From the Time Capsule: The Making of a Chinese Nun, circa 1917.

From the Time Capsule: The Making of a Chinese Nun, circa 1917. November 9, 2010

Here is something I stumbled upon recently. It’s from the year 1917, when even in the United States women didn’t have the right to vote yet. I have been to many places in the world, and although as a culture we Americans like to think we have really come “a long way” and solved all the major problems, many of the women of the world still live in the way this young Chinese Catholic nun describes. Tell us a story Father Truarrizaga.

The Making Of A Chinese Nun by Rev. J. M. Truarrizaga, O.F.M.

The roads by which Chinese girls reach Christianity are often devious and full of danger. But not only do many of the rescued and converted children become fervent Catholics, but a few of them choose the religious life. Sad, indeed, is the early history of Shensi’s native nun, but a special Providence protected her and she is now safe among the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.–J.M.T.

Among the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary in Shensi, is a native Chinese Sister. Not long ago she told me the touching story of her life and the means taken by her Divine Master to lead her to the cloister. I am sure the tale is worth repeating for the benefit of those interested in foreign mission work and its development among pagan women.

“My memory,” said this nun,

carries me back to the age of about four years. I was the only daughter of pagan parents. My father showed considerable affection for me, but my mother, on the contrary, seemed wholly lacking in the natural love of a parent.Over and over again I heard her say that I was a nuisance in the house, and that she had almost decided to kill me.

I never asked for a piece of bread or a drink of tea that a torrent of abuse was not heaped upon me. My mother was, in fact, an instrument of torture, for I felt she was quite capable of carrying out her threats. Nevertheless, I did not hate her, but bestowed upon her as much affection as she would permit.

This recital of our good Sister would be incomprehensible if we were not familiar with the attitude of parents in China toward female children. The social and moral status of women in the Celestial Empire is very low, and the advent of a girl baby brings sorrow and disgust to the family.

The pagan Chinese mother makes countless sacrifices to her gods that her children may belong to the all-powerful male sex and thus add a little to her own prestige. When the newborn proves to be a girl, great is her humiliation and sad, indeed, is the reception accorded to the little stranger.

A Chinese writer has put these words into the mouth of a mother who has given birth to a baby girl,

Poor little one, you are destined to suffer the greatest humiliation and the most painful slavery as a child, as a girl and as a woman. Death alone, which releases you from the world, will bring you happiness.

Such is the position of the woman in China!

Continuing her sad history the nun said:

One day I fell asleep near my mother. I awoke to find myself in the arms of a stranger and being carried out of the house. We proceeded along unfamiliar roads and I soon began to scream with terror as I realized that I was leaving my home with this unknown person. The stranger tried to hush my outcry by telling me that I had been sold to him and that I was henceforth to live in his family.

About midnight we arrived at my new home where two women and three boys awaited us. I had been designed as the future wife of one of the boys. At first this family treated me with sufficient kindness, but I was never happy and my discontent soon brought cruel treatment upon my head. Often I was beaten. Sometimes I was tied hand and foot and hung head downward. My sufferings were unspeakable.

The experience related by our friend, is the common one in most Chinese provinces, and especially in Shensi. As soon as possible the parents of a girl find a purchaser for her and the family of the prospective husband adopts the child until she arrives at the age when the pagan form of marriage can take place.

Of course the poor Chinese maidens have no choice in their husbands; often they are little more than infants when the exchange is made, and their period of servitude begins.

It must be explained that Christian Chinese girls are not subjected to this custom. They enter their new home in full possession of their rights, and their status in the family is more on a level with that of their European sisters. They have not yet reached the point where they may always make a free choice of their life-partners, but that great privilege will doubtless come with time.

“As for me,” continued the nun,

I wept continually, and mourned daily for my old home. I often thought of running away, but I did not know the district and feared to lose my way. One day I went with the two women to pick cotton in a field not far from the house. We had not been there long when the women, leaving me to do the work, went off to chat with some of their acquaintances. Suddenly the desire to escape became too strong to resist.

I began to run as fast as my two little feet would carry me, and never stopped until I was utterly overcome with fatigue. Soon night came on and I thought of the wolves and other dreadful beasts of prey that might be prowling near. Fear lent me new strength, and on I sped again, until at last the lights of a village appeared in the distance. I hurried toward them only to discover that the town lay on the other side of a river.

I called out in the darkness but no one heard me. Near midnight I caught the sound of a horse’s hoofs, and presently a man appeared on horseback. He stopped in surprise on seeing me, and asked where I had come from and what I was doing there alone. Quickly I told him of my plight—that I had traveled all day without eating and that I was now afraid to be devoured by wolves. The good man drew some bread and meat from his wallet and gave me a generous portion. Then he took off his cloak and wrapped it about me.

‘Have no more fear, little one,’ said he, I live not far from here, and I will find you a good mother, and I myself will be your father.’ I was not at all afraid of this new acquaintance and gladly accompanied him on his way. Daylight brought us to a large house, and my good friend on entering was greeted with great affection by the women present.

‘See,’ said he to them, I have brought you a little gift—a new daughter whom you must cherish, and of whom you must make a good Christian.’ The women smiled and said they hoped I would be quite happy among them, and my benefactor departed, leaving me to become acquainted with my suddenly acquired friends.

Of course it is needless to explain that my guardian was a Catholic missionary, and that the women were members of a religious order whose work it was to care for neglected Chinese children. Every three or four days the good priest came to see how I was getting on and I proudly displayed the progress I had made in learning something about the Christian religion. After a few months study I received the sacrament of baptism.

For four years I remained in this shelter, during which time I was perfectly happy. And why should I not have been? I had a kind mother, a dear father and many companions of my own age.” Father Athanase, for that was the name of the missionary who had rescued me, had other children under his care, at least a hundred little girls whom he had snatched from the misery of their pagan surroundings, but I think he loved me better than any. Why this was so I do not know, for surely my merit was not greater than the others, but such seemed to be the case.

Often I thought of my parents and I longed for their conversion but they would not accept the Light and died pagans. As for myself, I can never sufficiently thank the Divine Providence that led me to become not only a Christian but a religious in the Institute of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.

So ended the recital of this Chinese nun, and as director of the orphan asylum for several years, during which time I had opportunity to watch the development of the gentle child, I can attest to her unusual docility and generosity of spirit. She was an example to the other orphans and her religious devotion was most edifying.

The majority of the orphans were destined for matrimony, in which state, as pious wives and mothers, they would institute Christian families and help to propagate Catholicity in China. But this little girl declared she would never marry; as a holy virgin she desired to remain in the orphan asylum and care for the children, or perform whatever tasks might be required of her by her superiors.

She has just taken the final vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and let us pray that this new daughter of St. Francis, who tasted such a bitter cup of sorrow in her childhood days may find the peace that is accorded to those who choose the higher life, and become a model for many of her sisters.

As we kneel around the Crib of the Infant Saviour, let us not forget to say a fervent prayer for the missionary priests and Sisters in distant lands.

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