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Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Love and Loss

The unbearably sad stories of China's abandoned baby girls.

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Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother:
Stories of Loss and Love
By Xinran
Scribner
304 pp

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Western mothers adopting girls from China asked Xinran Xue to write her book. That way, said Xinran (who writes under the single name), their children might know what had been in their birth mothers’ hearts.

Xinran’s answer was Message From An Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Love and Loss. It’s her account of the women she has met and the stories she’s been told, starting with her years as a call-in radio host, hearing the lives of women who had long remained silent. It’s a startling flip side to the happy stories Westerners tend to hear from colleagues and friends, loving adoptive parents thrilled to meet their children at last.

The varied mother-daughter stories, translated from the Chinese, have two common threads: One, they’re unbearably sad. Two, they’re on the other side of a cultural divide, one that’s sometimes as horrific to Xinran as to Western readers. (Xinran herself founded a charity, The Mothers Bridge of Love, in part to bridge cultural differences between children and their adoptive parents.)

In the book’s most graphic case, Xinran sees the tiny foot of a newborn girl twitching in a slop pail in an isolated Chinese village in 1989. Policemen hold her back from rescuing the child, she writes, and the faint movements soon stop. Older women, there and elsewhere, explain that “doing” a baby girl – smothering or strangling her – is an accepted fact of life in some areas of the country, one that saves families from calamity.

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