April 5, 2015

Sibu Tales : Child Brides

China for centuries was male dominated, adhering to a a patriarchal system . Families were extended and living in huge ancestral areas . Some farm lands supported a single clan of the same surname.

My maternal grand mother came from Fujian, specifically, Ker Tou Buoh. Today it might not be easy to find this place now. She was sold for 5 Silver dollars to my maternal grand uncle, Lau Kah Tii. This was because even though the going rate then was One silver dollar for each year of a girl, my grandmother was sold for 5 even though her actual age was Four.

This is my grandma, she was herself a child bride and from her we learned about child brides in Sibu.

According to her, her father was very poor and was quick to seize the opportunity to sell her for one extra dollar , by lying about her age, Thus my maternal uncle bought her because he found her very articulate, with big eyes and able to do a lot of work.

Her father had been crying loudly in the market, "Girl for sale. Pretty, smart, articulate, and very capable. She is able to do laundry by the river side, able to feed chickens, cook, and do all sorts of housework. Have no fear. She is very healthy and strong in her walk. She does not have bound feet. Look at her flat feet. They are strong!! And she eats very little....." And on and on he called out loudly until a scholarly man stopped by to look at the child.

A poem by Fu Husan reminds us that Chinese girls were of no consequence in those days.

How sad it is to be a woman!
Nothing on earth is held so cheap.
Boys stand leaning at the door
Like gods fallen out of heaven.
Their hearts brave the Four Oceans,
The wind nd dust of a thousand miles.
No one is glad when a girl is born:
Byh her the family sets no store.

Fu Hsuan.

This old Chinese poem accurately reflects of the position of women in China in the olden days, especially before the Great Liberation of 1949.

My grandmother was to tell us that many girls were thrown into the "niu pang" or tampoi at birth. Some of her contemporaries were thrown into the river, or well, or were buried alive in ashes and wood fires in the villages. The female infanticide amongst the Chinese before 1949 was well recorded and reported.

In actual fact, in times of famine, flood, or other great hardship, many families sold their boys into slavery. Boys were sold to work in farms and girls were sold to brothels or child brides.

My grandmother was in a way fortunate to be sold as a child bride into the Lau family. She married my grandfather when she was 16 and my grandfather 30. The age gap actually later created a lot of conflicts.

She had a splendid memory and was able to recite Confucius sayings after she listened to the teacher in the village teaching a class of boys. She was able to memories Bible verses after the local pastors visited homes during the early days. From here and there she picked up words and was thus able to "recognise enough words", basically , to read the Chinese calendar and advertisements, especially about movies and movie stars.

One of the most amazing character trait of my grandmother was her great desire to read Chinese movie magazines. She bought them and placed them neatly in the bedroom after she had finished reading. During our holidays, we learned to read more Chinese words by reading her movie magazines.

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