In the countryside of Tongcheng, Anhui Province, the abandonment of female infants is a widespread problem. The latest incident happened in June of this year. Near where the girl Shi Jieming was abandoned eighteen c. On the afternoon of August 18th, after Jeremy, an American Christian magazine editor interviewed Shi Jieming in Hefei, Anhui, we visited the Tongcheng nunnery where many orphans lived. Outside of Jeremy, there were three other American friends: Steven of the Clinton Foundation, Andrew who taught at Shanghai Huadong Zhengfa University visiting from Yale, and Mr. Lin. Our translator Ms. Qiu and I accompanied them.
As soon as we passed the highway tollbooth we saw Master Xinkong waiting for us. Following her motorcycle to Shuixian Convent, we saw the girls who were already assembled there with Master Xindu, about twenty in all. Jie Ming was at Hefei. The baby Zongyuan was still in the hospital. Three other children couldn’t come for other reasons.
|Jeremy, an American Christian magazine editor interviewed Shi Jieming in Hefei, Anhui.|
Shuixian Nunnery was newly built. Although construction was still going on the periphery, in my opinion, it was the prettiest monastic building in the Tongcheng region. Our appointment was originally set at Old Lingquan. I asked Master Xinkong why it was changed to Shuixian. The answer was that when governmental authorities heard that foreigners were going to visit the orphans, they considered Old Lingquan’s dilapidated conditions would have embarrassed the country’s image. My purpose of visiting Old Lingquan in the first place was to show the American friends the daily hardscrabble the girls had to go through (Master Shengying alone raised six girls at Old Lingquan), while Shuixian had housed no orphans. Alas, government has its own considerations. Commands from the government we had no choice but to follow. National interests override personal judgements.
Jeremy was very kind and attentive to the children. On the way to Tongcheng, I warned the Americans that the children were almost all introspective and reluctant to talk to strangers. So Jeremy mostly asked Master Xinkong about the children’s conditions, similar to the way he interviewed Jieming and me. Master Xinkong had never had contacts with foreign visitors before. So she was a bit hesitant in her conversation. She did not want to jeopardize the children’s funding or to impact the “nation’s image”, asking me from time to time how to answer the questions.
The children were all dressed very neatly. I could see the real reason without Master Xinkong’s explanation—the government’s image, again. The explanation I offered Jeremy was that the children’s clothing all came from donations of the city residents. Local households, because of the only child policy, had a lot of fairly new and fashionable leftovers. Shi Fuyuan of Fuyuan nunnery had with her several kids she had rescued who had been seriously malnourished, who at thirteen still looked seven or eight. Jeremy took her photograph. The children were all very obedient. The nuns told them to queue up. Each received a “red packet” of gifts from WRIC. Jeremy was photographed with the children in a group.
In the hour we spent together, the children remained standing, quiet and orderly. When we walked out of Shuixian Nunnery, they also came out to say goodbye. We did not want the kids to get burnt under the high sun, but couldn’t persuade them otherwise and walked alongside our care for a distance. As I looked back while we were driving away, I wanted to tell them, “you beautiful girls, born into misfortune, I still believe you have bright and happy futures.”
Next we arrived at Tongcheng Hospital. Master Xindu led us to the pediatric ward. When I saw the baby as she was brought in by the doctors, I could notice she had already grown a lot since I last saw her. Her dark eyes were flickering curiously here and there. Her arms, too, flailed around playfully. The doctor told Jeremy that when the baby was rescued, she weighed barely 1100 gram (2.4 pounds). She was six pounds now, and could leave the hospital in several days. Jeremy asked if there was any sickness. None were discovered, but there would have to be another comprehensive check before she could leave. I was concerned about medical costs and asked for the total, if the hospital could waive a certain amount. The doctor answered that because this was a charity case, the hospital would be able to reduce some fees. But as a business enterprise, necessary payments must be made. The total wouldn’t be known until when the baby would be ready to leave.
After our departure from the hospital, Jeremy proposed visits to some other monasteries to see the actual living spaces of the children. Considering that it was promised the American friends would visit the orphans in Old Lingquan before they came to China, I decided to bring them there to see the place of six of the children at Old Linquan. Besides, it was close by.
Old Lingquan’s grounds were still covered with construction materials. The new building still lacked any fixtures. Master Shengyin put away two dogs as she saw us coming. I straightaway led Jeremy to the upstairs children’s dormitories. Six of them had shared three rooms. Beds, desks, and much of everything else were old and broken down. The windows were covered with stiff cardboard. Master Shengyin told us that the building was financed with donations from local lay devotees. Money for fixtures was still up in the air. The oldest of the children had decided to go into religion and was now at Buddhist academy. She thanked the foreign visitors for the assistance on behalf of the five still remaining. Otherwise some of the girls might not have continued their education. She kept thanking us in her hard to understand Tongcheng dialect all while we were there.
I did not know what the foreign friends thought about the whole thing on the other side of the language barrier. Perhaps I could only wait for Jeremy’s articles after he returned to America. This visit by influential American friends to the orphans at the invitation of WRIC not only served as a verification, but also in my humble opinion, was far more important if there could be more assistance from charitable organizations. It was not a trifling task to sponsor more than twenty children through their schooling. I wish my government could provide more satisfactory help so we wouldn’t have to rely on foreign aid. Children, after all, are the future of the country.
|Four American friends visit to the nunnery in Tongcheng China.|