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Drowning Girls in China: Female Infanticide in China since 1650

Drowning Girls in China: Female Infanticide in China since 1650 (Paperback)

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This groundbreaking book offers the first full analysis of the long-neglected and controversial subject of female infanticide in China. Although infanticide and child abandonment were worldwide phenomena from antiquity down to the nineteenth century when massive numbers of children were still being abandoned in Europe, China was unique in targeting girls almost exclusively. Yet despite its persistence for two thousand years, little has been published on a practice that is deeply sensitive within China and little understood by outsiders. Drawing on little-known Chinese documents and illustrations, noted historian D. E. Mungello describes the causes and continuation of female infanticide since 1650 despite efforts by Confucian moralists, Buddhist teachings, government officials, and even imperial edicts to stop the practice. The arrival of Christian missionaries led to foreign involvement as well, with Catholic priests baptizing abandoned and dying infants in Nanjing and Beijing beginning in the early 1600s.

Mission efforts peaked in the nineteenth century when the European-based Society of the Holy Childhood urged Catholic children to contribute their pennies to help neglected children in China. However, most of the infant victims were drowned at birth in the privacy of their homes, thereby escaping the scrutiny of the law and the public. Mungello brings this secretive practice to light with a nuanced and balanced analysis of the cultural, economic, and social causes of early infanticide and its contemporary manifestation in sex-selected abortion as a result of the government's one-child policy. Presenting female infanticide as a human rather than a distinctly Chinese problem, he estimates the tragic loss of girls in the millions.

D. E. Mungello is professor of history at Baylor University.

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