Saturday July 13, 2002
Xinran Hue was 42 years old before she hugged her mother for the first time. The woman who pioneered Chinas first radio agony-aunt programme says, My mothers face went very red and she said Oh no, please don't. I'm not used to it. Xinran explains that in China until the late 1980s, when the Cultural Revolution was finished and the political ice began to melt,touching or hugging could lead to criticism or imprisonment. Sex was seen as a defining characteristic of delinquent behaviour.
Her programme, Words on the Night Breeze, which began in 1989, enabled people who had grown up with the Cultural Revolution to discuss such personal matters openly for the first time.
She says Chinese women had always thought their lives should be full of misery. Many had no idea what happiness was, other than having a son for the family. That was happiness, because it kept the family tree going. You have to understand that emotions and ideals such as happiness or equality are luxuries for the poor. First they want clean water and electricity; then washing machines and fridges; after that its time for happiness. Listening to me, they discovered the possibility of another kind of life and began to question themselves, Why don't I have that?
In starting the programme the question that obsessed her was:what is a womans life really worth in China? Two generations had grown up in complete sexual ignorance, with all their natural instincts in confusion. Foot-binding was still a recent memory, yet women lived and worked alongside men, supposedly treated as their equals. It needed much persuasion and many meetings before her bosses at Henan Broadcasting, in east central China,agreed to let her tell real stories from real people. Once the programme was launched, tens of thousands listeners wrote to her. Every evening between 10pm and midnight she broadcast their stories, creating for the first time a true picture of the daily lives of Chinese women. An English friend said of her,Ive never known anyone who could listen so hard! and Xinran listened as the past poured through her headphones. Nothing like this had been heard before - tales of incest, child abuse and neglect, forced marriage, rape - the deep sorrows hidden beneath Chinese womens apparently stoical exterior. They had learned to be submissive and complicit or just blind themselves to these matters, and for a long time there had been a great silence. After decades of propaganda, the audience was hearing the truth about themselves.
Within a short time Xinran - by now in her mid 30s - had becomea highly-paid and successful media figure, famous for her courage and compassion. She was made director of programme development and planning, responsible for the future strategy of the whole broadcasting station, but she still chafed against state authority and the insidious self-censorship it imposed: In China I was working in the gap between two walls...one side was the Communist Party and the other side was my own soul. I began to find the burden overwhelming. Five years ago, in the summer of 1997, she left China in search of freedom. She entrusted her 10-year-old son Panpan to her parents and came to London by herself, with little English, and weighed down by the suffering in her own and her country's past.
After two years, and by now reunited with her son, Xinran wrotedown some of the stories she had heard. They became a book called The Good Women of China. It reflects her belief in the importance of emotional life - a reaction to having had her own so long repressed. Her mission according to Rebecca Carter who edited the book, is to make the Chinese more able to speak about things. The whole book is about the fact that people had to be very guarded because they had to be. Theres a big difference between what you can publish outside China and in it and Xinran very much wants this book to be published in China.(It has just been bought by Shanghai Joint Publishing House.) Esther Tyldesley who translated it says, Our current idea of China is terribly homogenous, based on the Wild Swans model, but intellectuals from good families are not typical - the peasants are typical and Xinran has talked to them, so her book offers a much broader canvas.
(Click on the link to read more Of Xinran's story)
by Angela Lambert