Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother – Xinran

March 28, 2018 § Leave a comment

First published in Chinese in 2010
Translated to English by Nicky Harman in 2010


This book is a collection of ten stories about Chinese mothers and their daughters—daughters they have lost, daughters they were forced to give up, daughters they chose to give up, daughters who left them, daughters who have stayed with them in their hearts all these years.

I first found out about Chinese girls being adopted by Western families about a couple of years ago. A storyteller friend of mine at that time asked if I would come on board to help do some reading and research on a topic closely related to a story he wanted to tell: what goes through the mind of an adopted daughter whose birth mother in China simply left her at a random orphanage when she was less than a year old?

The more I read into the topic, the more I realised just how complex the issue is. There wasn’t any straightforward answer to why a mother would leave her child at an orphanage—sometimes it was poverty, sometimes it was the one-child policy, sometimes it was simply because she was a daughter.

The stories in this book are as varied as they come, in terms of where the mothers came from, and how they lost their daughters. And as one of the comments at the back of the book says: “One would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved.”

Yet at the same time, while I appreciated the hardships and heartache, it also almost felt like I was being spoon-fed. Were the stories moving? Yes. Were they painful? Also, yes. Did I feel bad for the mothers and their daughters? Yes. But those feelings didn’t feel organic, in a way. Almost as if Xinran was telling me that those were the feelings I was supposed to feel.

This is my second Xinran book, the first one being a novel, Miss Chopsticks, which I read about 8 years ago (wow, how time flies!). And when I read my thoughts on that book back then, I realise my feelings for Xinran’s writing style hasn’t changed much—I don’t dislike it, but I can’t say I like it very much either.



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