Shengliver’s Note: This time of year some Chinese teenagers have their dreams come true by shining in the National Matriculation Test; meanwhile many others have their hopes dashed as a result of their failure. In this blog entry, you will read the story of a Chinese peasant family. If you are Chinese, you might find their experiences shared by lots of families in rural China.




Lao Wang is father and Xiao Wang is son. Lao Wang, having left his home village behind, is now working in town. What does he do? He carts coal around on a regular route to some restaurants and sells it for a profit. It is dirty hard work, but Lao Wang does not mind it. He is much better off toiling on the streets than sweating on his farm, for he makes a bigger income in the city than he would in the fields.


Xiao Wang, the son, three years ago passed the high school entrance exam. For the past three years, he was a student here at my school. Xiao Wang sat the national university entrance exam last month. When he got his exam results a few days ago, he was let down. He got so low a grade that he will not be able to make it to his dream university.




Lao Wang’s village is next to mine. When I was a kid, he was a lad. When I was a lad, he started a family. When I am a father, he is a father of three.


In the 1970s, Lao Wang finished middle school, returned to his village and became a member of the People’s Commune. Life was not easy. Food was scarce and work was backbreaking. In those years the Chinese farmers took part in a national campaign called “Farmers Learning from Dazhai”. Dazhai was a model village located in Xiyang County, Shanxi Province, where the farmers increased the area of their farmland by levelling hills. Roused before sunrise almost on a daily basis, Lao Wang couldn’t knock off until sunset. Many of his young years were spent on the campaign, making new farmland by terracing hills and valleys, in order to feed an ever exploding population.


In time Lao Wang spliced with a maiden from a nearby village, which lies in Henan Province. Their first child was a girl. Lao Wang and Mrs Wang determined to bring a boy to the world. On the farm, a boy is worth much more than a girl. “Girls are theirs, boys are ours,” they say, meaning that a girl will leave the parents and join another family upon marriage while a boy will get married and extend the family line.


One child for one family has been China’s national policy on family planning since the 1970s. In rural China, if a farmer’s first child is a girl, he is allowed to have a second child, usually by paying a fine to the government after it comes to the world. So Lao Wang and his wife had their second child borne, who ‘unfortunately’ was still a girl.


This child brought trouble to the Wangs. Two days after the child’s birth, Lao Wang ran into the village head. The head warned him that the authorities were closely supervising the implementation of the family planning policy. He had been to a conference some days before at the local government.


“So what should we do?” Lao Wang murmured. After talking with his wife, Lao Wang made an important decision. “We will have to have a son no matter what,” Lao Wang said to his wife.


When the girl baby was two days old, she was carried by night to the home of Lao Wang’s mother-in-law. Lao Wang’s village and the mother-in-law’s were about 2.5 kilometres from each other, but they were located in two different provinces, Lao Wang’s in Hubei and the mother-in-law’s in Henan. Lao Wang asked his mother-in-law to raise the child for them. Of course the mother-in-law could not refuse. Anyway it was her granddaughter.


Around border areas, the geographical advantage has enabled some farmers to evade the family planning policy. Government workers normally would not take the trouble to venture out to the other province to investigate. It is beyond their sphere of power. There are many cases where babies born in this province are raised in the other, which gives rise to the phenomenon that these babies are not on the official register. Such children are dubbed ‘black kids’ in Chinese.


When the baby was safe and sound with the grandma, Lao Wang and his wife put on a show at home. They wept loudly and mournfully, announcing to the neighbours and the leaders the ‘death’ of the baby. The baby’s wear was put under a stone roller in the village square, which is the local custom, denoting the baby had been lost.


Across the border, the baby was raised mostly on formula by the grandma. But for the first two months, it managed to feed on the mother’s breast milk this way. Every night, Lao Wang took a bottle filled with the mother’s milk to the baby. He had to walk to his mother’s home and come back the same night. The round trip was roughly 5 kilometres, taken in complete darkness, lest the entire affair be found out. And during the daytime, he still had to show up on the farm, labouring as hard as his fellow villagers.


One summer night, it was pitch black. While Lao Wang was on the way to the mother’s home, a storm came on. Lao Wang had to sing out loud to give himself courage. Part of the way was thought by the locals to be haunted. He was scared. Wind was rising, and big raindrops started to fall. Then a bolt of lightning cracked through the sky, followed by rumbles of thunder.


With another flash of lightning, everything around Lao Wang was lit up for a second. Lao Wang caught sight of an ox somewhere ahead of him. He thought probably it was his imagination. When yet another flash split the sky, he was certain it was a big ox over there, and there was no other soul around.


In an instant, it dawned on Lao Wang that a thief must be stealing the ox from some farmer’s pen and probably was leading the animal away when his singing startled him. And the thief was very likely lurking somewhere around.


In the dark and rain, Lao Wang broke out in goose pimples. He decided to backtrack. The journey to the mother’s home that night was aborted. The baby would have to go without her mother’s breast milk for one night. He walked back towards his home village. After Lao Wang travelled for a while, it occurred to him that he should get the animal and return it to the owner the next day. So he turned back and quickened his pace in the direction of the ox. However, when he reached where the ox had been, the beast was nowhere to be found.


Lao Wang was so horrified that he made hastily for his village again. The thought that it might have been a ghost there sent shivers down Lao Wang’s spine. It was an experience he shared with me over dinner when he came to visit the other day.


Two years later, a third child came to Lao Wang and his wife. It was a boy. It is Xiao Wang. Of course money had to be paid to the government for the birth of the son. Lao Wang thought it was time to bring back the second daughter from his mother-in-law. And the Wang family got reunited at last—a family of five members.


Disaster befell the Wangs when the family planning workers were tipped off by some resentful villager about the second child. They got angry, feeling cheated, and demanded Lao Wang pay a hefty sum of RMB for the violation of the law. Poverty-stricken, Farmer Wang could not come up with it.


One day the officials came to his hamlet. Seeing that Lao Wang was not able to pay the fine, they took out of the cottage the furniture and even the family’s stock of grains. These possessions of Lao Wang’s were confiscated.


What was left for the family to survive on after the workers left? Very little. Lao Wang had to borrow from friends, neighbours and relatives so as to keep the family kitchen smoke rising at meal times. Very hard years to go through.


Now the hardship is over. The two daughters grew up. After some schooling, they went to cities and worked as migrant workers. Then the first daughter was married. Last year the second daughter was married too.


The family of father, mother and son now live much better than before. Lao Wang has a job in the city, earning an income he is happy with. The son, Xiao Wang, has grown up into a handsome teenager.




Xiao Wang did not perform well enough in the exam. I bet he did not work hard in the three years. I was not his teacher but I did come across him in the schoolyard occasionally. He should have known who he was and where he was. But he had a mobile phone under his belt, which one of his doting sisters gave to him as a Spring Festival gift, although the school does not allow the pupils to use a mobile phone on campus.


Xiao Wang is ashamed of his test scores. “What should I do?” he asks himself.




Lao Wang does not blame Xiao Wang for his disappointing performance. “He is still very young. He does not know very much about the world,” Lao Wang said. “I would like him to redo Senior High Grade Three. Hopefully he might do better next year.”


Each and every word Lao Wang says radiates the father’s adoration for the lad. Xiao Wang, are you aware of Lao Wang’s love? Did you attend school for the sake of your father? Or should Lao Wang take such responsibility? Oh, poor father. You brought him to the world and you have brought him up. And you will go out of your way to send him to college. What for?


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