Like many of the children in Syria – some as young as her age – seven-year-old Yi Miao Miao is working to supplement family resources in a poverty-stricken village in Yichang, Central China’s Hubei province. But unlike most children in war-torn Syria, she is not skipping school. She gets to do both.
It is interesting to see how Miao Miao holds the broom and sort of leans unto it almost like a crutch in sweeping the dirt road to her threadbare home as recently featured in <em>China Daily</em>. It reminds me so much of my childhood growing up in a remote Chinese village.
Upon arriving home every day from school on the back of my mother’s bike, I would refuse to eat the lovely dessert she had waiting for me on the dining table. My priority, as I vehemently explained to her, was to make a contribution to our fatherless household before I would qualify myself to claim any reward. Unusual as it seemed at the time, my strict mother ended up letting me do it my way. I suppose it was not that I got any decent cleaning done, but that it afforded me the opportunity as a kindergartener to practice the principle of filial piety, or xiao (孝). It is all about a child’s sense of duty and honor towards one’s parents and forefathers and that of a citizen toward one’s country.
As is sometimes the case with western interpretation of Chinese concepts, this one too could be lost in translation if a parallel did not exist in a more familiar cultural setting. But if one can relate to President John F. Kennedy’s signature plea “<em>Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country</em>,” then the way “xiao” has served as a moral compass for centuries-old China will start to make sense, even to an American. The Confucian tradition maintains that “xiao” is a special birthright-like privilege that points our thoughts and actions toward what we can do to honor our parents rather than what to expect from them. This understanding is particularly critical for the survival of the family unit under extreme conditions where sacrifice is not just an option. Indeed, it is during hard times that “xiao” really shines.
Such is the case with Miao Miao. Parentless, the first-grader has taken up the role of both son and daughter-in-law in caring for her mentally disabled and sickly paternal grandparents. Her mother abandoned the family and simply went missing after her father was killed in a traffic accident. What really took my breath away, among all else that the child so willingly and readily does for her family, was her expressed aspiration of growing up to be “a big tree” in giving the gift of shade to others, noting that her name Miao Miao means “the little seedling”. Like Chinese proverbs in general, the one Miao Miao’s great example has inspired me to create in her honor speaks of a causal relationship – as the seedling wills it, so will the tree become, or <em>miao pan shu cheng</em> (苗盼树成).
As for other children of the world who have to grow up in a hurry due to dire circumstances beyond their control, whether in a war-torn nation or home, may they come to recognize the blessings of their afflictions.
Read more about Miao Miao at <a href=”http://m.chinadaily.com.cn/en/2016-02/24/content_23621828.htm” target=”_blank”>http://m.chinadaily.com.cn/en/2016-02/24/content_23621828.htm</a>
<p align=”justify”><span style=”color: #000000;”><span>© Copyright 2016 Little Bloomsbury Studios, LLC. All rights reserved.</span></span>