Tag Archives: Freedom

Excerts from A Blue Moon in China – Musings on the One Child Policy in 1988

People on a bus in Guangzhou, China 1988

People on a bus in Guangzhou, China 1988

From Chapter Three, Black Bicycles set in Guangzhou, China

A billboard caught my eye. It was a picture in pastels of a smiling mother, father, and a very round little girl with rosy cheeks. Curiously, the message was bilingual, both in Chinese and in English: One couple, One child. I had only recently heard of the One Child policy. It was a collective effort; sacrifice really, for the good of the country, a necessary measure for population control, handed down from the government. It looked like Big Brother in action. I wondered how it was enforced.

From Chapter Seven, The Way to Yangshuo

Sherry and I stopped for a moment to sit on a park bench. Across the street was a billboard for the One Child campaign.

“Do you know why it’s in English?” I asked her.

“Propaganda of some nature, I’m sure,” she said. “I did hear that birth control is widely available and that women are ‘encouraged’ to have abortions.” Sherry made it clear there wasn’t much choice. “What grieves me is the killing of baby girls. The rumor is they drown them. At least out in the countryside. The Communist Party doesn’t condone the infanticide, but certainly seems to have turned a blind eye to it.”

I was stunned. I didn’t want to believe it. At first I couldn’t speak, then I stammered feebly, “That must be heart-wrenching for the parents.”

“A male farmhand is more valuable than a female,” Sherry stated matter-of-factly. “Maybe it’s easier to do it because males have always been highly prized in traditional Chinese society. The old concept that females are expendable, less valuable than men – being that they are merely there to serve, lingers tenaciously on. We have Confucius to thank for that.”

“Confucius? How?” I was surprised. “Didn’t he preach virtuous conduct and being a good person? Noble pursuits? How does that translate to favoring men over women? Wasn’t he about the betterment of society?” I felt so upset I was babbling. Confucius says… I took a breath, shut up, and looked out at the city. Who was I kidding? I knew the words of well-meaning influence have often been perverted throughout history. Just about every wise man’s benevolence had been manipulated by the corrupt in search of power. I knew that ordinary men dominated most societies, many with an aim to keep women submissive and in the background. Barefoot and pregnant was the phrase that came to mind.

“It’s all a matter of interpretation, isn’t it?” Sherry’s voice was cold. “Anyway, it is a rare culture than honors women. You know that.”

I stared up at the billboard and wondered what other choices this country might have to keep its population down other than to regulate the number of children born. I had a feeling, religious belief or not, that having an abortion was a big deal emotionally, regardless of the reason. I totally agreed with the legal right for a woman to choose; it is her body and raising a child is a big deal. I was lucky I lived in the U.S. and had the right to decide for myself what I felt was best.

Young girl on a boat to Yangshou

Young girl on boat to Yangshuo


A Blue Moon in China is my memoir about the 2 months I traveled through China in 1988 when I was 21 years old. I went alone with only $400 in my pocket.

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A paragraph from A Blue Moon in China, musings on the One Child Policy

“I stared up at the billboard and wondered what other choices this country might have to keep its population down other than to regulate the number of children born. I had a feeling, religious belief or not, that having an abortion was a big deal emotionally, regardless of the reason. I totally agreed with the legal right for a woman to choose; it is her body and raising a child is a big deal. I was lucky I lived in the U.S. and had the right to decide for myself what I felt was best.”

A Blue Moon in China

one paragraph of me contemplating the Chinese One Couple One Child policy in my travel memoir set in 1988.

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Emel Mathlouthi, Voice of the Arab Spring


Emel Mathlouthi

Powerful singing transcends language.

Emel Mathlouthi played the Diego Rivera Room tonight at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. On the website announcing her gig, there was a youtube video. Emel Mathlouthi is on the street in a crowd of people. She’s dressed in a red winter coat. A warm scarf is wrapped around her neck. She’s singing into a microphone, her eyes flicker with fear, but she keeps singing her song – the Arab Spring’s Movement’s song – into a microphone, My Word is Free. It is the first song she put music to with words by someone other than herself. The poem by a friend touched her heart and music flowed. My Word is Free became the anthem for thousands of people protesting the Tunisian regime, and then the Egyptian. Millions all told.

