Shengliver’s Note: Where does her tenacity come from?


Xinyu is in the last year of high school. She has been my student for one year and a half. She does not smile very much. With a deep frown on her face, the girl looks serious, melancholic, and earnest. From a typical Chinese peasant family, she was born in a small village in Fangxian, a satellite county of Shiyan City, Hubei Province. Both her parents migrate to other parts of the country for employment most years; and her only brother is now a college student.


Is Everybody Kind?


In her first talk this term, she spoke on the topic: Everybody in the world is kind. Her audience, including me, laughed when we heard her saying, “I think everyone in the world is kind.” I cut in and asked her why she thought so. In reply, she told us about her train journey this summer. Her mother had been working in Gansu Province, and her father in Shanghai. Her brother did not come back for the summer holidays. When vacation started, she went back to her home village in Fangxian and stayed there for a few days. Then she decided to go where her mother was. Xinyu travelled on her own by train from Hubei to Gansu. On the train she met a lot of strangers, who did not fail to offer a hand when she was in need.


Those friendly passengers on the train convinced Xinyu that all the people in the world are kind. Obviously her conclusion was not well founded. I cautioned her to be wary of strangers, for in daily news we still hear about horrendous crimes. Women and children are kidnapped, trafficked and sold. Girls are raped and murdered. Drunk drivers kill innocent pedestrians on the road. I joked, “Xinyu, one day you might be kidnapped and sold to a peasant as his wife.” The whole class burst into laughter. On national and local TV, reports of child and woman abduction and trafficking are not uncommon.


Home Alone


When she was 13, Xinyu had the worst day of her life.


She must have been a pupil in middle school then. Her elder brother did not come back for the weekend from the high school situated in the county town. Both her parents were working in Dongguan, Guangdong that year. So she was all alone home.


No sooner had Xinyu reached her cottage from school that afternoon than she realised the keys had been left behind in her schoolroom. It was a long way from home to school. It would be impossible for her to go and fetch them from her school before darkness fell. The mountain trail is hard to tread, and wild animals do prowl the woods. And her house stood alone, some distance from the other cottages around. Worse still, her relatives were a long way away. What should the girl do? She never thought she dared stay the night in the open air.


She was pacing around the house for an idea when a saw suddenly caught her eye. Her family normally used it for cutting firewood. Luckily that day the tool was not inside the house. It was left somewhere out in the yard. Xinyu then and there decided to saw her way in.


The cottage had a front door and a back door. The front door, which was made of two wooden planks, was sturdily built and locked. The back door was no more than a wooden plank. Also, there was an opening in the upper part of the door, and the opening was fitted with a glass pane and several wooden bars across it.


Xinyu first of all shattered the glass, which was a pushover. Then she set about cutting the wooden pieces that ran across the hole. To enter the house, she had to destroy the wooden bars using the saw before darkness closed in. It was hard work. She was only 13, and the opening was beyond her reach. She managed to climb onto the door. Perched up there, she manipulated the saw, moving it to and fro. When she was too tired to balance herself, she had to come down for a rest. Many a time she fell off, but she picked herself up and resumed the effort. Perspiration stung her eyes; tears blurred her vision. The girl persevered nevertheless. It took her one or two hours before the wooden bars were completely removed.


She clambered into the cottage through the opening. Too frazzled to cook, she decided to go without a meal that evening. She went over to turn on the TV but to her dismay, there was no power. TV was the sole consolation and companion when her family were not home.


Hunger was not an issue that evening. Loneliness was. Xinyu felt miserable. She climbed out of the house and, after a while, back into it. She climbed out again and walked about the yard. Whatever she tried failed to fill an aching emptiness in her heart. It was pitch dark that night. “That was my worst day, Shengliver,” she confided in the journal.


Survival of the Fittest


Xinyu is a strong-minded girl now. Whilst many of her city-reared classmates are whining about meals served in the canteen and a boring life on campus, she is doing very well. It is generally believed in China that one has to ‘eat a lot of bitterness’ to grow up. Xinyu did not have an easy childhood, and all the hardships she went through were her teachers. They taught her to fight for survival. They taught her the skills that it takes for a human being to exist in the world. The independence and tenacity that she possesses have their roots in a way of life which an easy life deprives an urban kid of any opportunity to taste in his childhood. If Darwin’s theory of ‘Survival of the Fittest’ works in nature, it certainly does in human society. Xinyu is definitely well fitted for challenges that will be arising in the last year of high school, in college, and after college.


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