Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Terracotta Daughters

I have written before about this work by French artist Prune Nourry.  It is coming to New York City in September.

In the continuation of her Holy Daughters project in India, Prune now reflects upon gender preference in China and infiltrates the local culture through the familiar symbol of the Terracotta Soldiers, by creating an army of 116 life-size Terracotta Daughters.
India and China alone represent 1/3 of the world population and both encounter a similar gender imbalance. This sociological phenomenon is due to the preference parents give to having a son. The number of single men has been increasing ever since the 80’s, and the misuse of ultrasounds to select the sex of the child. This leads to disastrous consequences for the situation of women in Asia (kidnappings of children and women, forced marriages, prostitution, population migrations...).

One hundred sixteen statues to represent the thousands - perhaps millions - of Chinese girls abandoned or killed, a silent holocaust.*

A little girl found abandoned and frozen to death in northern China

The Chinese government is making some efforts to discourage the cultural preference for boys, but it is deeply-rooted (and, of course, not limited solely to China).

This public service message is brought to you by... the same government that brought you the One Child Policy

On a related note, I have read recently about the idea that, with donations from abroad, orphans in China could and certainly should be raised there rather than adopted to other countries like the United States.  During her research and preparation for creating the Terracotta Daughters, Nourry worked with an organization, Les Enfants de Madaifu, attempting to do just that:
An abandoned child is usually taken in by a relative, grandparent or uncle if they live in the same village. But the family cannot always afford to feed another mouth, let alone two or three more, if siblings are involved. Giving financial help to families faced with such a predicament to meet the children’s main needs (food, clothing and schooling) makes fostering much easier to cope with. By keeping them in the same village, with their extended families, and giving them the possibility to continue or resume school, the orphanages without walls can give them back confidence, dignity and hope. It can keep them away from the terrible fate that awaits many young villagers who find themselves out on the street.
God bless the people who are trying to help these children.


(*) While gender selection, whether through abandonment, abortion or infanticide, remains a problem in China, a VERY large fraction of "orphaned" children in China are disabled.


  1. What a heartbreaking and disturbing photo. That poor little girl. :( It's so tragic.

    1. It's hard to wrap my head around it. On the one hand, I like to think that I would do anything - including die - for my daughter. On the other hand, I've never been even remotely close to such a drastic contingency (the biggest sacrifice I've had to make is a few hours sleep and sharing my fried dumplings with her... which I don't do with anybody else). So, I have to wonder what went through the mother's mind when she abandoned that little girl. Xinran throws some light on this in her book Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother (a very hard book to read). Was the woman simply "doing" an unwanted daughter, a source of shame to her? Was it a question of literally not being able to afford to feed one more mouth? Or was it more a question of convenience?

      God be between all of us and having to make that kind of decision.