Dear mom, I know you’re so tired, so I got you a mother’s day gift from China: chicken blood
Journalism professor Buck Ryan in Kentucky and English professor Lei Jiao in Wuhan, China, are back to continue cross-cultural understanding through current events – this time a salute to all mothers, single or married, for Happy Mother’s Day!
“Hi, Lei. Happy Mother’s Day!”
“Sorry, Bouc. Wait a second.
“I was a bit distracted. I’m stuck in traffic, taking Ruby back to school. What did you say?”
“I just wanted to wish you a Happy Mother’s Day.”
“That’s so sweet, Buck. But I am not your mother.
“Well, I guess what we have here, Lei, is a communication failure.”
“OK, Cool Hand Buck, just so you know that Mother’s Day in China is about kids showing love for their moms.”
“So Ruby is going to make you something fun at school for Mother’s Day?”
“Buck, this hasn’t happened since kindergarten. Things got serious for her in first grade.
“So I guess you’ll give your mother a dozen red roses, huh?”
“An even number, yes, Buck, but for us, red carnations are the thing.”
“So, you give gifts in even numbers? »
“Yes, but not four.”
“It’s a sign of death.”
“OMG, Lei. You never fail to amaze me how different our cultures are.
“You mean your capitalism versus our Chinese-style socialism?
“Buck, let me drop Ruby off, then buy a pickup, and I’ll call you right back.”
“That’s good, Lei. What’s the pick-me-up, something from Starbucks? »
“No, Buck, chicken blood.”
“I get it, Buck. I’ll be right back.”
Lei Jiao, a single mother with a 15-year-old daughter who headed for the biggest standardized test of her life in late June (read high anxiety), struggles for two hours on the roads, if traffic is light, to take Ruby to her boarding school outside of downtown Wuhan.
Ruby has to arrive by 5:30 for her evening classes, so they bring food from home or takeaway for the trip. Ruby’s suitcase is ready for the week after a lot of laundry for Lei.
Weekends are Lei’s busiest days, especially when she teaches Ruby two of the six test subjects – English and Morals and Law – for two or three hours a day.
Getting tested for Covid – every 48 hours now, since the outbreaks in Shanghai and Beijing – can only take minutes. Lei must prevent his phone’s code green (tested negative) from turning gray to pass public transport security checks or to go to restaurants or shopping malls.
Then there’s his job as an English teacher at Wuhan University of Technology, teaching six classes (instead of eight) six days a week with hundreds of assignments to correct.
“Now Buck, where were we? »
“We were talking about Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May for us. When does China celebrate Mother’s Day? »
“May 8 this year, like you. We are following Western tradition, even if it gets tricky.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the winds blowing in Beijing are blowing away Western influences. We’re talking more and more about having our own Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving, you get the idea.
“You mean a Chinese-infused Mother’s Day?
“Bingo, Bouko. There is a Western tradition that I aspire to.
“What is it, Lei?”
“Sunday as a day off.”
“LOL. Well, I hope you’re not toasting with chicken blood on Sunday for Mother’s Day. What was going on with that?”
“It’s an expression that goes back many moons, especially to a Chinese doctor who experimented with injecting himself with chicken blood, then family members, then patients bringing your own chicken.”
“To increase energy.”
” It worked ? »
“Worked well until people started dying.”
” Oh ! »
“Now the term Chicken Blood Mothers is overtaking Tiger Moms in China.”
“Chicken blood relative, huh?”
“Yeah, it’s a parenting style that combines energetic helicopter parents with drill sergeants. So many mothers are stressed out about their kids’ studies and extracurricular activities. Any precious downtime is squeezed.
“The poor children.”
“Buck, I’m talking about mothers!” They are tighter than a 10 yuan watch.
“Why is that?”
“Competition for jobs is getting so fierce that some mothers are booking their children’s days into 15-minute intervals, trying relentlessly – and oppressively – to keep them on the path to success.”
“No, Goat. I’m just a little tiger mama.
“So what does this mean for Ruby?” »
“In her boarding school, she gets up at 6:30 a.m., has five lessons in the morning until 12:10 p.m., a short break for lunch, then three lessons in the afternoon until 5:30 a.m. and three lessons in the evening until 10. Bedtime is 10:30 a.m.
“It’s an impossible schedule! »
“Buck, it’s only five days a week.”
“Oh my god. Not much time for anything else.
“That’s where Tiger Mom comes in. I pay for his painting and zither lessons, as well as his private lessons, mostly online these days, in Chinese, math, physics, and chemistry. These are compulsory sections of the Zhongkao.
“Ah, the Zhongkao, the PSAT of China. Ruby needs a high score on this standardized test to get into a high school honors program, right? »
“Yes, Buck, I appreciate your concern for me.”
“I meant Ruby!”
“Ah, another communication failure.”
“So, Lei, has China celebrated Mother’s Day as long as we have?”
“No, Buck, for us you have to go back 24 centuries to the immortal mother of the second Chinese sage, Mencius.”
“You mean second to Confucius, don’t you?”
“To the right.”
“So what did his mother do?”
“Three moves – to two bad neighborhoods and finally to one that shaped his son’s future as a scholar.”
“Oh, Lei, you’re still good for an old tale. What is this one?
“Well, Buck, Meng Mu was a widower with a bright young boy to raise and not much money. Her husband died when her son was 3 years old. At first they lived near a cemetery, but the mother found the boy imitating paid mourners.
“Yes, Buck, the louder the howls of grief at a funeral, the more the deceased was seen as a wonderful person, a great loss to the community.”
“So the family paid strangers to scream?”
“Yes, Buck, they still do.”
“Come on, please. »
“The second house was near a market, but the boy kept imitating the merchants peddling their wares.”
“Not too worthy.”
“So the mother moved her house next to a school. There the boy, inspired by scholars and students, began to study. The rest is in the history books of Chinese scholars.
“Oh, Lei, you never disappoint. Do you know how long we’ve been celebrating Mother’s Day in the United States?”
“Since George Washington’s mother moved near a cherry tree?
“LOL, not quite. 1914, when President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May Mother’s Day.
“So who was the Meng Mu behind this?”
“Anna Jarvis. Her militant mother died on the second Sunday of May 1905.”
“The daughter started a tradition honoring her mother and all other mothers who sacrificed for their children with a silent church service in West Virginia. There she distributed white carnations to mothers, sons and daughters.
“White carnations, huh? How lovely to you all. But white is the color of death for us.
“Not four white carnations for you, Lei Jiao!”
“Ha! Anna has spent many years building a tradition that would be recognized by the President of the United States. That’s awesome.”
“Yes, Lei, but it didn’t end well.”
“Card makers and candy stores tried to make a killing, florists jacked up the prices of white carnations, and Jarvis’ reverent tribute turned into a circus.”
“Jarvis even accused First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt of turning Mother’s Day into a fundraising program for charities to reduce maternal and child mortality rates.”
“Jarvis would go to his grave in 1948 lamenting commercialization, even calling for the party’s repeal.”
“Buck, looks like that was the mother of all communication failures.”
About the authors: Buck Ryan, professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky, and Lei Jiao, professor of English at Wuhan University of Technology, Hubei Province, China, collaborate on articles aimed at advancing the intercultural understanding. Ryan, who is doing a News + Record “participatory case study”, has been a visiting scholar at three universities in China, including Jiao WUT.