Pain on Every Page

By Adoptive Parent

I logged onto a few weeks ago, searching for some good guidebooks about my child’s birthplace: the People’s Republic of China. As I perused the offerings, I glanced down at the section “Recommended for you” and saw an intriguing title Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Love and Loss by Xinran.9781451610949_p0_v1_s260x420

Reading the summary, I learned that Xinran not only is the author of several other books about the lives of Chinese women, but also spent time as a radio journalist, whose show Words on the Night Breeze told the true stories of women in China through their letters and interviews.  In addition, she founded a charity called “Mothers Bridge of Love, “ aimed to help Western families who adopt Chinese children.

Xinran’s book offers sometimes harrowing but also often heartbreaking stories of Chinese mothers “losing” their daughters, mostly seemingly because of the centuries old belief that until a woman gives birth to a son, she is not fully a human being. When combined with the One Child Policy that was instituted in 1979 by the Communist Party as a way to control the country’s burgeoning population, this preference for boys has meant the pressure on women to have sons has gotten even more intense, and has led to thousands of baby girls being abandoned and sometimes even killed.

The stories in this book are not for the faint of heart: in one chapter, Xinran watches as a newborn baby girl is thrown out with the afterbirth in a slop bucket. When the author expresses her dismay, she is told that “It’s not a child … it’s a baby girl, and we can’t keep it.” In another chapter, she chats with an apparently doting father dandling his toddler daughter on his knee as the train they are on speeds along. Later, though, as the train starts on its way again after a short stop, she sees the little girl sitting alone on the platform. It turns out the man’s wife is pregnant and they need a boy, so they have left their beautiful daughter in the station, trusting someone will take her to an orphanage and she will be adopted by someone who can give her a better life.

Several other stories involve women who work in the orphanages slipping their daughters into the populations there, in order to allow them to be adopted by “wealthy” couples in the United States or Europe. These mothers aren’t heartless: they believe they are saving their daughters from lives of hard labor in the countryside.

The one common thread running through all of these accounts is the pain and heartbreak of the mothers involved. Read it.




  1. Thanks for writing this thoughtful essay.

    How sad. In countries like China, India, and South Korea, there are already big problems related to the fact that there are now more boys/men than girls/women. As usual, it is the women who suffer.

    This story is only one facet of a larger problem. Certain women are offered no option but to surrender their children. Whether the women have conceived out of wedlock in certain societies or conceived a girl child in other societies, the end result it the same. The women are not allowed to keep their children. Certainly, it’s preferable for a child to be adopted than to be tossed out in a slop bucket. But at the root of the problem are patriarchal societies that force women to give up their children.

    Do we say, “There’s nothing we can do about patriarchal abuses,” or do we do something about patriarchal abuses?

    • Wilma, what great points you bring up. Patriarchal societies sometimes force women to have children, too. My hope is that education is one of the ways to do something about situations such as those in this book.

      • Yes, in some societies women are forced to have children. In such places, a woman has children until she dies or her husband dies or she can’t bear anymore children or the male religious leader says something like, “Okay, eight is enough.” It boils down to a lack of reproductive rights (or other rights). The woman is treated more like soil that a human being. Men who objectify women (not all men do, of course), end up dehumanizing themselves.

        Education is good then there needs to a be a will to act. People knew about the abuses of slavery in the U.S. and what the Nazis were up to in Europe. But nothing happened to stop these evils until a catalyzing event occurred. I certainly would not like a war with China, We need to puzzle out what might be an effective non-violent way to stop misogynistic actions in China.

  2. A very, very long time ago – I’m thinking 1998 or so – I read a very dry, scholarly article (can’t remember all the scholars names anymore but I think one might have been Dr. Dana Johnson) about women who abandon their female daughters. They had managed to find a small group of women who were willing to tell their stories anonymously. Even in this academic format the information was very hard to read without having a strong emotional reaction. I have heard about the book reviewed and have to honestly say I have avoided it as I know it will be harrowing to read.

    • Is this article about women in certain cultures or in general? Yes, very very difficult book for anyone to read, I would say, and then even more poignant when your children have been adopted from China.

  3. What heartbreaking stories this book seems to include and yet it’s so important they are told. Great review again.
    Thanks for linking up withe Weekly Adoption Shout.

  4. Great to read your reviews of books that I haven’t heard of before. Thank you so much for sharing them with the Weekly Adoption Shout Out x

  5. Very nice post of Chinese mother’s story! Sharing with you some thoughts of the Joy Luck Club here..

    • Thanks, Gwen. I went over and read your post on JLC. Thanks for a great read. This is one of my favorite books, and I used to teach it years ago. Then in 2011 my daughter Marisha, who is one of the writers of this blog, was in a stage production of Joy Luck Club, playing the character of Rose.

      • That is very good to know that your daughter participated in the Joy Luck Club! Rose was one of the character that I like a lot. She find herself through a cultural journey…. I enjoy your posts very much also. Keep going!

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