A story about my childhood friend Jane
This is a true story. It’s about one of my childhood friends. To protect her privacy, I’ll call her Jane.
Jane and I grew up together, in a village in northern China. We started playing together long before the primary school. We were in the same class in the primary school (5 years) and middle school (2 years). Our families lived on the same street, and just half block away from each other. She and I were good friends.
Jane has 4 siblings: one sister, and 3 brothers. She is the youngest. We both did very well in the school. Jane was very good at history, geography, and Chinese, especially writing. I was just the opposite: very bad at Chinese, and horrible at writing, but good at math and science. We helped each other quite a lot.
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After sharing the same class for 7 years, we departed for two different high schools in 1979. During the weekends, she and I still saw each other.
At that time, the high school lasted for only two years. Once the 2nd year started, each high school student had to choose one of the two track options: either Science, or Liberal Arts & Humanities.
For each track option, the courses will be different. The common courses for both tracks were: Chinese, math, English, and Political Science. For Science track, it would include additional courses of physics, chemistry, and biology. For Liberal Arts & Humanities track, the additional courses would be history and geography.
Not surprisingly, Jane chose the Liberal Arts & Humanities, and I did the Science.
In the July of 1981, Jane and I attended the 3-day marathon college exams held nationwide. The college enrollment rate was about 2.5% nationwide then. It was tough to get into the college. Unfortunately, Jane didn’t make it. I went to a college in Beijing.
It was not uncommon for many students to repeat the grade, and attended the college exams again. Some even tried 3 times, or 4 times.
Jane really wanted to try it again. There would be a great chance for her to succeed the 2nd time. But, her chance was taken away by her mom. Why? Because she was a girl, that’s it. Her family was very traditional, and boys were given a much higher priority than girls.
Her mom insisted that, the family didn’t have the money to let Jane repeat the grade. If Jane were a boy, money would not be a problem at all. In the family, her mom was the queen. Her dad might have an opinion, but was too cowardly to voice his concern. Or even if he did, her mom wouldn’t listen anyway.
There was no way to get any student loans then. If the parents didn’t want to foot the school bill, the kid was doomed. In this way, very sadly, Jane had to give up.
Jane was left behind in the village, and helped her family to farm the land. After several years, she married, and had kids.
Jane and I got together once, after her first kid was born. She told me about her hope. It was: one day, her kid could go to college, and fulfill the college dream for her.
Since then, I had not seen Jane for over 20 years. In the spring of 2012, I went back to the village visiting my parents. Luckily Jane and I were able to see each other. With other two classmates, four of us (used to be 4 little girls) had a lunch together, and sat in Jane’s house to do the catch up.
At that time, Jane’s mom was in her late 80s, and was living with Jane. Jane’s other siblings were either living far away, or the old lady didn’t like living with her sons and daughter-in-laws. I guess Jane suited her needs.
Four of us were talking in another room. The topic came up about Jane’s college dream that was shattered by her mom. Jane was saying that, finally she forgave her mom for that. I really don’t know how.
Unfortunately, Jane’s first kid didn’t make to college. The kid was not that interested in college. Her 2nd kid was still in the middle school then. I hope the 2nd one went to college. I’ll check with her next time.
Even in 1980s, many girls were not treated equally by their parents. Like Jane , they had to give up their ambitious dreams, simply because they were girls.
In that sense, my family was doing better. My parents encouraged me and my brother on the school work, and sent both of us to the college. I’m grateful for that.
Several years ago, my uncle (my father’s brother) was working on a book about our family tree. He gave me one copy of his book. From the family tree, I can still see the bias clearly against girls.
All the girls (including my uncle’s daughter, me, etc.) were not on the family tree. Only the boys were listed there. But we all share the same family name. The girls were put in a small section, in an appendix, called “World of Daughters”. I thought my family was modern. Not much. What a shame.
In many villages in China, people say: “Married daughters are like the water poured away”.
I hate those ugly traditions.
I feel the pain for Jane, hope she found some inner peace, and wish her the best.
End of the story about my friend Jane …
Questions for our readers: who should be blamed for Jane’s misfortune? Her mom, dad, or the old traditions? If you were Jane, what would you do differently then?
Take a look at my eBook, a mini-memoir on Amazon: “DAD’S BICYCLE: Journey of A Chinese Family”.