Is This Also a Human Being?

From Marxists-en
Jump to navigation Jump to search

She was born into a peasant family and had neither the privilege of being a lady who could dress in silk and satin and order servants around nor any education about ideas such as the "Three Obediences and Four Virtues" or "Fraternity and Equality." To put it bluntly, she was simply treated as an animal. Not long after her birth, when she started to speak and could walk around, she was already helping her parents to pick up grains of rice left behind in the paddy fields and to find and collect wild vegetables. When she was fifteen, she was married off by her parents. It is supposedly the fate of a woman, and it is better sooner than later—otherwise, her parents will not get a good deal on her because they will have paid more expenses for her food and clothing. On the other hand, it was not so bad for her husband's family to have some extra help in the fields, especially during the busy seasons on the farm. She was not a full farmhand, but she was no less useful than half a cow. In less than a year, she gave birth to a son while knowing next to nothing about the facts of life. She felt as if it was only yesterday that she was sleeping in her mother's arms; but now, most strangely, she herself was holding her own baby in her arms. Her child had no cradle to sleep in, no soft clothing to wear, and no access to sunshine or fresh air. The infant could only sleep in his mother's arms at night and in a dark corner in the house in the daytime. Within six months, her child died; she cried bitterly because she had never felt so heartbroken in her life. Her mother-in-law cursed her for being a bad mother and causing the death of the baby. Her father-in-law blamed her for being an inauspicious woman who was killing off his patriline. Her husband said nothing, except that he would not give a damn about how many of his children would die as long as he kept winning at his gambling. Poor woman! She could only cry by herself all day long, without even trying to understand what all that was about.

One day, when she opened her trunk, she found that the black cotton jackets she brought over as part of her dowry were gone. Only later did her husband confess while drunk that he had pawned her clothing. Winter quickly returned; the cold west wind was bone chilling. She plucked up her courage and begged her husband to buy back her jackets, but only got two slaps on her cheeks. To be slapped on the face was nothing new in her life; the only thing she could do was to cry. That day, she cried again, but her mother-in-law yelled at her: "Crying again? You are certainly going to cry our entire family to death!" Upon hearing that, she cried even more sorrowfully. Enraged by her crying, her mother-in-law picked up the laundry club and hit her hard on her back. Her husband added two more slaps on her face.

Brutally beaten, she began to worry about her future—tomorrow, the day after tomorrow . . . she was scared. The very next morning, before daybreak, she quietly left the house and felt lucky that her husband was not awake. The west wind cut like daggers and her face hurt badly. But she felt that it still felt better than her husband's palms and so she was content. Almost in one breath, she ran about ten miles and did not stop until she came to a riverside. There were passenger boats on the river.

Finally, a boat arrived and she quickly got on. The passengers aboard all seemed to be psychics who could tell instantly why she had run away from home. They told her: "It must be your own fault that you could not get along with your family and that they gave you a hard time. They may have wronged you, but you are a young woman and should learn to tolerate and endure. If you behave so capriciously, you will have a lot more to suffer in the future. Now that you have run away from home, whom are you going to rely on? It is best to return home with this boat." She lowered her head and said nothing about their comments, which drew the attention of some of the other passengers. One of them mocked her, saying: "Who knows what she is up to? Probably, there is another man waiting for her in town." The crowd laughed and jeered. She just turned a deaf ear to them.

She got to town and found a domestic service agency that recommended her for work as a maid in a good family. Thus her new life began. Although she had to work from morning till night, it was not as strenuous as working in the fields. Also, there was no one to scold or beat her. She felt happy, emancipated, and utterly content with the new life, except for the fact that she often missed her dead child at night.

One day, at the market, she ran into a man who happened to be a former neighbor; she was really frightened. In less than three days, the anticipated misfortune occurred: her father-in-law came rushing in and yelled at her: "You ran away, hey! Now I have found you! See where you can hide now. If you are smart, you will follow me home." She was too scared to speak and could only try to hide behind the back of her mistress, overwhelmed by the situation. Her mistress called the father-in-law in and said to him: "Your daughter-in-law is now serving in my house, and her contract has not expired yet. How can I let her go?" Her father-in-law was dumbfounded and could only threaten her by fiercely saying: "Come back home immediately when the contract expires. If you try any monkey business again, we will disown you and sell you anywhere we want. Or better yet, we will simply break your legs."

She was totally terrified by the threat, fearing that this haven here would be soon replaced by hell. Her eyes were swollen with crying; and she lost her appetite and energy. Her master was a sympathetic man; and knowing that, according to the law, it was already possible to get a divorce in those days, he asked her: "Are you willing to divorce your husband?" She replied, "Of course." So her master wrote an appeal on her behalf about her past suffering and her current intentions. The appeal was to be sent to the magistrate, but her mistress said to the husband: "It is indeed a good idea for her to file a divorce; but she may not necessarily work for us all her life. Once she leaves us, and is out of work, what will happen to her? Her natal family should take her back. But can her parents do that?" Her mistress's remarks dampened her master's chivalry, and then the latter simply uttered: "That's right; what can we do?"

A few days later, urged by her father-in-law, her own father came. When her mistress asked him: "Is there any way you can rescue your daughter?" Her father said: "She has married into this family, so her fate is doomed. Any cursing or beating is completely beyond my control. I am here today simply to pass a message from her father-in-law that she should return to her husband." However, under the protection of her mistress, she refused to go back with her father.

Sometime later, her parents-in-law asked one of their neighbors to deliver the message that her husband was seriously ill and needed her to take care of him. As one would expect, she was unwilling to return; so her mistress rejected the request for her. Another four days later, her own father returned to tell her: "Your husband has died. If you still refuse to go back, I would not be able to face all the folks and fellow villagers. You have to come with me!" Though scared and unwilling, she thought to herself, "No one here will support me if I refuse to go home even under these circumstances."

She returned home and was quite saddened to see her dead husband lying stiff on the bed. But then, she thought, "He was the one who cursed and beat me." Her parents-in-law did not bother to ask her to cry and wail, and they did not even bother her with all the mourning rituals. Instead, they sold her to another family for 20,000 copper coins. To her own father and parents-in-law, it was the best and most reasonable thing to do; after all, when the field no longer needs to be cultivated, the cattle should be sold. She was just such a cow—an animal without any thoughts or feelings; when she was no longer of any use, she ought to be sold. And sold she was, to pay off the funeral expense and fulfill her last obligation to her late husband.