A Child Goes Missing

ZRTVC campus - Zhengzhou

Each evening I walk for an hour or two, and some­times one of the stu­dents tags along. This is won­der­ful, since she can bring mean­ing to the blur of Chi­nese street life around us. Yes­ter­day, she pointed out a tragedy that I would have walked right past:

Oppo­site the rail­way col­lege where I teach is a hos­pi­tal. In fact there are eight hos­pi­tals within four blocks. That is room for a lot of pain, and one block away is street which the col­lege stu­dents con­sciously avoid. It is a drab street with some dusty trees, and those non­de­script build­ings of grey crum­bling con­crete which define the back streets of Chi­nese cities all over the coun­try. Those who do call into this street come reluc­tantly and avoid returns, for the busi­ness here is the trin­kets of death: coffins, gar­lands, and the gen­eral clut­ter of items that go with funer­als. The hos­pi­tals offer a steady trade.

The hos­pi­tal oppo­site the rail­way col­lege though is for mater­ni­ties and pedi­atrics, hope com­ing into the world. Accord­ingly, the street around the col­lege has many small shops sell­ing gift bas­kets of fuit, eggs, and expen­sive look­ing boxes cov­ered in shiny red and gold paper. China has a gift giv­ing cul­ture. Along with the gift shops, there are chemists, and out­lets for baby cloth­ing, tinned baby food, pow­dered milk, strollers and so on. There are also restau­rants, per­haps for the expec­tant fathers, and always one or two men hold­ing down huge bunches of mul­ti­coloured bal­loons. Towards one end of the street you can find a whole col­lec­tion of ragged garage shops sell­ing toi­let paper. It is amaz­ing what some peo­ple make a liv­ing out of. The hos­pi­tal itself has a high fence of ornate iron pick­ets, behind and over which graze a small herd of con­crete giraffes. Clearly these poor giraffes became lost on a trek from Africa and were turned to con­crete by ingest­ing the meci­less dust cov­ered diet of cen­tral China’s trees.

Yes­ter­day, along with the con­crete giraffes, the entrance to the hos­pi­tal had some pro­test­ers. Today they are gone, dis­ap­peared, as things hap­pen here. A small col­lec­tion of tear­ful fam­ily mem­bers, the dis­traught mother, the grand­mother, the shat­tered father waited beside their wall poster of red char­ac­ters roughly tied to the iron rail­ing. They had a child the poster said, an infant. They were poor peo­ple, but the doc­tor had told them their child needed to have an oper­a­tion, the sooner the bet­ter. Some­how they raised the money, and on the day of the oper­a­tion waited patiently in the cor­ri­dor as their infant was taken away. Four hours later they were still wait­ing, and no word had come back from the oper­at­ing the­atre. At last, con­sumed with worry, the father had forced his way into the the­atre. The place was deserted. More hours, more eva­sions; some­body told them to go home. At last a reluc­tant offi­cial broke the news that the doc­tor and the baby had van­ished. Now, a week later, no trace could be found of either, the hos­pi­tal claimed. Had the doc­tor killed the baby and gone into hid­ing? Patients die often enough in hos­pi­tals. Was there gross neg­li­gence? Was the baby sold? Human traf­fick­ing is com­mon. Was the hos­pi­tal com­plicit in some ghastly body parts racket? Stuff hap­pens. They are poor peo­ple. No offi­cial is ever going to tell them. This is cen­tral China.

Zhengzhou pregnancy poster

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