I quickly got dressed and drove down to hear her; I knew it was something special, not to be missed. I arrived just in time.

She began playing the electric guitar and singing in a language I didn’t know. The tone in her voice spoke of the desire for diversity, for freedom, for independence. In my mind’s eye I saw her on a mountainside tending a herd and singing to the sky. Her voice sounded like a prayer.

She introduced the next song, “It’s my favorite song to play on the guitar. I think this is one of the first songs everyone learns when they first pick up the guitar.” She hoped we would like her take on it. I think she’s going to play Stairway to Heaven. She played Smells like Teen Spirit.

She called herself a humanist and wanted to sing a song for the homeless, because “one should always remember the people living on the streets.”

A young man calls out from the audience for the song Hallelujah.
She looked up and said, “You know me.” “I do. I do know you. We met in Cairo.”
“Last year?” she asks. He answers with excitement, “Yes, I drove 400 miles to hear you tonight.”

She launched into Cohen’s song. Big tears streamed down my face. I felt self-conscious, but I hid behind my hair. Her last song was sung in a demanding voice calling out for “Liberte.”

She encouraged a sing-along. I couldn’t understand how she was making the sound she was making so I remained quiet. Others succeeded in mimicking her cry.

She seemed brave and vulnerable at the same time. She sang for everyone’s enlightened human rights. That her first song was Teen Spirit written by a man who would have been my age had he lived made Emel Mathouthi seem young to me. And to know she was the voice of the Arab Spring, her song at the center of a revolution that spanned across the top of Africa, I felt awe and gratitude.

But that’s how it goes, isn’t it? The young lead the way.

Link to the video chosen for DIA’s website: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEkqU2GJ2uw http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Spring

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Women for New Culture, May 4th, 1919. China’s First Feminists


The bas relief pictured above is a depiction of the May Fourth Movement in 1919, and is part of a series of eight on the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square commemorating key victories for the liberation of China from Imperialist and Dynastic rule.

My eye is drawn to the women and, specifically, the mystery of their feet.
They are unbound, natural. Yet the year was 1919.

For centuries it was tradition in China to break the feet of little girls, shape them in the most extreme arch possible, then wrap them with cloth. Ostensibly for marriageability. The result was mutilated feet that became rank with a putrid odor.

When the Manchurians conquered China in 1644, they banned their own women from partaking in the practice and tried to outlaw it for the Chinese. It didn’t work. The Han Chinese found a new value in the old tradition as an ethnic tie to the glory of the lost Ming dynasty.

In the 1898 Hundred Days Reform, the Manchus, who themselves considered educated women a sign of wealth, included in the reformation a school for girls in Shanghai, and another campaign to end foot binding.

Still, in 1919, the practice was more prevalent than not.* (In my own travels through China in 1988, I saw an old woman with bound feet.)

So, I wonder who these flat-footed women in the sculpture are: How were they lucky enough to be unbound in that day and age?

The protest captured in marble was of a movement merely eight years after the Nationalists were victorious dethroning the Qing Dynasty. The women featured in the relief would have been approximately twelve years old at that time, in 1911, And since the binding usually began when a girl was five years old, one would think the feet of these women would most definitely have been bound.

So what’s the explanation?

Perhaps, the answer is simple: That in 1952, the absence of foot-binding in the sculpture was ordered by the Communist Party to demonstrate progress and equality of the sexes?

But there is the possibility the women who protested in 1919 truly did natural feet.

The reason for this may be found in other aspects of the sculpture: One woman carries a book; another passes out pamphlets. This suggests that they were learned, had time to study, which meant they had to have money. Most likely they had access to literature from the West. They probably came from a privileged, progressive class, or at least, from a family who cherished the feminine voice, and valued the education of women.

The women for the New Culture were writers, readers, teachers, and advocates for new attitudes toward marriage, and sex. They were rebels against the confines of Confucian Tradition. They were vocal debaters on the role of the female in the New China. They wanted to have a profession, to contribute to society. They advocated human rights, independence, and the freedom to choose a life they wanted.

They were China’s first feminists. They believed that for China to progress, women had to be included. And they published works that said so.

They were up against a major current.

