Interview: 'They figured she was being beaten because she had been bought'

The son of a domestic abuse victim talks about growing up as the son of a kidnapped and bought bride.
By Jane Tang
2022.03.09
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Interview: 'They figured she was being beaten because she had been bought' "Rocky," the son of a woman trafficked into marriage at a young age from the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, in an undated photo.
Rocky

The U.S.-based son of a Chinese woman trafficked into marriage at a young age from the southwestern province of Yunnan during the 1980s spoke to RFA's Mandarin Service about growing up amidst daily domestic violence and abuse, and about -- eventually -- persuading his mother to get herself free. The man, who gave only the nickname Rocky, has asked for anonymity to protect his mother after she gave an in-depth interview with Jane Tang of RFA's Mandarin Service about her experiences:

RFA: What kind of upbringing did you have?

Rocky: Most accurately speaking, my mother was abducted, but in essence, her experience was in line with the definition of human trafficking. I divide it into three stages. The first is the use of persuasion and deception in the early stages, which is the kidnapping part. The second stage involves money, and the third involves controlling the person. Anything that meets those three criteria is trafficking.

RFA: When you were young, did your mother tell you that her situation was different? How did it affect you?

Rocky: I don't need my mother to tell me, the people in the village would tell me that my mother is a "Nanmanzi," a southern daughter-in-law, who was abducted. Nanmanzi is a discriminatory name for these women. Those adults would joke that it hurt the children most, because children can't bear being different from others, yet has never seen other people's homes. My father would beat my mother openly, frequently and severely. This difference made me wonder if it was right for my mother to be beaten. And about whether a child like me born to a kidnapped mother should suffer in this way, for that difference. I had a lot of psychological questions like that when I was a kid.

Because my mother was of Bai ethnicity, she didn't speak the local language when she was first brought there, and only spoke the dialect of her hometown. She spoke slowly, and with an accent. I used to hope she wouldn't come to school to bring me an umbrella [on rainy days], because when she did, she would come into the classroom to talk to the teacher, and the teacher would have her give me the umbrella. My classmates would laugh at me when they heard my mother's accent.

RFA: Did your mother ever talk about wanting to run away?

Rocky: On the contrary. She never mentioned it. But she used to tell me and my brother that she had suffered a great deal of pain and injustice for us both, and so we should work hard and treat her with respect when we grew up. That kind of powerful love, which had so many dark and twisted components to it, put a lot of pressure on us as kids. It bound us to her, and it affected our mental health.

RFA: Sometimes children in domestic violence cases will internalize the violence, thinking that their mother was beaten like that because of them, and that it should have been them who were beaten.

Rocky: Right! Right! You summed it up exactly.

RPA: Can you talk about the severity and frequency of the domestic violence you witnessed?

Rocky: I have one very clear memory. I was playing at a friend's house, and someone told me that my mother was back. [I went back home to] find that the house was crowded with people, all from our village. I could hear my mom's... oh my god, heart-piercing cries ... then a woman's handbag was thrown out, and something fell out of it. I remembered that it was rouge, and it was my mother. I just heard someone going crazy and accusing her of wanting to run off with another man.

RFA: Who beat up your mother?

Rocky: Mainly my grandfather and my father.

RFA: Didn't the villagers say anything when it was that bad?

Rocky: They would try to persuade them, to tell them not to 'fight' so much, but that kind of talk doesn't have much effect. After a while, people realized that it wasn't working, so they didn't bother trying any more. And some of them shared their ideas about [how to treat] bought daughters-in-law. They figured she was being beaten because she had been bought. The beatings happened to stop her running away and causing huge losses [to the family].

RFA: Did you see this kind of thing a lot?

Rocky: Of course. Too much, okay? They would beat her with shoes, the soles of their shoes. It can hurt a lot, but it won't cause serious injuries. They would also use belts, their fists, and slaps. Once my father and my grandfather were beating my mother, I saw my mother run into the room and lock the door. My grandfather and my father were suddenly very scared. They were afraid that my mother would kill herself. They climbed in, opened the door, and got my mom under control.

