(Caution! I tried my best but some of description of physical abuse can be disturbing for some people.)
(This is a translation of my Chinese essay with the same title.)
I don’t usually celebrate June First – the international children’s day. However this year seems to be a little different, I’ve been thinking about one of my childhood friend: “Qingwen”, and like to write an article about him. I don’t remember what his family name was, nor how to spell his name in Chinese characters, because I have not seen him again since I was 5 and half year old, and for all these years, or decades I should say, he was totally absent fromn my life. Now, as Chidren’s Day is coming, he suddenly came back to my mind.
When I was 4 or 5 year-old, both of my parents were too busy (working “for Communist Party and the Country”) to take care of me, so I was sent to a temporary foster family. It was not so temporary though, I lived with the family at least 2 years. The family name was “Guo”. Mrs. Guo was an old lady and everyone called her “Mother Guo”, I called her “grandma”. Even though non of my grandparents were alive upon the time I was born, I felt “Mother Guo” was indeed my grandma. Mr. Guo – to whom I called “grandpa”- also treated me kindly, so did all their children, who were all much older than me. I received plenty of love in this family and I felt more attach to them than to my own parents. Though overall my childhood was dark, the years I lived with this family was bright, except one shadow, which was Qingwen.
Qingwen was a son of a single father, who lived next door to Mother Guo. He was about the same age as me, or probably slightly younger. I cannot remember how he looked like, nor what kind of games we played together, but it doesn’t matter, because what I am going to write, is not his biography, but the only memory he left in my mind: a child who was abused terribly by his own father.
Mother Guo’s house was a in one-floor building complex, in which 3 families resided. Guos was in the middle, contained multiple rooms, which was a luxury at the time. On the left side, was Pens’ family, whose youngest daughter was my best friend; on the right side, was Qingwen’s home. His home had only one room. None of our friends visited his house, occasionally we would take a “sneak peek” of inside from the door, it was dark and lifeless. I could remember seeing a messy and dirty bed, a table, a few chairs, and some random items scattered on dirty ground. Qingwen’s father was a blue laborer, I don’t remember what kind of job he did, all I remember was one of his eyes was blind, and he was always drunk.
It seemed that Qingwen’s father went to work everyday, left his son alone at home. So Qingwen played with us sometime. When his father came back late afternoon, if he was in good mood, Qingwen would be OK, but if not, Qingwen would get beaten up for no reasons at all. Usually the “father” used some sort of bamboo stick slash son’s hand, but in “severe” cases, a hot red metal fire rod would be “necessary”. We often heard crying from next door, but it seemed to be “normal”, and it was no body’s business. I don’t remember how many times when I passed his house, saw Qingwen was tied up on a tree in front of his house, crying alone, looked at me in despair. I also remember, not only once probably, when I passed their door, I saw his father using a red fire rod to slash his bare feet. The “father” was yelling something, and when his voice raised up, the red fire rod would land on Qingwen’s naked skin. Qingwen was jumping around with unimaginable pain, and screaming. I also remember that he always screamed before the fire rod touched him, with that unspeakable fear, and when it touched on his skin his scream was simply just louder, probably loudest he could make. He must wanted to escape, but he had certainly nowhere to go, also he was ordered not to, so all he could try was few square feet area, jumping back forth like a crazy little animal.
I often saw Qingwen was tied on tree, but never saw his father torturing him while he was tied. Qingwen was beaten always while he had his hands and feet “free”, and no matter how much pain he suffered, he always stay in the same spot after jumping or crying, “voluntarily” gave his father’s “job” the most “convenience”. His father sometime even could sat comfortably, made his son creaming and jumping by easy lifting of his arm (How powerful was that!). Years later I realized, that tying Qingwen on the tree was actually for another kind of “convenience” – the “father” often went out (probably to buy liquor), but he did not want his son making “trouble”, and did not want to bother neighbors, so the easiest solution for such “problem” was tying his son up.
Probably because back then there was no ventilate system inside houses, people would put their stove – the old fashioned coal stove – outside of house. For a few times, I (together with some of my playmates, I guess) stole the fire rod from stove, either put it in water, or threw away. That might be the only help Qingwen received from people, and obviously, it did not help him much. For after all these years, the only memory jumps into my mind, was still his despair expression in his eyes when he was tied on the tree, watching me passed by quietly.
Though there was Qingwen’s misery, I was too young to understand the kind of misery he suffered. My life in Guo’s family overall was happy, everyday so many fun things to play with. It was later, after I had similar experience, after I acknowledged what child abuse was, how it would traumatize one’s life, I started thinking Qingwen again, started imagining what kind of horror he lived with daily.
Qingwen was not at all an unusual case in China. Regardless my own experience, many of my friends and schoolmates were severely abused. For example, one of my high school friends was often threatened to be “thrown out” from family, often got beaten with no reasons, and once was almost strangled to death by her mother; one of my classmate in elementary school was not only beaten by his father often, but also “treated” by pliers (how his father used this device we could only imagine); in the school my parents taught (where I grew up), one of professors tied his son and hung him up, then beat him. However, all these cases, include Qingwen’s, would be considered as “merciful” if compared with the one that happened in 90s of last century – which was only less than 20 years ago – in Qing Hai province, a girl whose name was Su Li, was tortured by her own mother for years (beyond any sane human beings can imagine) until her young life could not bare any more. She died at age of six.
I often don’t understand why so many Chinese people are so “unfamiliar” with the terms and behaviors of “child abuse”, as if this kind of crime is some “particular production” of Western society (a Chinese lady I know literally told me so), just because they “invented” this term. Are they blind? Or they are just numb about life, don’t think children could feel? I personally would say, with just a little exaggeration, that the entire history of Chinese morality is a history of child abuse. Sounds extreme, right? If you think so, you may be interested in reading “24 Filial Piety examples”, or1994 the fire accident in Karamay, Xingjiang province. Yes, in the past and present history of China, children have been something “spendable”, for some “higher moral purpose”, or for any purposes.
After I entered middle age, I wrote lots of essays (in Chinese) about child abuse in China, about how it is connected with Chinese tradition, especially “filial piety”. But writing this short post, I do not mean to do the same kind of “rational thinking”, rather, I want to have an emotional touch on my far lost memory, to remind myself, and hopefully others, that this kind of experience, though better be forgotten by its sufferers, should never be forgotten by society, because only when a society recognizes the existences of such abuses, defines them as crimes, it can start rebuilding a new environment for children to grow healthily.
I am not a racist, nor a nationalist, but I would still like to dedicate this post to Chinese children, because they have been suffering too much for too long, and their suffering has been always overlooked, covered up, forgotten, even justified by so called “cultural tradition”.
Remember Qingwen, remember Su Li, “Save the children!” (Lu Xun)
*1994, in Xingjiang province