Sun, Feb 01, 2004 - Page 18 News List

`To understand everything is to pardon everything'

Ye Ting-ying's sixth book is `Throwaway Daughter' and talks about a young girl born in China who was adopted while still an infant by her Canadian parents

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Throwaway Daughter
By Ting-ying, with William Bell
227 pages
Doubleday Canada

Some friends of mine recently returned from Guangzhou in China. They described the extraordinary phenomenon, observable there on a daily basis, of Western couples, mostly from North America, in town to collect their adopted Chinese baby daughters. They were everywhere, they said -- pushing their strollers along the sidewalks, crowding the lobby and corridors of the White Swan Hotel, and a visible presence at the


The adoption of abandoned female infants from China appears, in other words, to have become big business. Books relating their authors' experience of the process no doubt stoked the fires, especially in the early years, and prominent among them must have been Emily Prager's Wuhu Diary (reviewed in Taipei Times, Sept. 9, 2001). But books describing hard times in China during the Cultural Revolution and on into the 1980s may have also played their part, if only as background. One of these was Ye Ting-ying's A Leaf in the Bitter Wind (reviewed in Taipei Times, Sept. 3, 2000). Ye is now an established author, and Throwaway Daughter is her sixth book.

Born in 1952, Ye was exiled to a prison labor farm at 16, attempted suicide after being denounced as a counter-revolutionary, yet went on to marry and then get work as a high-level government translator. She broke with her former life after she fell in love with her English teacher, William Bell, and emigrated with him to Canada in 1987.

Throwaway Daughter is a novel about a young girl, Dong-mei, who was born in China and adopted while still an infant by her Canadian parents. At the start she hates everything Chinese, wanting instead only to be like her class-mates in every particular. But quickly the book offers different perspectives. It does this by means of chapters narrated by different characters. First come Dong-mei's adoptive parents, seen in the years when they were still waiting for permission to adopt at all. Then comes a range of characters from her original family in China -- her grandfather (an old-style revolutionary), her father (eager to further himself in village life by having a son), and her mother (glad to be married at all, and anxious to do what's best for her new family).

You have to wait almost until the book's end before Dong-mei meets her mother. By that time she's met her father, now re-

married, and understood something of her story from his perspective. You've also encountered her father's fire-eating second wife.

One of the constants in stories of daughters being adopted from China is an unspoken criticism of their birth mothers. How could a mother do such a thing as abandon a child, leave her wrapped in a blanket on the doorstep of an orphanage? This simple book's great strength is that it looks behind this presumption at what might be the realities of such a


But another, less immediately obvious, dimension of such stories is that the thought that she was originally unwanted, rejected and "thrown away" by her natural family can well form part of such an adopted child's later psychological make-up.

This book neatly and economically combines these two aspects of such situations. Dong-mei goes back to China, and as a result both understands her mother's motives in giving her up, and in so doing achieves a new kind of self-respect.

This is not a complex novel, but its simple, transparent character should be seen as its strength. Throwaway Daughter is essentially an educative work. Not only is it about someone who gets educated in the realities of life in contemporary China, as well as the China of an earlier era. It's also a book that's eminently suited for the education of the young today.

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