A 妹妹 (little sister)

8 Jul

Isn’t she cute?

My good friend had a baby in the last couple of weeks.  This in itself is pretty normal with my friends in China.  I’m at the age where lots of friends and coworkers are having little ones.  The unique part though is that this was my friend’s second baby, second daughter, and both she and her husband are Chinese.

When she told me she was pregnant towards the end of last year I had a lot of questions – some of which I asked and some which I didn’t.  I know that the pregnancy was not “planned.”  I know that she has a sister herself, so they are not eligible to have a second child without paying a huge fine.  I know that she considered “options” to deal with the situation.  I know that they are not rich and this wasn’t a trophy baby that they were going to keep at any cost.  I know that given her husband’s job that he may lose it if the wrong people decide to use him as an example.  And I know that they decided to keep the baby.

I went to visit last weekend.  I hadn’t seen her for quite a while with my travel schedule.  She looked great despite the heat and I spent some time with her and the little one.  Her elder daughter was staying with her parents for a couple of months while they adjusted to life with the newborn so the apartment was quiet.  Her father-in-law flitted through the apartment keeping an eye on the baby.  We chatted about people we know and my job and her job and kids.  I asked if having the second child was easier or harder.  She said it was nice to know what was going to happen and so she felt it was more relaxing this time.  I still have a lot of questions, but I didn’t ask most of them again.  It’s such a sensitive topic.

Chinese can be very specific when it comes to certain sets of words.  Elder sister (姐姐), younger sister (妹妹), elder brother (哥哥), younger brother (弟弟) are all different.  The words for aunt and uncle tell you which side of the family someone is on and whether that relative is older or younger than your parent.  The words for grandparents differ by mother’s side and father’s side.  China historically has been a country of big families and now that has changed.  What is going to happen to these words?

I can already see that some of them have been re-purposed.  The different words for siblings (兄弟姐妹)now also apply to cousins.  When someone my age or younger says 我姐姐 (My older sister) I have to ask if it’s the sister of the same mother.  Most of the time it’s not.  The rest, I don’t know what will happen.

I do know though that one little girl in Shanghai now has a little sister, by the same mother, and I am very proud of my friend.

Visiting my friend also made me proud of my country.  An American never has to consider punishment for having a child.  Of course there is always a balancing game – timing, finances, career opportunities, family support – but there is another side which just never comes up.   By means of my passport I hit the lottery.  And living in China makes me realize that on a regular basis.

I know that implementing the one child policy gave China a competitive advantage as an emerging economy.  I know that it probably did save thousands if not millions of children from dying of hunger.  I know too that the demographic dividend is just about spent and there are going to be a whole new set of problems with the aging population just around the corner.

But this is my opinion.  What do you think?


8 Responses to “A 妹妹 (little sister)”

  1. thirdeyemom July 8, 2012 at 10:09 am #

    Wow, this is an excellent post and I actually wrote about this in my blog after visiting China and researching current events quite a bit. I also read an amazing book by Sheryl WuDunn and Nicolas Kristoff about China (the name is eluding me but it is in”Worth a read” a page on my blog). It talked about forced sterilizations and other unthinkable things when it comes to having a girl versus boy. As a parent who started a bit later (I had Max at 33), I’ve come to see the horror stories here in the US with friends who would do anything for a baby. As a mom, I can’t imagine having this policy forced upon me. Great post and I think it tells you something about your friend that she kept the baby despite the consequences. She is a beautiful little girl! 🙂 (P.S. I am very liberal and am pro-choice yet I don’t think a government should be able to enforce these kinds of policies. I know China is over-populated but some of the negative consequences such as an increase in female infanticide and forced sterilization are terrible. I am thankful to have the choice.

    • gkm2011 July 8, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

      Thanks for the very insightful comments. I agree, it says a lot about my friend and that makes me even prouder to say that I am her friend. I believe that a woman should have the right to choose if she has a child and that no one else should have that right. Unfortunately – here that’s not the case. In many other ways China is more progressive and supportive of women than the US. Especially in Shanghai there are women in positions of power, leading companies – it is taken as status quo that a woman will work and have her own life. I know that the one child policy can’t last forever and it makes me even more thankful that I do have that choice.

  2. Darrell July 8, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

    Living in China today makes you feel comfortable on a daily basis and you wouldnt know that you actually lived in a Communist country until something like this or something else pops up that reminds you of this. This all makes you look to your passport and say to yourself, “boy, am I lucky to be holding this blue and gold document” for the freedoms that we tend to take for granted. There have been a few stories that I’ve read regarding the child policy – be it because of the ethnic imbalance between the majority vs minority groups as well as what you cited above, but either way which ever is true, one things for sure is that it is limiting in nature in allowing people/families to choose for themselves. Nice post.

    • gkm2011 July 8, 2012 at 7:33 pm #

      Thanks Darrell. You’re right, it’s a veneer that is applied over some principles that are very deep here. As a foreigner you don’t always see the “real consequences” but I feel in this case I was given an inside view of something that, while it hurt to see, is important to talk about. It does make me realize how lucky I am, again and again and again…

  3. sarahinguangzhou July 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    The whole thing is very complicated though. Some people flout the regulations and nothing gets done and for others there are huge fines.
    Whenever I’ve asked women what they think about it they always trot out the party line: ‘well it’s the best thing for our country’ etc, etc. And I want to say ‘yes I know all that but how do you actually feel about it?’
    I don’t like seeing this culture of ‘only children’. Having taught a few spoiled, overindulged little gods (and godesses) in my time (and being an only child myself) I don’t think it’s healthy, however ‘good’ it might be for the country.

    • gkm2011 July 9, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

      I agree – I don’t think it is good for the country either – or for the children – the stress they feel where they have to be everything for their parents. In my family – I was the bookish one, my brother the athlete, my sister the musician – but they are supposed to be all of those! Talk about pressure.


  1. The fourth quarter update « 中国 Jumble - July 15, 2012

    […] on manners in China, wondering about respect for others and I also posted about my friend who had a second baby (a little sister) in the shadow of the one child […]

  2. Red room hospital photo montage – 上海红房子医院 « 中国 Jumble - August 26, 2012

    […] and the one right out my window is one of the more centrally located ones.  My friend who had the second baby also went to a branch for her delivery, though closer to her home, not the one across the street.  […]

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