All For a Son
The desire for a son and heir is common to all mankind.
In our country, especially, to have as many male descendents as possible
has always been regarded as the greatest blessing in life. The failure to
produce a male heir was considered the most unfilial of all unfilial
crimes. A man was justified to cast away his wife and take another if she
failed to bear him a son. For the rich, the problem could be solved by
taking a concubine or several concubines.
All traditional ideas die hard. The desire for ason is
as strong as ever, and the problem has been aggravated by our onechild
family planning policy. Hence the numerous tragedies and comedies we hear
and read so often. There are fathers who drop down in a faint when they
hear their wives have given birth to daughters. There are
"guerrilla" couples who roam from place to place dodging family
planning officials to give one birth after another until they finally have
But more often we
hear of tragedies of wives being ill treated by their husbands and by
their parents-in-law because they failed to give birth to sons. Recently I
saw a photograph in Yangcheng Evening showing a woman with a baby in her
arms appealing to passers-by in the street. The caption says she is
telling people of her plight of being thrown out into the street with her
baby girl by her husband'sfamily, all because she has given birth to a
daughter instead of a son. I remember some time ago reading about a man
pushing his three-year-old daughter down a well.
the girl was saved by someone who happaned to pass by. The man only got a
year and a half imprisonment for attempted murder. To my mind , he was
just as guilty as if the girl had really drowned.
By comparison, the story of Zhou Chenghu, an ordinary
farmer of Changning County in Sichuan Province arouses more ridicule than
Zhou's parents had died when he was still young, and he
was the only son to carry on the family line. He had married early when he
was only twenty. The first child was a girl, so he tried again, and the
second child born the following year was also a girl. Zhou was vexed but
still not unduly worried, but when the third birth turned out to be a girl
too, he could sit tight no more. He began to consult doctors, quacks,
witches, and fortune-tellers.
told him that his ancestral graves were wrongly located, so he dug up his
mother's grave and had her remains reburied. But that didn't seem to help
him as he had a fourth daughter. Now really desperate he disturbed the
dead again and had his father reburied this time. But it seemed nothing
could help, for the fifth was still a daughter. In the meantime he had
incurred upon himself heavy fines for violating family planning
told him that the gods would help him if he had a temple archway built.
What would he not do as long as he could get a son? So no expenses were
spared and he did as the geomancer told him. But the gods remained unmoved
and gave him another girl. As the newborn baby uttered her first cry upon
entering this world, her father began to wail most miserably.
He was now a bitterly disappointed and broken man. He
became a heavy drinker. He habitually beat up his wife and daughters for
no reasons at all. He had nothing to live for. He felt he could not look
people in the face because he had no son. When the whole village had
electric lights installed, he had to go without because he had no rnoney.
In fact, his debts ran to four figures and he could see no way of repaying
Then one day early this year, after loading himself
heavy with drink, Zhou Chenghu ended his own miserable life at the age of
forty. Perhaps he was not as guilty as the man who tried to drown his own
daughter, but to leave his wife and six daughters to fend for themselves,
though no crime was certainly not excusable. And all because he had no
After ignoring family planning policies and siring
three girls Zhang, who lives in a village in Henan Province, finally got
the son he was waiting for this year.
Despite the heavy fines exacted for breaking the
regulations on family planning, Zhang was overjoyed.
The honest and simple peasant does not hesitate when
asked why he so much desired a son. "Why? Who'll support me when I
Actually there are some homes for old folks in the
village and nearby. But though he supposes they live well there, Zhang
still does not believe the old folks are happy.
"It's just so-so there. Wlio knows what it'll be
like over there when I get old. It's better to have a son," Zhang
And a son-in-law cannot be depended on to support him,
A son-in-law who lives with his wife's family is looked
down on by the community. He cannot be expected to replace a naturalson.
A family nearby ha's four sons. Life became very hard
when the two older sons got married. However., the third son says he would
rather be a bachelor for life than risk having to take in some day his
wife's aged parents.