Historically, there had been mixed messages for females. One of the most famous female writers, Ban Zhao, born in 45 B.C.E., during the Han Dynasty, wrote a book for women that covered the complexities of astronomy yet also taught them how to be submissive to their husbands. Even behind closed doors, there was a dichotomy: Lu Xun, the most famous male writer promoting a break from Confucian traditions, and the emancipation of women in 1919, lived with a liberated, younger woman, Xu Guangping, but wouldn’t support her pursuit of her dreams; he wanted her to support his. (See pg. 65, Women in the Chinese Enlightenment. Zheng Wang, 1999.)

In spite of the barriers, the young women demonstrating on the streets all over the China on May 4th, 1919, demanded equality, a New Culture for China, and the right to attend university. In 1920, the first women were allowed to study at Beijing University. It was a monumental success.

Seventy years later, the women of May Fourth Movement 1989, students of Beijing universities, equally committed to a better China, equally brave, equally determined, took to the streets calling for democracy and freedom. But their protest will likely never be immortalized in stone, honored for generations to come.





Photo: http://www.asiavtour.com/blog/showlist-u19-a209-s10.html

Blog edited by Christopher Ross


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Man Outside the ForbiddenSome History of the Tiananmen Square Movement 1989


Imperial Palace, Beijing, 1988. Elizabeth Pilar


Forbidden City, Beijing, 1988. Elizabeth Pilar

The movement began with mourning the death of the strongest advocate for social reform the students had in the Communist Party, Hu Yaobang. He had taken the fall for student protests in 1986. The Party hard-liners denounced Hu’s “bourgeois -liberalism” as encouraging the students. He was retired from leadership, and the students lost their legal right to spontaneous demonstration, a right guaranteed by their Constitution.

Hu’s death on April 15th, 1989 marked the moment people would be allowed to gather in mourning and hang wreaths on the Monument of the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square. History was repeating itself. The students’ parents’ generation had mourned Zhou Enlai, who they had considered the most moderate voice in the Party.

That funeral became a podium for crying out against the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution. The event became known as the Tiananmen Incident of 1976 when the thousands of grieving, angry citizens were brutally beaten by truncheon-wielding police. Two years later, the Democracy Wall movement began spontaneously in Tiananman, and these same future parents had a voice with which to share in the lament. They saw their movement quashed; the leaders arrested. Now, they worried for their children’s welfare as they watched the new student movement of 1989 become the largest citizen demonstration in Chinese history, and thus, I would venture to guess, in the world.

Monument to the People's Heroes, China 1976. Peter J Griffiths http://www.griffopix.com

Monument to the People’s Heroes, China 1976. Peter J Griffiths http://www.griffopix.com


The students sitting peacefully on Tiananmen Square in 1989 were the bright stars, the hope of the future for the Chinese people. Their achievement of college admission made them elite. They studied hard to get there. They wanted to make China a better place. They came from villages in the mountains, Autonomous Regions in the north, and from all over. It was the tradition of the Confucius Exam continued. In the Confucian tradition, the scholar’s place in society was to advise the rulers of China on matters of state.

But when the fresh students with stars in their eyes arrived on campus, they found the infrastructure in disrepair. It also soon became clear that their job prospects after graduation were dim, and their pay would be low. The lack of respect for intellectuals their parents had experienced during Mao’s regime seemed to be continuing into the Four Modernizations of Deng Xiaoping’s era of reform.

Did these contradictory realities cause a crisis of faith and a call to action for the generation raised on an open-door policy? They chose to march. They were very brave, determined, romantic, and naive.

Their paradigm came from a childhood interacting on the fringes with the West and its pop culture. Jan and Dean had toured several cities in 1986. The youth of the ‘80s had spent their high school years reading philosophy, science, and literature. They heard lectures by famous Chinese intellectuals preaching democracy and liberty. Central government propaganda and thought reform didn’t work to sway their minds toward the Party cause. The dogma they had been raised with was economic reform and an open-door policy. They had embraced that already; now they wanted something substantial. They wanted the Chinese Constitution to be honored. They wanted basic human rights.



Man Outside the Forbidden City

edited by Christopher Ross

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Filed under China, Democracy Wall Movement, Essay, June Fourth Massacre, Tiananmen Square Massacre, Writers