Saturday, April 4, 2009

Baby Boy Kidnappings

The following is a terrible story on the kidnapping of babies and the subsequent human black markets found in southern China.

From The New York Times:

SHENZHEN, China — The thieves often strike at dusk, when children are playing outside and their parents are distracted by exhaustion.

Deng Huidong lost her 9-month-old son in the blink of an eye as a man yanked him from the grip of his 7-year-old sister near the doorway of their home. The car did not even stop as a pair of arms reached out the window and grabbed the boy.

Sun Zuo, a gregarious 3 1/2-year-old, was lured off by someone with a slice of mango and a toy car, an abduction that was captured by police surveillance cameras.

Peng Gaofeng was busy with customers when a man snatched his 4-year-old son from the plaza in front of his shop as throngs of factory workers enjoyed a spring evening. “I turned away for a minute, and when I called out for him he was gone,” Mr. Peng said.

These and thousands of other children stolen from the teeming industrial hubs of China’s Pearl River Delta have never been recovered by their parents or by the police. But anecdotal evidence suggests the children do not travel far. Although some are sold to buyers in Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, most of the boys are purchased domestically by families desperate for a male heir, parents of abducted children and some law enforcement officials who have investigated the matter say.

The demand is especially strong in rural areas of south China, where a tradition of favoring boys over girls and the country’s strict family planning policies have turned the sale of stolen children into a thriving business.

Read On
This is a really messed up story. There isn't much more evil than stealing babies. The epedemic that is going on in Shenzhen and other southern Chinese cities is unbelievable.

The easy target of blame for this kidnapping problem is the one-child policy. While I'm sure that China's family planning policy has something to do with these babies getting snatched, I think that traditional Chinese culture and attitudes towards children and family are more of a culprit.

Some of the quotes in this article from rural peasants are awful:
“It doesn’t matter how much money you have. If you don’t have a son, you are not as good as other people who have one.”


“If you have only girls, you don’t feel right inside,” said Ms. Zhen, who has one child, an 11-year-old son. “You feel your status is lower than everyone else.”


After some quick bargaining, the price was dropped to $3,500 from $4,100, and a few hours later, after borrowing money from friends and family members, they took the boy home. They named him Jiabao, which means “guarantor of the family.”

This antiquated Chinese tradition of a boy being a status symbol needs to change. It seems to be based on the same kind of ideas that said it was OK for women to have their feet bound or for them to be, more or less, servants to their husbands. (If you want to read more about Chinese women and their struggles in the past, pick up Wild Swans.)

It's understandable that farmers want sons to work in the fields. But China's history and culture suggest that there is much more to the equation than just that aspect of having a baby boy.

I've asked numerous people in Xi'an about whether they want to have a boy or a girl. Knowing what I know about traditional Chinese culture and Chinese peasants and their attitudes towards children, I've been curious to hear what conteporary city-dwellers' thoughts on having girls is.

Nearly everyone I've talked with has said that they don't care whether its a boy or a girl. The few who did have a preference said they'd like to have a girl. The reasons ranged from being better behaved, to China not having enough girls, to the burden that is on a Chinese boy before marriage.

The last point is a particularly interesting one.

In Chinese cities before marriage, the boy must pay the girls' family a lump sum of money, pay for the wedding, and provide an apartment where the couple can live. (Trust me, I'm familiar with these things having a Chinese fiancee. Seeing that I'm a 老外 - foreigner - and our plans are not the same as a typical Chinese couple's, these things don't all exactly apply to Jackie and me. But I'm at least very familiar with the steps that occur before Chinese couples get married.)

The lump sum paid to the woman's family often is 9,999RMB (about $1,500) because the number 9 and the character 久, which means "a long time," sound exactly the same.

Unlike in America, the man pays for the wedding in China (although he usually breaks even or makes money on the event because, in China, couples receive little red envelopes filled with money rather than blenders or other useless household items for wedding gifts).

The apartment situation is a tricky one. A Chinese boy isn't considered ready to marry until he has a purchased apartment (ie. is not renting). For twenty-something year-old boys who often don't have the tens of thousands of RMB that is required to pay a down-payment on an apartment, this often requires a substantial loan or gift from the boy's parents.

So it's fairly easy to see why, in cities, having baby girls is no problem at all. In fact, having boys is a bit of a headache.

Hopefully this acceptance of having girls in Chinese cities can make its way to the Chinese countryside sooner rather than later. While I sometimes lament China's culture that is constantly being lost to the modernizing and westernizing of the country, rural attitudes towards women are not something that should be missed.


Unknown said...

Hi Mark, I've recently started following your blog and really enjoy your entries. I'm ethnically Chinese but immigrated to the U.S. in my teens and find your perspective of China and Chinese culture very interesting and insightful. Regarding this entry, I agree that One-child policy is one of the causes of different social ills and the traditional importance placed on males over females need to change. However, foot binding, as chauvinistic as it was, was not for women to be "more or less a servant to their husband". Quite contrary, foot binding is a sign of privilege for if a woman's feet were properly bound, she would have so much trouble getting around that she would need servants to do everything for her, including being carried around. How foot binding originated revolves around different theories of how the Han Chinese viewed women with small feet as beautiful, not because women are supposed to be servants of their husbands. This is not to say that women were not treated as inferior to men traditionally in China (as in many other cultures).

Mark said...

Thanks for your comment, Damian. I appreciate the kind words on my blog.

I also appreciate your perspective on feet binding. The background on feet binding is not something I know tons about, so your thoughts on the matter are very helpful.

Feel free to leave comments whenever.

pug ster said...

It is sad to hear child kidnappings happens in China, as with many 3rd world countries. I think China should penalize child traffickers and provide some way of allowing women to make money by 'renting their wombs' so to speak for people for couples who want to have a child but couldn't produce one. As the NY times article says, that the mentality that boys are preferred is going away in the urban cities and having boy or girl of perfectly acceptable.