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Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother (Xinran)

June 20, 2010

This book, similar to The Good Women of China, was captivating and disheartening all at once. Xinran’s journalistic experience once again provided her with the material to write a book about women’s experiences — in this case, Chinese women’s experiences with giving up their daughters for adoption for various reasons. I think Xinran’s mission was a noble one — to tell the stories of these women so that adopted Chinese children (most of whom are girls) can get some insight into the social and political reasons women in China might have to or want to part with their newborn daughters. While most of these stories are, to say the least, not very happy ones, Xinran’s newest work is quite moving. In many ways, this book is a testament to the love that went into ensuring these children remained alive so that they could be adopted in the first place.

Aesthetically, this book is much like The Good Women of China in that it’s told in a journalistic voice that rarely delves too deep into Xinran’s own personal experiences. Of all the stories she’s told, one remains conspicuously withheld (although I have only read two works by Xinran, so this story could actually be told in one of her other works): how she ended up a mother in the first place, and a single mother at that. She does finally reveal her own past and a limited view of her experiences during the Cultural Revolution, but she never tells the story of her son’s father. Were they in love? Was she raped? Did he die? Did they get divorced? I feel like somewhere in The Good Women of China there was an intimation that Xinran had been through a divorce…but I can’t locate it now.

Despite the absence of her own story of motherhood, Xinran’s work is a testament to the complex and difficult decisions Chinese women are faced with when they have children. This book illuminates some of the difficult circumstances and attempts to help offer comfort to those who were themselves put up for adoption by their Chinese mothers.

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