wife to claim half of her husband’s assets in divorce, including the car and apartment bequeathed to her rival. All of them: husband, wife and concubine ended up being the object of national scorn.

By the way: divorce is on the rise here, too. Property settlements are new to China considering that historically, women were denied the right to own property, even by inheritance. But that is not what this post is about.

I’m supposed to be writing about children. Children come about by the sometimes convoluted relationships between men and women, so I need to continue exploring those, but just for a minute. Only because here, society is evolving faster than tradition can assimilate.   

Sex is still not openly discussed even though sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise. As are illegitimate births. What about abortion?

In China, abortion is, and has always been a matter of fact. Society being founded on philosophy rather than religion, driven by reason and rationale rather than sentiment, there is no argument about pro-life or choice. The decision to abort is strictly the female’s purview, whether she is married or single. Once, when talking with a male student who, by manner, hinted at some deep problem confided in response to my probing about a possible illegitimate pregnancy that, should a decision be made to carry a baby to term, it would be solely his girlfriend’s.

Socially and legally, males do not (yet) bear any responsibility toward the life they should be half responsible for. That is not to say that there are no devoted fathers. Overwhelmingly, both parents are devoted to the child they create… provided the traditional steps are followed: courtship, marriage, and then progeny production. The generation flinging itself so energetically into the lifestyle of this new, more permissive China is causing this country’s decision makers and thinkers to scramble for a progressive, more encompassing social more.        

For now, illegitimate birth is still heavily stigmatized. Talk of sex is nearly unheard of. I say ‘nearly’ because of an article I read in the Chinese news network this week about the government calling for some sort of sex education to be developed and taught, most likely at high school level. Just the word ‘sex’ in the headline was an attention grabber, as was the headline in that same news edition that announced awareness training for children who might be, or might have been victims of sexual misconduct at the hands of their teachers. Along those lines was the headline about more on-the-job sexual harassment cases being reported. 

Again that sense of being poleaxed! Whether by nature I am naïve or just, for all this time wore blinders, seeing such headlines leaves me dumbfounded. Of course I am aware that such deeds are done. I just never expected them to be so… casually?... matter of factly dissected. Not just the act or the attitude, but the open discussion of sex. If I, with a half-century of living all over the globe under my belt am taken aback, can you imagine the average Chinese, from a traditionally demure household, who has never before been exposed to more than a secretive mutter of sex, is reacting?

Is it any wonder that that confused mother had no inkling that she was giving birth while squatting over that toilet? She thought her stomach pains were due to food poisoning, a common ailment here. Once she realized that she delivered her child rather than the product of her supposedly infected gut, she cleaned the blood and then made a phone call to the authorities. It would have been too shameful to direct strange men from the rescue squad and police into that sanctum sanctorum – the bathroom, while it was splashed with gore. She was present when her child was rescued, and then endured two days of deliberation, arguing with herself to find the courage to step up and claim her baby.

The latest reports indicate the child has been returned to her and no charges will be filed. I feel that is as it should be. With no law, moral or legal to direct such hirsute situations, no previous education and no one to advise her, she did the best she could under the circumstances. While we, sensibly outraged condemn her, she is holding her now week old child on its first celebration of Children’s Day.

Is she happy? Has she made peace with her situation? Have her parents accepted and welcomed the baby? Have they forgiven her? No hint of that, and I suspect it will remain a family matter. There are some lines the Chinese media still haven’t crossed. Violating a person’s privacy is one that I hope they never do. As far as I can tell, nowhere has her name been published, nor has her family information been disclosed. Again in my opinion, that is as it should be. It has been reported that the father has stepped up and will do right by the child, providing financial and, hopefully moral support. That is good.

In the meantime, the world over, happy children cavort under the gaze of their loving parents. Tonight, such children will be put to bed, hopefully with caresses and care. I’d like to think that no child will have to bed down with vermin, wake up suddenly to mal-intentioned handling, and hide their shame and pain once daylight comes. I’d like to think that… wouldn’t you?

So, let’s emphasize this day set aside to celebrate children. Let us proclaim our desire to protect and nurture our species’ young so loud that those who would harm them are driven out and away.

HAPPY CHILDREN’S DAY!!!                    

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