The Killing of a Baby Girl

Yuan Changming

© Copyright 2023 by Yuan Changming


Photo by Minnie Zhou on Unsplash
Photo by Minnie Zhou on Unsplash

On a hot evening, the Wangs drowned their newborn daughter in a wooden basin, saying that they already had two sons to bring up. In the wee hours of the night before a mid-moon festival, the infant girl in the Song family was suffocated to death while sleeping with her grandparents. Afterwards, the old couple didn’t even bother to give a reason for this tragic accident. In Lotus Flower Village, such killing was something taken for granted since time immemorial, though it was not really the order of the day.

Needless to say, there were other similar incidents in the village’s recent history. One particularly heart-wrenching case was about a young father called Zheng who’d died of some unknown disease several years before. The day after his simple funeral, his sick wife and two young daughters committed a family suicide by drinking poison together, presumably because they could hardly survive with no manpower to produce anything in the field to support themselves, nor did they have any chance of retaining their cottage and land. According to the tradition, a man’s properties could be inherited only by his closest male relative.

Another event, which sounded much more uplifting to villages, took place when the kind-hearted Lis went out of their way to prevent their neighbor from murdering their own third daughter. For this good deed they had performed, the couple was miraculously rewarded when the fiftyish women became pregnant for the first time and gave birth to a perfectly healthy son weighing as much as eight jin [half a kilogram].

While Baichuan understood why other people ill-treated and even killed their baby girls deliberately or otherwise, he found it unthinkable that his new wife was particularly mean to his only daughter from his first wife, who’d died in childbirth. As a step mother, his second wife really should take good care of his daughter. For one thing, she was incapable of producing a child of her own, and this could be the best traditional reason for him to issue her a bill of divorce. Furthermore, she seemed to love him quite a lot though he was not her own choice. Last but not least, his two-year-young daughter was an impeccable girl, pretty, smart and meek.

Baichuan had certainly tried hard to gain an insight into the situation. The only explanation he got was her “natural dislike” for any child, be it a boy or girl. Fortunately, after a long heart-to-heart talk, she promised to learn to treat his daughter well.

For the few months that followed immediately, she did live up to her word, keeping the little girl as warm as full every day, combing her hair tidy and neat in the morning, and washing her clean before putting her comfortably into her cot for the night. Everything seemed to go well until the day his mother left the house for a visit to her relatives in Jieheshi, a hilly village about fifteen li [half a kilometer] away.

It was a rainy evening. Baichuan’s wife was trying to feed the girl with a bowl of rice fried with lard and eggs, but probably because the girl had somehow lost her appetite or didn’t feel well, she refused to eat even a single grain. After a few attempts, the wife got so frustrated she began to yell at her when Baichuan returned from the rice fields. Seeing his young daughter irascibly irritated, he became furious and knocked down the bowl from his wife’s hand.

“Why forcing her like this?” he asked aloud.

“The food is simply so good,” she explained.

Hearing this, Baichuan was prepared to excuse his wife when he noted all their chickens lying motionless on the ground.

“What happened?” he asked in an alarming tone.

“Beats me,” answered his wife. “Maybe they’re dying of some disease.”

It might well be the case, he thought, since fowl plague was very common, especially at this time of the year. But when he saw his dog twitching violently right after eating the rice left over beside his chair, he became aware of something horrible that had been going on behind his back. It was not until this moment that he started to associate the deaths with his wife’s murderous attempt on his daughter.

“Why, why do you want to poison my daughter? You evil bitch, you such a wicked cold-blooded step-mother!” he roared.

Instead of defending herself or providing an explanation, his wife just remained speechless, which made him believe that she’d been trying to kill his beloved daughter.

Without another word, Baichuan wrote a bill of divorce and resolutely drove his wife out of his home. The only thing he felt somewhat regretful about later was his failure to find her true motivation. As he saw it, her effort to murder his baby at the cost of her own happiness made no sense at all.

But throughout his long life, he never got an answer. It was many decades later when his baby girl became a grandma that his granddaughter got an explanation from her secret soulmate, a western-trained sociologist.

“Killing a baby girl might well be an act of revenge on the part of your ex-step-grandma,” Ming suggested to Hua.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s just my guesswork, but she herself must have been a victim of female infanticide in a sense. By abusing or trying to kill your mother, she probably intended to come to terms with her own tragic experiences. Like the old saying goes, ‘A submissive daughter-in-law will one day become a domineering mother-in-law.’”

“You’re saying she was almost killed when she’s a baby girl herself? It sounds quite far-fetched to me, though.”

 “Once the oppressed become the oppressor, they’ll take their turn and act like a true tyrant, so to speak.”

“Might be true in my ex-step-grandma’s case.”

“No matter what, thanks to your mother’s refusal to eat the rice, I can now enjoy you as my richest meal.”


This story is inspired by Helena Qi Hong (祁红).

Yuan Changming edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Yuan in Vancouver. Credits include 12 Pushcart nominations for poetry and 2 for fiction besides appearances in Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17), BestNewPoemsOnline and 2019 other literary outlets worldwide. A poetry judge for Canada's 2021 National Magazine Awards, Yuan began writing and publishing fiction in 2022.  

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