boys and girls (october 27, 2011)

Being the mother of two boys garners me quite a bit of admiration living in China.  Funny, as I had nothing to do with it!  As everyone knows, the father determines the sex of a child.

I was one of two girls. My sister had had two girls before I had a child.  I assumed I would have a girl.  No one was more surprised than I was when Hunter popped out a boy!

Had I been Chinese, living in China, this would have been a very good thing.  Boys have always been more highly valued here.  They carry on the family name.  They inherit the family property. And most importantly, they support their family in old age.  Daughters, on the other hand, become part of her husband’s family.  Raising a daughter, they say, is like watering your neighbor’s garden.

Sadly, when China instituted the one child policy in 1978, there was an unintended consequence. People started abandoning, killing or aborting baby girls. 33 years later, there are way more boys than girls.  This is turning into a demographic nightmare.  There aren’t enough women for men to marry.  In fact, many think tanks now believe there are 119 men for every 100 women.

There is a popular urban myth that there are thousands of women hidden in attics.  Supposedly people don’t register baby girls. Instead they hide them and hope for a boy the next time. Without official papers it is difficult to do anything in China.  You can’t go to school, lease property, work or have access to health care.

Men who cannot find wives are referred to as bare branches.  The government worries that these young, single men could become a social problem.  Unmarried men are more likely to commit crimes. I suppose they are also more likely to be unhappy and revolt. To help rectify this, the government is rumoured to be turning a blind eye to human trafficking issues. Women from outside China are being kidnapped and sold into marriages or prostitution.

My Chinese teacher’ s wife is pregnant.  He tells me his parents really really want her to have a boy. But in a sign that things are changing, he is actually hoping they are having a baby girl.

He explained that no mother would let her daughter marry a man who does not own his own house.  These awful mothers in laws want a nice big house for their daughter. He feels they are the main reason housing prices in Beijing are going through the roof. He is worried that if he has a son he will have to save all his money in order to buy him a house so he can find a bride.  It may not be as nuts as it sounds.  Even the Economist Magazine has attributed a significant part of China’s high saving rate to people trying to help their sons afford to get married. I want to know why is it always the mother (in-law)’s fault?

I am so proud of my boys, not because they are male, but because they are delightful people.  It is odd receiving compliments based on the gender of your children.  But I guess I’ll take them where I get them!