The following is a translation of an essay written by veteran Hong Kong journalist Luqiu Luwei (闾丘露薇) late last month for Southern Metropolis Weekly, a magazine published by Guangzhou’s Southern Metropolis Daily. The essay, framed as an end-of-year letter written to Luqiu’s teenage daughter, expresses the author’s hopes for her own child and all children in Hong Kong and mainland China.
The essay is indirectly critical of problems in Chinese society, including school bus safety (which has recently gotten more attention in the Chinese media), food safety and recent cases of sexual exploitation of children by government officials. The essay also makes indirect reference to the annual commemoration of June 4 at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park.
The following translation is based on the full version posted by Luqiu Luwei to her Tencent blog.
“A Letter to My Daughter at the Close of 2011“
By Luqiu Luwei (闾丘露薇)
December 31, 2011
My beloved Fan Fan,
I’m sorry that this is the first time I’ve written you a letter. It’s true we have many opportunities to talk to each other. I listen to you talk about things at school. I listen to you talk about the music you like, and your favorite movie stars. From time to time I offer suggestions to you — most often, of course, reminding you to do your homework and push you to be more diligent in your studies.
But sometimes there are certain things I don’t know quite how to talk about with you, things I hope you’ll spend more time thinking about. Perhaps it’s because these things are too solemn, and because I don’t know quite how to begin. Of course, the chief reason is really that I don’t feel overly concerned. Just like I’m not too worried about it when I learn that your test results aren’t so great. I always feel the best way is to let you figure things out for yourself.
I think of the way you told me recently that you learned how to leap the Great Firewall (翻墙) — because you couldn’t stand it anymore, the way that as soon as you crossed over the river to Shenzhen you couldn’t watch your favorite online videos or chat with your friends. But you studied up and took matters into your own hands, doing your little bit to change the situation and live the kind of life you want.
During summertime last year we went to Victoria Park. And even though all along you kept your head down and buried in the mobile phone of yours, I knew that you actually did hear what my friends and I talked about. I know in fact that you patiently listened to me as I related in detail certain historical episodes [NOTE: The author is referring here to June 4, 1989. The event is the annual commemoration of June Fourth at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park]. I think that you and those other kids your age who were there with their moms and dads probably all understand quite well why we drag you there every year. You are fortunate, because you at least have the luxury of some impression and recollection [of this history], and you won’t remain utterly ignorant of our history.
Do you know how fortunate you are? When I was writing [recently] about what had to be done to ensure that school buses were safe, the thing I thought of in the very first instant was of course you. Because as a working mom I understand only too well how hard it is to care for a child and work at a career. If the society one lives in offers many conveniences and also helps keep us safe, our quality of life benefits substantially. But do you know that like school buses that in your eyes are never a problem are a big, big problem in many places in China? This problem has actually existed for a long time. The media have reported on it every year, and every year children are killed or injured because of school bus safety problems. But the government never paid any attention to this problem, up until a school bus tragedy in Gansu this year killed 21 people. Only after that did the government finally begin to recognize that the best way is to use the law to build the [right] system [to ensure safety]. This was of course progress, even if it came far too late. But then more problems have emerged in this process, like parents discovering that they no longer have access to school buses at all.
Every time we go to mainland China you hear me talk angrily with other adults about problems like food safety. We are always reminding you to be extremely careful with all of those mainland foods, worrying ourselves sick about your health and well-being. Do you realize again just how fortunate you are that we have the means to pay more for our food, buying a bit of piece of mind? But there are many more people who don’t have such a choice. A few days back I was reporting from the outskirts of Hangzhou. My colleagues and I were really hungry, but we didn’t dare buy breakfast at a street-side stall, no matter how steaming hot and fragrant it seemed. At the time in fact I was shaken with this feeling of guilt. While I chose to spurn these cheap foods, I knew that was what the vast majority of people ate every single day. When we enjoy such privileges, shouldn’t we think more about how we can ensure that these privileges become rights that every single person can enjoy?
You’re already a teenage girl, Fan Fan. And for this reason I know that every time you see news reports about girls about your age who have been raped or sexually exploited by officials or government functionaries in mainland China you feel a certain gloom you find it hard to talk about. The way I see it, there is nothing at all to discuss on this issue. The sexual exploitation of a minor is a criminal offense, and the issue of whether or not the child involved was a willing participant does not enter the equation — because kids as young as you don’t yet have the full capacity for independent decision-making, and the responsibility for looking after you lies with society and with your family. But unfortunately the real outcome [in China] of what I see as an issue not even admitting discussion was quite the opposite of what I would have expected. This caused me to feel that safety was lacking on yet another front in this society [in mainland China].
Every time I go to the mainland, people around me feel they must remind me to keep a careful eye on my things. And if you were to go over to Shenzhen on your own I would worry constantly about whether you might cross paths with some unsavory person. [This society], whether by design or by accident, gives rise to so many pressures and concerns in people’s hearts. I often ask myself how things could get this way. Actually, it’s not just that I lack trust in this society. It’s more that I worry law enforcement authorities aren’t reliable. I wouldn’t know where to turn for help, or whether if I sought help I would actually get it.
I know you don’t really take these concerns to heart, because you’re still young. That’s a good thing of course, because if you worry too much and are too much on your guard you’ll lose all innocence and belief in the goodness of human nature. It’s also for this reason that I’m often conflicted inside. I still remember that time we went to the World Expo in Shanghai. There were so many people queuing up for refreshments, and you and your friends kept getting pushed to the back. I had to teach you how to protect yourselves. At the same time, watching you with mainland friends of your age, who were so capable in certain areas of their studies and so ambitious, I even found myself worrying about your prospects. What if the society of the future was like that, naked competition trumping all else and no diversity of choices — would you be seen by society as a failure? I didn’t know whether you were prepared to deal with such a world.
Ultimately, though, you are very fortunate to have more choices than so many other people. I only hope that you have interests of your own, that you have the ability to make your own way. I hope that you’ll be a decent person, that if you see little Yue Yue lying on the street you’ll have the sense to notify the police immediately, that when you see an injustice or feel that you’ve been treated unjustly, you won’t be afraid to stand up and speak out.
In Hong Kong in the future, maintaining a life of simplicity and dignity won’t be a problem.
My expectations aren’t so high — for you, or for this society. I only hope that other children who are less fortunate than you will be able to grow up in a society that allows them to feel a sense of happiness. That’s all. I use this phrase ‘sense of happiness’ because the external world can only create the necessary conditions for happiness, but happiness is something that emerges from the heart of each person. If this society does not destroy the capacity for people to feel a sense of happiness, then there is still hope.
I’m always reminding myself that I shouldn’t underestimate kids. Recently, in particular, I’ve seen quite a few essays written by high school students that have reaffirmed this for me. We adults always make the mistake of thinking there are things you young people can’t understand. I know actually that in your hearts you and others your age understand very well.
I hope this letter is just a beginning.
Your loving mother