Monday, March 7, 2011

BOY am I lucky to be alive!

One of my majors in college is East Asian Languages and Cultures. My focus area is, funnily enough, China. I mostly study Chinese civilization, culture, literature and language. I have been taking Chinese language classes ever since my second year in school. It is amazing the people you meet in college classrooms. I have heard stories of people meeting their future wife in a college classroom.

Unfortunately for me, I have yet to meet my future husband in any of my classes. The people that I have met, though, are very interesting. Some I become friends with, and some I just... stand back and go "huh..." and try not to probe any further.

This story begins very innocently. We had a test in my Advanced Chinese III class. This class was not to be taken lightly; the professor's tests were very hard. Our class was very small, around 6 people, one of the smallest classes I have ever been in. Being in close proximity inside the classroom provided us a great opportunity to get to know each other extremely well. That night, 4 of us decided to study together.

It was around dinner time and we were still studying so we decided to order some delivery Thai food. When the food arrived, one of my study buddies went to get the food while the other went to buy some coffee. That left me alone with another study buddy.

This study buddy, the one I was left alone with, was very opinionated. His views on politics and religion were the complete opposite of my views and discussions about such matters in class made me an expert in self-control not to lash out and tell him how wrong he was. However, we were still friendly because I saw past our differences and respected his opinions.

He began the conversation by saying: "I'm writing a report on the One-Child Policy in China right now for my International Relations class"

Me: "Oh, really? That's really interesting! I'm actually a child of the One-Child Policy I think, because I was born in China and I'm an only child."

Him: "Wow, you are really lucky your parents kept you!"

Uh... what? Excuse me? Huh?!  I was completely taken aback and speechless. This is what it feels like when you get hit by a ton of bricks. All I could muster up was a huge laugh, because that was completely offensive and ridiculous at the same time to the point of hilarity. So this is what it feels like to have a stereotype applied to you. Or a generalization, at that.

Because you see, the Chinese are a mostly patrilineal society, meaning that the descent follows the males in a family. Heirs are males, and boys were once considered more precious than girls. Boys were called "big happiness" while girls were called "small happiness". The One-Child Policy in China states that every Han Chinese family is only allowed to give birth to one child; because of the bias towards boys, many people abandoned, aborted, or killed baby girls while the policy is in effect. This practice, however, has faded for the most part, although it is not too uncommon to hear about it once in a while. But what my study buddy said that night really had me thinking--is this what happens when you are seen as a generalization or stereotype? Just because I am a girl and my parents are Chinese does not mean that I was lucky that my parents kept me.

Just because I am Chinese does not mean that all Chinese people kill their daughters. I really did not know if I was supposed to laugh or punch my study buddy... because holy insensitive.

To this day, I still chuckle whenever I think about this story, but the big underlying problem worries me--do Americans think the same way my study buddy does? I would not know.

But regardless of what he says, I am actually very lucky to be alive. Anyways.


  1. While I agree that your study buddy's comment was a bit tactless, I don't think it had anything to do with stereotypes.

    You explain yourself that under the One Child Policy, "many people abandoned, aborted, or killed baby girls." You had just told this guy that you were likely born under the One Child Policy, so he logically concluded that your parents, like other Chinese parents at the time, may have preferred to have a male child. His comment was meant to be a compliment to your parents for loving you enough to keep you even though you were not best for them financially.

    He was not implying that all Chinese people kill their baby girls. He was merely drawing conclusions based on historical fact and the information you gave him.

  2. Hello! Thanks so much for reading my blog! I didn't think anyone actually read this, as this is for a class.

    In response to your comment, however, I just wanted to say I was very taken aback, as I was not expecting such a comment. To me, the offensive part was the fact that this individual knew enough to understand that some Chinese ideologies no longer reflect those of the traditional society. Granted, there are still a few rare cases now and again of baby girls being abandoned, but the fact that this individual was doing a comprehensive study of the effects of the One Child Policy would know better than to apply such an outdated statistic to my current situation. When I was born, I am sure the statistics of baby girls being abandoned in the city was quite rare. I could be wrong, however, so I will definitely look it up (if the information is released).

    I am wondering, however, how you could possibly know that I was not the "best" for my parents financially? I understand that the girl is typically given away as a bride later in life and her children are assigned the family name of her husband, but my parents would have been financially stable even if I were a girl. Could you please clarify?

  3. I think the assumption of males being financially more profitable would be because of their role of supporting the parents once they grow up, right? As heads-of-households, it would be in the parents' interest to have a boy.

    ...but I don't think, as you said, that it's a reasonable assumption for him to make! The ratio, which he should know 'cause he's doing a damn paper on it, is 120 boys to 100 girls. It's hardly a situation of you 'barely making it' or anything like that. So it's definitely insensitive of him to presume that your parents were likely to kill you; that's a shitty thing for him to say about them, and it isn't backed up by any sort of facts. It sounds, though, like less of a situation of him stereotyping you per se and more him making generalizations about Chinese culture at large.

    In short, I hope he keeps the uninformed comments to a minimum in the future.