Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Short Story

I’m going to finish off a very English-language morning with a short story, about a phenomenon that I expect will surprise you.

This past summer, I bought the second season of “Chinese Family” (《中国家庭》), a not-outstandingly-popular TV drama from a few years ago. I only ever watched the first episode or two: the show is kind of depressing, and also massively ridiculous. The main character, adopted into her current family while very young, breaks down on her wedding night and refuses to marry her brother; her public refusal embarrasses and angers her father, who chases after her intending to beat her and ends up having a heart attack instead; he dies in the hospital, where the girl meets a handsome doctor who treats her very well; the entirely family blames her, and her adopted mother banishes her from the home; later her brother, in a fit of drunken rage, chases the girl from the doorstep of her friend’s house on a rainy night and in doing so gets hit by a car. All of this goes down in the first episode.

At that time, I dismissed the plot as the work of screenwriters attempting to toe the line between immense, improbable tragedy and physical impossibility. But while I still think it’s ridiculous and melodramatic, I recently learned that the basis for the story isn’t quite as far-fetched as I had thought.

Yesterday, I was eating a very late lunch of fried rice in a restaurant run by a couple from Fujian Province, and since we were the only two in the place, I got to talking with one of the owners. Judging by her son’s age and what she told me about their business and her life, she comes from a very poor village in the countryside, and she’s a lot younger than she looks.

At one point, I asked her how she met her husband. “We grew up together,” she said, and I didn’t think anything of it.

Later, when I told her I was one of three sons, she asked whether my parents had considered adopting a girl. I said no, I don’t think so – three was plenty for my parents to handle. Then she started telling me about a practice that’s developed in Fujian: Parents who have a son but who also want a girl will often adopt her from the parents of relatives or friends.  (They can’t have one of their own, or they will be fined heavily in accordance with the one child policy.) The families that give up their daughters for adoption usually do so either to avoid paying fines for having a second child, or because they had a second child legally (in the countryside, a family can have a second child if the first is a girl) but find that they don’t have the means to raise her.

Often, the adopted girl will end up marrying her new brother – just like, as I found out, the two owners of the restaurant at which I was eating.

The owner said that sometimes girls in that situation would refuse to marry, especially if they already had a lover of their own. She didn’t say what her own situation was before she married into her adopted family. But she was only half joking when she explained, “The family was really, really struggling. I didn’t want to leave my mother alone. And anyway, I grew up with him, so we knew each other completely... and I was worried that if he didn’t marry me, he wouldn’t be able to find a wife!” The wifeless man - “bare branch” - has become a phenomenon in China, where the ratio of men to women can get as high as 120:100 in some provinces because of a preference for male children, and men without means are often not even considered for marriage.

So maybe the “Chinese Family” storyline has something to it after all – though I’m sure that in real life any village family as good-looking as that wouldn’t exactly be short of marriage prospects.

Here today with your fun fact from China,


  1. Wow! That's a VERY interesting bit of information. Really amazing...yet makes a kind of sense if you think about it although I never would have imagined it on my own.

  2. This is an interesting tidbit that I didn't encounter in my readings last fall about unintended consequences of the one-child policy. Is "bare branch" 单棍 or 光棍?