Bloodline, Elegy: Su Qijian Family, Beijing

Joyce Carol Oates

In the mud-colored Hai River a swirl of infant-girl bodies.
In the river-trance the infant girls are propelled with the current.
You stare, you blink—she has vanished.
But—here is another, and
soon, another.
How small, how fleeting, of no more consequence than a kitten
an infant girl drowned at birth
before the first breath has been drawn, and expelled—
No crying. We do not shatter the peace of the morning with crying.
See how good we are!

In the mud-river so many, you could not count how many.
Out of the bloody womb the small bodies betray the infant girls,
for they are revealed incomplete between the legs, pitiable
the not-male, the doomed.

We have not been drowned in the Hai River, for we
are of the privileged Su Qijan family. And yet
our dreams are filled with drowning amid the swirl
of infant-girl bodies in the Hai River
sweeping past our home.
We do not want to know how the infant girls are our sisters or our aunts.
We do not want to know how they are us, for (it is said) they are not us, that is all we have been told.
And we did not see these infant-girl bodies in the swirl of the mud-river, for we had not yet been born.

We are the largest family in Beijing. We are very proud to be of the
Su Qijan family of Beijing. We have been chosen for the honor
of meeting you today because we are a perfect family (it is said), for
we have been born and our baby girls not drowned. Bloodline is all, and in our bloodline, it is a marvel, it is a source of great pride, how our mother, our grandmothers, our great-grandmothers had not been thrown into the mud-river to drown but were allowed to live.

So we know, we are blessed! We are very special amid
so many millions drowned in the Hai River as in the great Yangtze
and how many millions perished in the Revolution of no more consequence than infant girls extinguished before they can draw breath or cry.

Especially, we do not cry.
We have never cried.
You will not hear us cry—See how good we are! Even
in the agony of death, our tiny lungs filled with the mud-river.

We of the Su Quijan family have never lamented or mourned,
for our privilege is to have been allowed to be born.
We are alive, there are twenty-nine of us alive and not one
of us has been drowned at birth. So we are blessed, we are of the People’s Republic of China. We are alive.

For some Chinese couples, just one baby was allowed. For some others, more than one baby was allowed. And for some, girl babies were allowed. We do not understand these decrees,
and we do not question.

Bloodline is the very god. Bloodline is the nation.
Bloodline is property of the Office of China State Council Information.

And then in a dream it is revealed—
it is the mothers of our family who drowned our sisters!

Long ago it happened, in those years
before we were born. It was a different China then (it is said),
it is not the same China now. Our beautiful mother
pleads for understanding. All our mothers weep and tear their hair
in shame! They would tear out their eyes that such ugliness
might spare them.

How is it possible, our mothers are those very mothers
who tossed the infant girls into the river to drown . . .
Oh, but it happened long ago. The world was different then.
Shuxia is saying, Junxia is saying, Lixia is saying,
they are not evil. Not one of the women of the Su Qijin family
is evil, they plead with us to understand, and to forgive.
Our babies who are your sisters were torn from our arms,
we could not nurse them, we were forbidden. You see,
we had no choice. We are but
female, we had no choice but to drown our own.

It is China thrumming with its many millions that is alive
that is the marvel. In the distance you see the eye of our god
the China Central Television Tower, rising above the suety Beijing skyline, that is a greater marvel. Rejoice! Our great nation
is the future, and your nation is of the past.

What is the meaning of our lives, we never ask.
The creatures of the hive do not question the hive.
The creatures of the river that do not drown
in the river do not question the river, for the river
has spared them, and that is the blessing. This is the meaning
of all of our lives, and not just Chinese lives.
That we are is the meaning, and that we have been blessed
is the meaning, and that we are not drowned
in the Hai River with our infant sisters is the meaning.

In parting here is our gift to you, our American visitors: a plastic
bag of photographs of Chinese monuments, Chinese citizens, the mud-colored Hai River at dawn when it glitters with light like the scales of a great serpent whose head you cannot see thousands of miles upstream, and whose tail you cannot see thousands of miles downstream, that abides forever.

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