It’s always interesting to hear students’ stories, even if it is one variation of the same story over and over again, it amazes me each time. Tonight I was talking to two of my students in the office, and one of the students was telling me about her good friend.
Her friend was from Xinjiang province (the farthest west in China) but moved to Xian (the city near us) when she was 13. She came alone, and she knew no one. She came because her father had died. He had some sort of disease and came to Xian for medical treatment, but the treatment failed and he died.
“What about her mother?” I asked. “Did she not have a mother?”
“No,” my student said, “She had a mother. But her mother didn’t like her.”
The girl had been born at an unlucky time. Apparently each year there are certain times that are unlucky for birth. Some people think that babies born during these times will cause harm for their family, especially brothers or fathers. They are thought to have some sort of medical power. My students said that these beliefs are common in the countryside all over China, but not as much in the city.
If a family has a child during an unlucky time, they may give the child a different family name than their own. This is to counterbalance the unluckiness or to keep harm away from the rest of the family. This happened to someone in my student’s family, who still has a different family name than her parents and siblings.
So my student’s friend moved away when she was 13 because her family felt like she caused her father’s death. The first night in the city she slept on the street, but after that she found a school to attend.
We moved on to talking about traditional attitudes toward girls. One of the students said her grandfather did not like her and was unhappy when she was born. “I don’t know why,” she said, “but now that I am grown up he likes me.”
The other one said her grandmother does not like her. Her grandmother likes her brother and is always giving him gifts and treating him well, but she does not like my student. Her cousin also doesn’t like her. Her cousin had three girls, each time trying for a boy. The third time, he left his youngest daughter on the floor of the hospital, hiding outside until someone came and took her.
“But we are very lucky,” my students said.
Most of my students are girls. I hear a lot of these stories. But somehow it amazes me every time.