Rocky (a nickname), told RFA that the discovery of the chained woman in Feng county "brought back memories" and "shocked me a little bit" because he didn't realize such things still happened in China. Credit: Rocky
Rocky (a nickname), told RFA that the discovery of the chained woman in Feng county "brought back memories" and "shocked me a little bit" because he didn't realize such things still happened in China. Credit: Rocky
RFA: What kind of a state would your mother be in?

Rocky: Crying, of course, with her hair and clothes all messed up. I don't think maybe you've ever seen someone beaten up. Maybe you've seen it in movies, but you probably haven't seen it in real life.

RFA: How did your mom explain this violence to you and your brother?

Rocky: There was nothing to explain. We had already seen it. No matter how good things are, there are times when they come to an end. No matter how bad things are, eventually they stop. They would also tire of beating her.

RFA: So would the family just go back to normal after all that?

Rocky: No, no, it would take a few days. Maybe the beatings would end, but then things would take a depressing turn. My mother would likely be injured, bruises on her nose or face, and she wouldn't immediately be able to get on with the housework for a day or two. So my mother would be lying on the bed and my father would do the household chores and cook for us. My brother and I would be huddled near my mom on the bed, watching her weep. That's how it would end.

RFA: How did that make you feel about your father?

Rocky: I hated him when I was a kid. He was illiterate. He had three brothers and two sisters. There was a kind of filial piety in my father. Beating a daughter-in-law was a trivial matter in our village, but being unfilial was a big deal. He would definitely listen to my grandma. If she told him to slap my mother three times, he definitely wouldn't stop at two slaps. To us, he was taciturn and rarely spoke. I had a father, but there was no fatherly love there.

RFA: Do you think your parents loved each other?

Rocky: How would that even be possible?

RFA: When did the violence end?

Rocky: Probably after my grandma died, when I was in elementary school, and my aunt got married. Once the instigator of these evil deeds was gone, the fight went out of them. Also, my mother had a strong will to survive, and she turned much more abusive, although only verbally. She subdued my dad and my grandpa with verbal abuse. It was pretty intense and kind of hard to describe.

RFA: How did you help your mom get a divorce?

Rocky: When I was a freshman in high school, my dad got sick. He had a stroke, and lost the ability to work or to speak. He was basically paralyzed, and could only communicate in gestures. My mother was expected to support the whole family. She went to work in a coastal city and only came back for Chinese New Year, during which she would rain verbal abuse down on my father, feeling contempt for him, and believing that his physical illness was a form of retribution.  

There are a lot of people who don't get divorced in China because they are afraid of affecting their children's studies [as divorced is politically stigmatized and counts against applicants to university]. As soon as I got my admission confirmation letter from my university, I took them down to the local police station to get them a divorce. My dad was reluctant at first, but there wasn't anything he could do ... I was able to take charge, because I had grown up.

RFA: Do you think it's possible to break that kind of cycle in your family of origin?

Rocky: The same life gets repeated over and over in rural China, from generation to generation. My father behaved the way my grandfather did. What's needed is more cultivation and some kind of will to better oneself, some kind of self-awareness. I work very hard in that area.

My mother always had high expectations for me. She wanted me to go to university, to be financially independent, and to be able to hold my head high in our village. That's exactly what I did. There were more than 40 kids of my age in our village, but in the end only three got into universities, and I got into the best school.

RFA: How did the chained woman of Feng county, Xuzhou affect you?

Rocky: Firstly, that incident in Xuzhou brought back memories, and secondly, it shocked me a little bit. I thought this kind of thing didn't happen any more, or if it did, it wouldn't be quite so extreme. I feel I should speak out about it. I used to feel a sense of family shame, but not any more. If I talk about it, more people will know about it, because a lot of people don't even believe this stuff happens.

RFA: You said that you see trafficking as a collective evil. Why is that?

Rocky: In the final analysis, the collective evil stems from the government and the Chinese Communist Party. They disregard human rights. Not just 20 or 30 years ago, but also today. When the regime ignores human rights to that extent, then ordinary Chinese citizens become indifferent to the misfortune of others.

Do you think my mother dared to call the police at that time? She didn't even think about it. Can you imagine feeling that kind of despair? In the mindset of that generation in China, it never occurs to them to call the police, even if they're being beaten to death. The government has bullied them their whole lives, and the law never finds them at fault. If it was just individuals doing it, there might be some hope of changing things, but when there are a dozen people involved, they have nothing to fear.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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