my chinese roots

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI cannot begin to tell you how relieved I am that my second year in graduate school has just ended!  I’m now taking full advantage of some R & R. Over the summer, I plan to catch up on some reading. Before I explain more, I wanted to go back to my last post, “what’s in a name?“. I completed the paperwork to legally change my middle name to my given birth name, Hsiao-ling; however, upon filing the paperwork at the court, I was informed of a $340 fee attached to the process. I didn’t expect the fee to be so costly and will have to wait to finish this process at a later time. It’s truly disappointing.

Anyhow, I’m embarking on another small adventure. When I first learned about my true identity, I experienced many mixed emotions- shock, surprise, elation but I was also very confused. I know that my birthparents lived in Guangxi (广西), which is situated in the southern part of China. I don’t know when they moved to Taiwan, but know that I was born in Taipei in August 1966, the same month and year that China’s Communist leader, Mao Zedong, launched what became known as the Cultural Revolution. I also know that my birth father served in the military, but do not know to what capacity. I have so many questions, but the path to my past brings up very painful memories for my biological sisters. I am thankful for what my eldest sister was willing to share with me.

ghost brideI decided to take on a reading challenge and am reading books written by Chinese and Taiwanese authors, fiction and non-fiction, or books that depict Chinese culture or history over the summer. Although I was born in Taiwan, my birthparents were originally from China. I just finished reading “The Ghost Bride” by Yangsze Choo. I loved the story – it is a work of fiction with elements of fantasy, folklore, and Chinese culture that I very much enjoyed reading. I learned about some of the superstitions and beliefs in Chinese folklore, especially in regards to the “afterlife” and honoring one’s ancestors. I found it overall to be a very fun and entertaining read. Currently I’m reading “Peony in Love” by Lisa See. See is not a Chinese author, however her works often describe some period of Chinese history and culture. The story is based on actual historical events and goes back to seventeenth-century China after the Manchus seize power and the end of the Ming dynasty. I cannot imagine living under such oppressive conditions for women, who basically had no rights.

good womenI’m concurrently reading “The Good Women of China: hidden voices” by Xinran. Xinran is a Chinese journalist/writer. In the book, she captures through oral histories the voices of several Chinese women, all anynomous, who lived during decades of civil strife in a painfully restrictive society. It is an incredibly moving book. The stories shared by these women with Xinran are heartbreaking. I chose to read this book in order to understand how things may have been for my birth mother, who also suffered many hardships. She lived in China most of her life. I hope to gain a better understanding of what life may have been like for her. Perhaps her story could have been one included in Xinran’s book, but I couldn’t be sure.

The other books that I hope to read over the summer include, “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love” also by Xinran; “When Huai Flowers Bloom: Stories of the Cultural Revolution” by Shu Jiang Lu; “A Dictionary of Maqiao” by Han Shaogong; “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress” by Dai Sijie; “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Chang Jung, and “The Third Son” by Julie Wu, a Taiwanese American author. I don’t know if I’ll get to all of them, but I’m going to try. I’m sure that there are many other Taiwanese authors whom I don’t know of but have written wonderful books. Grace Lin has written several children’s books, one of which I purchased awhile back but have not yet read, “Dumpling Days.”

My roots go back to China where my birthfamily first lived. I don’t know our complete family history, but I think that their move to Taiwan was not under favorable conditions. And I know that their lives in Taiwan were extremely difficult. By summer’s end, I hope to understand a little more about Chinese culture and indirectly about my own biological family or at least what China was like when my birthparents were in their youth. Sadly, I will not be able to travel to Taiwan this year with my own family as I’d planned to visit my sisters and extended family. There’s always 2015 – I do hope I can go back to see my family in Taiwan then. Until then, I will strive to learn more about my origins through reading and research.

