May 30, 2013

"Qingwen" - A Children's Day Memory

Chinese children
Chinese children (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
(Caution! I tried my best but some of description of physical abuse can be disturbing for some people.)
(This is a translation of my Chinese essay with the same title.)


I don't usually celebrate June First - the international children's day. However this year seems to be a little different, I've been thinking about one of my childhood friend: "Qingwen", and like to write an article about him. I don't remember what his family name was, nor how to spell his name in Chinese characters, because I have not seen him again since I was 5 and half year old, and for all these years, or decades I should say, he was totally absent fromn my life. Now, as Chidren's Day is coming, he suddenly came back to my mind.

When I was 4 or 5 year-old, both of my parents were too busy (working "for Communist Party and the Country") to take care of me, so I was sent to a temporary foster family. It was not so temporary though, I lived with the family at least 2 years. The family name was "Guo". Mrs. Guo was an old lady and everyone called her "Mother Guo", I called her "grandma". Even though non of my grandparents were alive upon the time I was born, I felt "Mother Guo" was indeed my grandma. Mr. Guo - to whom I called "grandpa"-  also treated me kindly, so did all their children, who were all much older than me. I received plenty of love in this family and I felt more attach to them than to my own parents. Though overall my childhood was dark, the years I lived with this family was bright, except one shadow, which was Qingwen.

Qingwen was a son of a single father, who lived next door to Mother Guo. He was about the same age as me, or probably slightly younger. I cannot remember how he looked like, nor what kind of games we played together, but it doesn't matter, because what I am going to write, is not his biography, but the only memory he left in my mind: a child who was abused terribly by his own father.

Mother Guo's house was a in one-floor building complex, in which 3 families resided. Guos was in the middle, contained multiple rooms, which was a luxury at the time. On the left side, was Pens' family, whose youngest daughter was my best friend; on the right side, was Qingwen's home. His home had only one room. None of our friends visited his house, occasionally we would take a "sneak peek" of inside from the door, it was dark and lifeless. I could remember seeing a messy and dirty bed, a table, a few chairs, and some random items scattered on dirty ground. Qingwen's father was a blue laborer, I don't remember what kind of job he did, all I remember was one of his eyes was blind, and he was always drunk.

It seemed that Qingwen's father went to work everyday, left his son alone at home. So Qingwen played with us sometime. When his father came back late afternoon, if he was in good mood, Qingwen would be OK, but if not, Qingwen would get beaten up for no reasons at all. Usually the "father" used some sort of bamboo stick slash son's hand, but in "severe" cases, a hot red metal fire rod would be "necessary". We often heard crying from next door, but it seemed to be "normal", and it was no body's business. I don't remember how many times when I passed his house, saw Qingwen was tied up on a tree in front of his house, crying alone, looked at me in despair. I also remember, not only once probably, when I passed their door, I saw his father using a red fire rod to slash his bare feet. The "father" was yelling something, and when his voice raised up, the red fire rod would land on Qingwen's naked skin. Qingwen was jumping around with unimaginable pain, and screaming. I also remember that he always screamed before the fire rod touched him, with that unspeakable fear, and when it touched on his skin his scream was simply just louder, probably loudest he could make. He must wanted to escape, but he had certainly nowhere to go, also he was ordered not to, so all he could try was few square feet area, jumping back forth like a crazy little animal.

I often saw Qingwen was tied on tree, but never saw his father torturing him while he was tied. Qingwen was beaten always while he had his hands and feet "free", and no matter how much pain he suffered, he always stay in the same spot after jumping or crying, "voluntarily" gave his father's "job" the most "convenience". His father sometime even could sat comfortably, made his son creaming and jumping by easy lifting of his arm (How powerful was that!). Years later I realized, that tying Qingwen on the tree was actually for another kind of "convenience" - the "father" often went out (probably to buy liquor), but he did not want his son making "trouble", and did not want to bother neighbors, so the easiest solution for such "problem" was tying his son up.

Probably because back then there was no ventilate system inside houses, people would put their stove - the old fashioned coal stove - outside of house. For a few times, I (together with some of my playmates, I guess) stole the fire rod from stove, either put it in water, or threw away. That might be the only help Qingwen received from people, and obviously, it did not help him much. For after all these years, the only memory jumps into my mind, was still his despair expression in his eyes when he was tied on the tree, watching me passed by quietly.

Though there was Qingwen's misery, I was too young to understand the kind of misery he suffered. My life in Guo's family overall was happy, everyday so many fun things to play with. It was later, after I had similar experience, after I acknowledged what child abuse was, how it would traumatize one's life, I started thinking Qingwen again, started imagining what kind of horror he lived with daily.

Qingwen was not at all an unusual case in China. Regardless my own experience, many of my friends and schoolmates were severely abused. For example, one of my high school friends was often threatened to be "thrown out" from family, often got beaten with no reasons, and once was almost strangled to death by her mother; one of my classmate in elementary school was not only beaten by his father often, but also "treated" by pliers (how his father used this device we could only imagine); in the school my parents taught (where I grew up), one of professors tied his son and hung him up, then beat him. However, all these cases, include Qingwen's, would be considered as "merciful" if compared with the one that happened in 90s of last century - which was only less than 20 years ago - in Qing Hai province, a girl whose name was Su Li, was tortured by her own mother for years (beyond any sane human beings can imagine) until her young life could not bare any more. She died at age of six.

