As my loyal readers may know, I am trying to learn Mandarin whilst living here in China. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I think I am making steady progress. Every week I have two or three lessons here in our apartment, each of which lasts for an hour and a half (and at the end of every lesson I am completely knackered!).
Yesterday, after my delightful young teacher Annie had gone through my homework with me, I had to translate aloud a short story into English. Not really a story – more of an anecdote which took up a longish paragraph.
It was the tale of a woman who was known to all by the nickname ‘Greedy Wife’, because she had the habit of talking incessantly about food. No matter what subject came up in conversation she refered it back to food in one way or other. One evening her husband was due to attend a banquet, he asked her to see what the weather was like so he could wear the appropriate clothes. She stuck her head out of the door, came back in and announced that it was snowing. She said the snow was as white as milk. He asked how deep the snow was – she replied that it was as thick as a ‘laobing’ (an unleavened pancake about 1cm thick). Her husband immediately accused her of a recurrence of her bad habit of referencing everything to food, and then HE HIT HER IN THE FACE!!! – to say I was startled to read this was putting it mildly, I thought I might have mis-translated, but Annie said I hadn’t.
I carried on reading: the husband went on to tell his wife that every time she mentioned food he would hit her again, until she stopped. The wife said she wouldn’t do it again, and then promptly said ‘ you are a heartless man, my face is now swollen like a ‘mantou’ (a steamed bun).
Whereupon he hit her again. At this point their little daughter entered the room and seeing that her mum had ‘taken a beating’ began to cry. The woman hugged her daughter, dried her eyes and said to her ‘Don’t cry child, when you cry your voice is all muffled as though you had a mouthful of bread.’
Well, I was horrified at this story. Of course I know that domestic violence is a world-wide problem, and obviously it occurs in China; but to put such a story in an approved text-book seemed absolutely extraordinary. I told my teacher that I thought this was really bad, and she looked at me as though I was odd, and said ‘but it’s a joke because the woman can’t help herself talking about food – it’s funny.’ I said that any story that light-heartedly told of a woman being assaulted by her husband, and it being witnessed by their young child was NOT funny at all, because it trivialises domestic violence and makes it seem as though it is acceptable.
Annie was taken aback by my strong views, she pointed out that she herself doesn’t approve of domestic violence ‘but it happens’. ‘Yes’ I said ‘I know it does, which is why we have to be very careful not to condone it, a story like this would NEVER appear in a text-book for anyone learning English, it is quite unacceptable.’ The lesson then moved on to a more usual level, and a detailed practice of word order, which is particularly important in Chinese; as well as how to express a situation where two things were happening simultaneously.
After the lesson I thought about my immediate shock and distaste when I read the sentences, and about Annie not really understanding why I was making such a fuss.
Was I just being a soft, naive westerner who is horribly politically correct? I don’t think so. Firstly I am not very PC. Nor, after 25 years as a Magistrate in Youth and Family Courts in London, am I unaware of the horrid underbelly of violence in society. I would not even call myself a ‘feminist’ in the strictest sense of the word. But no-one – be they man, woman or child – should suffer from violence within or without the home. If a woman is physically (or mentally) abused by her partner, or her child is abused, she should seek help and leave (or have the abuser excluded from the home) as fast as possible.
In this respect China has still a long way to go. A few years ago a survey on domestic violence was done in three of China’s provinces [Zhejiang, Gansu & Henan]
and the families surveyed revealed that just over one-third had witnessed family violence, and that 85% of the victims were women. What is disquieting is that only 5% of the abused women felt their marriages were unhappy, the reason being that in China many men and women consider domestic violence to be a normal part of family life.
If you know, or suspect, that someone is suffering from domestic violence – don’t stand by and wonder what to do. Talk to them – urge them to seek professional help, and to remove themselves from the situation. Domestic violence should not be a ‘private’ crime.