Tue, Apr 23, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Historical child sale pacts announce pain of poverty

By Chen Feng-li and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

A child sale agreement signed by a poor family more than 100 years ago is pictured in Nantou County on Sunday.

Photo: Chen Feng-li, Taipei Times

Two more-than-a-century-old contracts in Nantou County reveal how families sometimes resorted to selling their children because of poverty.

Taiwanese used to write contracts not only for land sales, but also for the sale of child brides and sons, said Nantou County Cultural Heritage Association chairman Liang Chih-chung (梁志忠), who collects writings and written contracts from the late Qing Dynasty and the Japanese colonial period.

At a time when sons were valued more than daughters, parents would not sell their sons unless they had no other choice, he said.

The so-called “son-selling contracts” embodied the helplessness and pain of poor families, he said.

One contract, signed in 1906 during the Japanese colonial era, says that a woman surnamed Lin (林) sold her newborn third son to a woman surnamed Huang (黃) for 114 yuan (based on the currency at the time).

In the contract, Lin cites financial difficulties as the reason for her decision.

The second contract, signed in 1899, says that a woman married to a man surnamed Hsu (許) died days after giving birth to their second son.

Hsu was unable to raise his son on his own, but because the mother died in childbirth, the baby was considered unlucky. None of his relatives were willing to take over his guardianship — to “buy” him.

Later on, Hsu’s brother-in-law, surnamed Lee (李), lost his wife. Without an heir, Hsu agreed to transfer guardianship of the boy to him in exchange for 6 longyin (龍銀, “silver dragon coins”).

In the contract, the two also agreed that Lee would hire a wet nurse to take care of the child and that the child would carry the surname Lee.

Written contracts not only provided proof in black and white, but also required those involved to lay out the terms, Liang said.

For example, the 1906 contract states that in the future, the child could not have disagreements with Lin’s family, he said.

Hsu, on the other hand, promised in the contract that he would not start disagreements or cause trouble for Lee, he added.

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