I often don't understand why so many Chinese people are so "unfamiliar" with the terms and behaviors of "child abuse", as if this kind of crime is some "particular production" of Western society (a Chinese lady I know literally told me so), just because they "invented" this term. Are they blind? Or they are just numb about life, don't think children could feel? I personally would say, with just a little exaggeration, that the entire history of Chinese morality is a history of child abuse. Sounds extreme, right? If you think so, you may be interested in reading "24 Filial Piety examples", or1994 the fire accident in Karamay, Xingjiang province. Yes, in the past and present history of China, children have been something "spendable", for some "higher moral purpose", or for any purposes.

LuXun in the 1930
LuXun in the 1930 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After I entered middle age, I wrote lots of essays (in Chinese) about child abuse in China, about how it is connected with Chinese tradition, especially "filial piety". But writing this short post, I do not mean to do the same kind of "rational thinking", rather, I want to have an emotional touch on my far lost memory, to remind myself, and hopefully others, that this kind of experience, though better be forgotten by its sufferers, should never be forgotten by society, because only when a society recognizes the existences of such abuses, defines them as crimes, it can start rebuilding a new environment for children to grow healthily.

I am not a racist, nor a nationalist, but I would still like to dedicate this post to Chinese children, because they have been suffering too much for too long, and their suffering has been always overlooked, covered up, forgotten, even justified by so called "cultural tradition".

Remember Qingwen, remember Su Li, "Save the children!" (Lu Xun)

*1994, in Xingjiang province

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  1. Oh Yun! This was so well-written but also very difficult to read because I am so angry.

    Thank you for this.

  2. Yun Yi, You've alluded to the problem of child abuse in China before, but I had no idea it was so insidious. My heart broke reading about your friend, wondering what became of him. I've always thought it such a cruel irony that the people who want to become parents the most can't have children, and the people who have no business parenting children end up procreating. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. @Tom, I understand why you were angry. I was too!

    @Kris, yes, these people who abuse their children like that really don't deserve to have kids.

  4. So very sad & so well put Yun Yi.
    You have my highest admiration for articulating these childhood horrors.

    It seems impossible that anyone can subject other humans to such horrors - especially where children are involved.

    Cheers, ic

  5. Yun Yi, since you have chosen the Childres's Day for your roiling recollections, it has got to have a special message to that creature called Human.

    Thank you for sharing.

  6. thanks umashankar for your insightful comment!

  7. My heart cracked as I read your post. Child abuse has no boundaries. It's found in too many places. I wonder where your friend is now. Does he have a family? If so, is he kind to his children or has he passed on what he's "learned"? I hope he found peace and was able to heal from his past. Again, just so sad.

  8. A terrifying memory, yunyi, one I'm sure it's not easy to live with. I saw a lot of child abuse growing up. A mother down the street from me threw her baby out a fifth story window because she could no longer endure the child's crying. With a few exceptions, all my childhood friends were beaten black and blue with hands and belts for being disobedient. It's really only in recent years here in the US that a greater sensitivity has grown toward violence against children. Still, I see young mothers in the street hitting little children everyday. Violence begets violence, and the abuse of children is a certain prescription for the existence of a violent and brutal world.

  9. what the hell ! This is really heartbreaking ! I never knew this happening in China. I think I never read anyhting about it in any newspaper. World media needs to bring this infront of everyone. This is one of the way to deal with the Child abuses cases in China. International community will build pressure on China. Thanks for writing about it. We need more voices like you so that world can hear and ACT. we all need to stand together and strong for humanity.


  10. @Janene, It is indeed a horror! Thanks for reading and commenting.

    @np, I know child abuse is a "universal" existence. Somehow I found it goes worse in the culture that I came from. I don't blame people, but I did find something inside that man-made culture which seems to encourage such crime.

    @Shainee, thanks for stopping by and your great comment! I agree that "we all need to stand together and strong for humanity."

  11. YunYi, what a powerful and heartbreaking post. My god, Qingwen’s father was a horribly cruel man! The pain he suffered being burned by red hot rods must have been unimaginable. And how heartbreaking for you to have this memory, remembering his haunting look of despair. Equally awful is what happened to little Su Li. Very unsettling to learn severe child abuse is not unusual in China. Startling, in fact, to consider “the entire history of Chinese morality is a history of child abuse.” Given what you have witnessed and suffered yourself, along with historical examples, I believe you make a very strong case for this statement.

    I admire your brave efforts in writing about child abuse in China. Yes, it is very important for a society to recognize this abuse as a crime. With your thoughtful and powerful post on International Children’s Day, you have honored Qingwen, Su Li, and given all suffering children a voice, thank you!

  12. Madilyn, I appreciate you stopped by while you were so busy.
    Yes, his father was a horribly cruel man who was less than animal. It was not an easy memory to write.
    Thanks for your thoughtful and compassionate comment, and your encouraging my writing on this issue. Actually I no longer doubt there are something wrong deeply inside Chinese culture (of course I understand any culture have their own problems), what I have been thinking during the most recently years is, why?

  13. Yum Yi This must have been very hard for you to write. You are a brave one.
    I like others became very angry when reading this as well but I found myself being more angry at Mr. Guo & Mother Guo because I can't understand how either one could let this happen to such a defensive little boy. I understand the culture of how this isn't are business so stay out of it. But being Qingwen was so badly abused and treated so inhumane I can't help but feel Mr. Guo wasn't such a good man. : / Your story is so heart breaking surly an eye opener.

  14. Angie, a good person in such a culture means standing absolutely with "tradition", and this culture happens to be designed to favor parents so much that children are not considered as human beings. I am angry at the entire culture! this culture has to die, before any healthy lives can grow.
    Thanks for your compassion!