Ceramic and glass sculpture ….
The Ghost Children of China
There are many people and many places in China that I love. In About 1980-81, I was lucky to adopt and to have been adopted by a Chinese family from Taiwan and two teenage siblings came to live at our house with our own two kids; that relationship continues to be treasured.
I also am lucky enough to have a Chinese sister, Kuomei, whom I originally met in 1995. When her school in Tangshan, China wanted a sister school in Canada, my school became that school and she and I developed the connection.
In 1996, I was invited by Queen’s University to assist a Chinese student from Hunan Province who was engaged in his Master’s of Education Degree in Canada. That grand international project projected my husband and I into additional learning channels in the Far East.
In 2013, my husband and I were adopted again by another Chinese/Belgian family who worked and taught animation at Lu Xun Academy of Fine Arts when my husband took a job a Deputy Principal of the Boys’ Campus at a Chinese-Canadian International School in Jinshitan, N. E. China; in turn, we adopted Ling and Wouter and I became a new Grandma for their two young boys. In our lifetime, such connections have brought us great joy and much learning. Because of those and several other singular connections, we have a great many Chinese children and grandchildren amongst our Canadian family.
When my friend, Bindu, asked me to demo making some sort of sculpture with clay, without much thought, I said, “Sure! However, when I started throwing together clay images of my times living in China on and off between 1999 and 2014, I felt no magical inspiration driving the process. It was like making muffins and leaving out key ingredients. Clay muffins without spicing was just a pile of muddy lumps. I needed to feel some passion!
Coincidentally, a few days after starting this sculpture, while it was still sitting in my basement workshop wrapped in plastic, I discovered an article about The Ghost Children of China in The Globe And Mail. I thought about so many of my Chinese friends and how many children they had. I thought about my Chinese neighbours’ children who waved to me from their balconies and how many of them were the only child of their parents. I thought about Kuomei and Lao Wang and their only son, Youyou. Then I thought about my friend, Ling, and her two boys, one of whom was born in Belgium. Ling had three brothers, however, and she was the fourth child, just slightly younger than my own daughter. What had her parents gone through to work through the One–child Policy? I had not thought much about ghost children when I was in China and yet there were some all around me.
What about Andrew, the Chinese student whom I had supported at Queen’s University? He, too, had several older brothers back in Hunan Province, and now he had a wife and two little girls! I had never heard a word about his parents’ experiences or his own. I guess that I wasn’t meant to; but the reality made me think. How was/is that policy being managed today?
Before 1980, when the One-child Policy came into being in China, if a young man got married, he brought his bride to his parents’ home to live. Then, as the parents grew old their son and his wife were there to help care for them. But what happened when the One-child Policy came into effect and the first, the only legal child of a couple was a girl. Who would take care of the girl’s old parents then, because when she got married, she would be with her new husband’s family, often, as we experienced, in a far away village.
According to the article in the The Globe, under the One-child Policy, as practical as it might be for the country that houses 25% of the world’s population, a Chinese wife who insists on having a second child provides cause for her family’s life to become intolerable. The village committee of such a woman will send representatives who will try to dissuade her from having the child if she cannot pay an excessive fine that is levied against her. Pressure will build. Enforced abortion may be applied. If not, unaffordable unpaid fines would mean that her new baby would not be registered and therefore, not allowed access to education, medicine, or a pension. A child with no identification would not be allowed to travel far from his or her parent’s house. Such children who have been born in China outside the One-child Policy live in the shadows. They are socially excluded because they do not officially exist. They are the ghost children of China.
I returned to my sculpture and added some colour and glass. The glass took the shape of abstract semi-transparent ghosts hovering over other symbols of China, like a fishing boat or a Chinese rice paddy. A little pearlized air-brush paint helped to enhance the presence of the ghosts across the bumpy structure. Now my sculpture has a focus. It is meaningful to me and is more dramatic. It speaks to a serious issue. My sculpture has a narrative dimension! To me, that’s good!
See THE GLOBE AND MAIL: Social Engineering – The Ghost Children of China
Saturday, March 14, 2015
Dimensions: approx. 16\"x 13\"
Type Of Medium: black clay, glass, variety of glazes, air-brush paint