12 thoughts on “my chinese roots

  1. Suzy

    Thank you for sharing your book list. I have read Peony in Love, however have enjoyed other Lisa See novels more so. We just returned home from Taiwan 2 weeks ago with our now complete family. We brought our son home after a long, long wait. If you would like my blog address drop me a note and let me know 🙂 I always enjoy reading your posts. I also know Tien very very well 🙂

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    1. Mj Post author

      Hi Suzy, thanks so much for visiting! Peony in Love is a little slow – I’m hoping it picks up soon. I look forward to reading Lisa See’s other books. I’m very happy for you and your family! It sounds like you’ve all had a very exciting adventure. Yes, please send me your blog address. I’d love to read your blog. It seems like Tien is very well known by adoptive families. I miss being in touch with her, but know she’s a busy lady. Take care and best wishes to you and your family! Mj

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  2. Sofia // Papaya Pieces

    Isn’t it amazingly annoying how bureaucracy can get in the way with matters of the heart, make us pay fees and do endless paperwork. It’s wonderful how you want to reclaim your name and learning all about your biological family and their background. Best of luck for travelling there in 2015. xx

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    1. Mj Post author

      Hi Sofia, thanks so much for visiting! Yes, it is extremely annoying that bureaucracy makes it difficult to do what seems like such a simple thing compared to other legal procedures. I mean, really! I also printed out all of the paperwork double-sided, which the court would not accept – apparently saving paper is not very important to the legal system here. Well, it’s a bump in the road, but I’ll get there eventually. Take care!

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  3. Morgan Ev (@MorganinAsia)

    I love Xinran’s books–so evocative and beautiful. Hard to read, but important books. Wild Swans is an amazing book as well. I also recommend Lisa See’s more recent books, Shanghai Girls and its companion, Dreams of Joy. Dreams of Joy deals with the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
    Sorry you’re not going to make it to Taiwan this year. I know several adoptive families (including ours!) who would love to meet you when you do make a visit here. All the best.

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    1. Mj Post author

      Hi Morgan, thanks so much for stopping by! I am very much enjoying Xinran’s book, although you are very right when you say that it’s hard to read. It is such an important work. I will definitely get around to reading Lisa See’s other books – the ones you have recommended. It’s just so nice to have the time to read whatever I want now that the school year has ended!

      I am very bummed that I won’t be able to travel to Taiwan this year as we’d planned. Car repairs and dance related expenses (our daughter dances competitively) have made it difficult for us to make the trip. I would LOVE to meet you and the other adoptive families there in Taiwan and will make it a point on my next visit! Take care and the best to you and your family! Mj

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  4. anewmoon123

    Mj, I enjoyed your latest post. As I read I had a thought to share with you. Have you ever thought of creating a shrine in your home to honor your family, your life, your history?

    P.S. The cost to change your name is entirely too expensive!!! Come to Texas, we can do it much less costly. 🙂

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    1. Mj Post author

      Hi Carol! Thanks for stopping by to read my latest post 🙂 You know, I haven’t even framed by birth parents pictures since returning from Taiwan over 2 years ago, but I keep them in a special box along with some other things that I kept from my visit there. I take the pictures out and look at them often. I have thought about framing them and displaying them somewhere in our home, but something has always stopped me – I’m not sure what. Isn’t that interesting?? You have given me the nudge to move forward though and frame those pictures. I have only showed the pictures to my own family and a few very close friends. I think that I wanted to protect the privacy of my biological sisters in Taiwan, so I will never post them publicly, but here at home is a different matter!

      Yes, I would come to TX in a heartbeat to get that darn paperwork done in order to legally change my name! It is completely ridiculous to charge such an expensive fee. Very frustrating. But, once I start working and save up some money, it will be one of the first things that I do! Mj

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  5. Mj Post author

    Jean, so nice to hear from you! Thanks for visiting, as always, and for your comments. I would like to include my new name very much. I’m not sure if it’s appropriate to include it while it is not yet legally changed, but might anyway! I will check out the link you provided. Looking forward to reading about your journey!

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