This article is part of a series of stories on moms across China collected by the GlobalMoms Initiative.
Liao Jinshui was born in 1978 and grew up in the village of Lianshui, Guangdong Province. Her father passed away when she was very young, leaving her mother alone to raise six children.
With limited means, the family struggled to afford enough food. Liao recalled the most satisfying meal she ever had was while attending an ancestral ceremony, where her mother took the leftover rice beside the graves and cooked a meal from it. “Other than that, we only ate a little porridge every day.”
Going out and returning home
Due to her family’s lack of resources, Liao dropped out of education after middle school and started working part time in Guangzhou, where she learned wax carving and sold rings.
Liao stayed in Guangzhou until her mother asked her to return home in 2004. “I was around 27 years old then and already considered an ‘old girl’ in our village. My mom said all girls have to get married in their twenties, or no one will want us.”
However, Liao was afraid of getting married because she often witnessed domestic violence in the village. “If my mom didn’t push me, I wouldn’t have thought of going back.”
After returning home, Liao married a middle school classmate. “When looking for a husband, my biggest concern was domestic violence. Luckily, my husband is a kind man. He never hits or scolds me, and he listens to my opinion when we make decisions. Also, his mother works for the women’s federation, and his father is educated.” They got married four months after they met.
Childbirth in a society that prefers sons
Liao’s first child was a daughter. In a society with a strong preference for sons, every family should have a son to “keep the roots”. “I wasn’t worried after my first childbirth because I could bear a second child. However, my husband works for the Family Planning Committee. He said according to the policy, every woman had to receive sterilization surgery after giving birth to the second child, even if the second child was a daughter.”
The policy upset Liao. However, giving birth proved difficult and she blacked out. With the consent of Liao’s husband, the doctor performed the sterilization surgery at the same time as her cesarean.
“When I woke up, my husband told me the sterilization was done, but we had a son! I felt quite lucky. In our village, no matter how rich you are, people will look down on you if you don’t have a son. During the ancestral ceremony, daughters are not even allowed to worship before the graves but only to hide behind the crowd. This is how it feels to be a daughter in our village.”
Parenting was also difficult, as the children were mainly looked after by Liao alone. “Sometimes my parents would help when I did farm work, but my husband never helped, so I taught my children to do housework from an early age. I was afraid no one would want to marry my son if he grew up to be as lazy as his father.”
Making changes for a better life
Liao recalled her most difficult time after childbirth. “My husband spent a lot on gambling and I didn’t have a job. We really had no money and lived a tough life. But I knew everything could get better.”
Around 2018, Liao attended a project run by the Rural Women Development Foundation Guangdong. “It was about gender equality. From that project, I realized I had to make changes. Thanks to my efforts, my husband will now do housework, such as cooking and mopping the floor.”
With the assistance of the foundation, Liao started to sell products via livestreams to supplement her family’s income. “I’ve never been to far-away places such as Shanghai and Chengdu, but with the online shop, I can send my products anywhere.”
Liao felt empowered by her online work. “Many villagers are elderly but had to travel long distances to sell their products. It was inconvenient.” Now Liao can help them sell products online. “I felt more respected by the villagers and have become more confident.”
“My biggest wish now, is that my two children can grow up healthy and happy.”
Article photo: GlobalMoms Initiative