The Lost Souls of Amoy

From Forty Years in South China, by Reverend John Fagg, an account of the Reverend John Van Nest Talmage, a missionary in Xiamen from 1847 to 1890.


“This will account in part for the barbarous custom of infanticide which prevails to so lamentable an extent among these heathen. Only female infants are destroyed. While the parents are living the son may be of pecuniary advantage to them, and after their death, he can attend to the rites of their souls, and even after his death, through him the parents may have descendants to perform the ancestral rites. A daughter on the contrary, it is supposed, will only prove a burden in a pecuniary point of view, and after she is married she is reckoned to the family of her husband. Her children, also, except her husband otherwise order, are only expected to attend to the spirits of their paternal ancestors.”

“Some have denied the existence of the practice of infanticide among the Chinese, or, they have asserted that if it does exist, the practice of it is very unusual. Every village which we visit in this region gives evidence that such persons are not acquainted with this part of the empire. A few days ago a company of us visited the village of Kokia. It is situated on the northern extremity of Amoy Island, and contains, perhaps, two thousand inhabitants.

After walking through the village we sat down for a short time under the shade of a large banyan tree. A large concourse of people soon gathered around us to see the foreigners and hear what they had to say. In this crowd we found by counting nearly a hundred boys, and but two or three girls. Also when walking through the village very few girls were to be seen. The custom of binding the feet of the girls, which greatly affects their power of locomotion, would account for more boys being seen than girls, but will not account for the disparity noticed. We therefore inquired the cause of this disparity. They answered with laughter that female children are killed.

The same question has been asked again and again at the various villages we have visited and the same answer obtained. This answer is given freely and apparently without any idea that the practice is wicked, until they are taught so by us. The result of this one practice on the morals of the people may readily be imagined. It accustoms the mind to acts of cruelty and it prepares the way for impurity and wickedness in forms that are never dreamed of in Christian countries.”

“Today had a conversation with one of the merchants who come to Kolongsu for trade, on the subject of female infanticide. Assuming a countenance of as much indifference as possible, I asked him how many of his own children he had destroyed: he instantly replied, ‘Two.’ I asked him whether he had spared any. He said, ‘One I have saved.’ I then inquired how many brothers he had. ‘Eight,’ was the answer. I asked him how many children his eldest brother had destroyed. ‘Five or six.’ I inquired of the second, third and all the rest; some had killed four or five, some two or three, and others had none to destroy. I then asked how many girls were left among them all. ‘Three,’ was the answer. And how many do you think have been strangled at birth? ‘Probably from twelve to seventeen.’ I wished to know the standing and employment of his brothers. One, he said, had attained a literary degree at the public examinations; the second was a teacher; one was a sailor; and the rest were petty merchants like himself. Thus, it was evidently not necessity but a cold inhuman calculation of the gains and losses of keeping them, which must have led these men to take the lives of their own offspring.

“Mr. Boone’s teacher’s sister with her own hand destroyed her first three children successively. The fourth was also a girl, but the mother was afraid to lay violent hands on it, believing it to be one of the previous ones reappearing in a new body.”

“The names of the five districts in the Chinchew prefecture are Tong-an, An-khoe, Chin-kiang, Hui-an and Lam-an. Amoy is situated in the Chin-chew prefect.

From a comparison with many other parts of the country, there is reason to believe that a greater number of children are destroyed at birth in the Tong-an district than in any other of this department, probably more than in any other of this department, probably more than in any other part of the province of equal extent and populousness. In the Tong-an district I have inquired of persons from forty different towns and villages. The number destroyed varies exceedingly in different places, the extremes extending from seventy and eighty percent to ten percent. The average proportion destroyed in all these places amounting to nearly four-tenths or exactly thirty-nine percent.

“In seventeen of these forty towns and villages, my informants declare that one-half or more are deprived of existence at birth.

“From the inhabitants of six places in Chin-kiang, and of four places in Hui-an, if I am correctly informed, the victims of infanticide do not exceed sixteen percent.

“In the seven districts of the Chiang-chiu prefecture the number is rather more than one-fourth or less than three-tenths.

“There is reason to fear that scarcely less than twenty-five percent are suffocated almost at the first breath.”

It is altogether probable that this vice is just as prevalent now. The scarcity of girls in nearly all the towns and villages and the exorbitant rates demanded for marriageable daughters in some districts, only render sad confirmation to what Drs. Abeel and Talmage wrote two score and more years ago.

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