As China's family planning programme enters the 1990s,
traditional ideas on family life are posing the major barriers to limiting
These ideas have formed over thousands of years.
The concept of "more sons, more happiness"
still exists in some rural areas , especially in poor and remote ones.
For some families, the presence of several sons gives
parents a feeling of protection. Families with no boys , or few boys, may
feel intimidated by families with many sons.
Another problem the country must face is early
marriages. A survey in a town in Zhecheng County shows young people
marrying earlier than the law prescribes.
Some are engaged by the age of 15. Parents dream of
and sometimes they encourage early marriages, ignoring the government's
call for "marriage at mature ages ".
Changing these ideas is hard as tens of millions of
peasants are illiterate.
Wang is a school teacher in Shimen in east Sichuan. At
36 he was still a lonely bachelor and was likely to remain one until one
day towards the end of 1988 he happened to read in the matrimonial column
of a magazine an advertisement which read; Yang, a woman of 31 who is a
family planning officer in a certain township in south Sichuan, seeks a
reliable and understanding man for a spouse having been disappointed in
her first love affair by the man she has lost her heart to . . . '
Somehow this advertisement appealed to Wang greatly.
After much thought he plucked up his courage and wrote to this woman Yang.
It was first love letter he had written in his life. To his surprise and
great joy he got a very warm response. Things went so smoothly in fact
that very soon the woman appeared before him in flesh and blood, with a
divorce certificate in her 6and to prove that she was a free woman and was
sincere in .
to marry him. Wang could hardly believe in his own luck, and so with great
haste he said good-bye to his bachelor life. On the wedding night ,
however, he got a great shock when he discovered that his bride was
already three months pregnant. But he was a reasonable man, and instead of
blaming her he did his best to console her, assuring her that nothing
could alter his love for her.
And he was as good as his words , so the newly-wed
couple lived in harmony and bliss until half a year later when Yang gave
birth to a lovely plump son. Wang cared for the mother and child as if he
was the real father.
Then on the day of the full month of the baby, Wang
came home from school to find that his wife had prepared a small
feast.Overjoyed and teuched by this show of affection,he nevertheless
admonished her for overtiring herself while secretly congratulating
himself for having found such a considerate and loving wife.
Then, before he had finished eating and with the wine
still warm in his heart , Yang suddenly said to him : "Happily we got
together, now let us gladly part!" Wang could hardly believe his
ears. "Please don't talk such nonsense!"
"I'm not talking nonsense. We have to divorce. To
be quite honest, I don't find it easy leaving you like this, and I feel
very sad having cheated you. You are a very good man. But I was a happily
married woman with a lovely daughter. Our only regret was having no son.
What were we to do? I couldn't very well give a second birth, especially
as I am a family planning officer.
So my husband and
I worked out this plan ...We agreed to divorce temporarily after having
made sure I was prcgnant again. I had secretly gone to see a doctor and he
had given me hope that it was likely going to be a boy, and so we went
ahead with our plan. After I put out fhe advertisement, I got many offers
We picked on you for two reasons. First, you are a teacher and therefore
are likely to be a reasonable man and would not make things difficult for
me. Secondly, you are no longer so young and would not be too choosy and
therefore would readily take me ... Now you know all. Say whatever you
like. Curse me, call me names ... All I ask is that you forgive me and let
me go back to my former husband."
Wang was dumb-founded. In vain he tried to plead and
remonstrate, and begged her to stay. But Yang was adamant. "I still
love my former husband.
Our divorce was not for real in the first place. If you don't let me go.
you can only keep my body, but you can't keep my heart. I had madeit clear
in my advertisement that I had lost my heart to my first love!"
In the end the good, honest Wang had to agree to
divorce hcr and let her go. Left alone again, Wang thought not only of the
injury done to himself,but the deceit and trickery on the part of the
couple to dodge the law, and the woman was supposed to be some sort of
officer of the law too. Could such a monstrous thing be allowed? Was the
force of feudal ideas so much stronger than the force of law?
We may well ask the same questions.