Beijing Lights: ‘I might become schizophrenic, like my mom’

Society & Culture

A new monthly column, syndicated from the China-based literary arts collective Spittoon.

(Interviewee not pictured)

Editor’s Note: Beijing Lights is a column written by Huang Chenkuang, published by the Beijing-based literary arts collective Spittoon. We’ll be syndicating one column every month.

In the Beijing Lights series (today’s post, edited by Dan Xin Huang, is No. 21), Huang interviews people in Beijing and asks about their lives and ambitions, then writes up the interview in their voice. She often focuses on society’s marginalized and those in the underclass, including migrant workers, security guards, housekeepers, fortune tellers, etc. (Listen to this NuVoices Podcast episode with Huang.)

Click through to Spittoon to read this column in Chinese.

Note from the author:

The last piece caused some discussion about Chinese women’s status and the awakening of female consciousness. I talked to another woman this time, born 20 years later. Maybe her narrative can provide us a small reference: how far have we come after two decades?

To protect her privacy, she chose the pseudonym 眾 zhòng, which means “all living creatures.”

A’zhong, female, 26 years old, from Sichuan

I had a sudden realization recently that me and my mom are alike in many ways. The thought freaks me out.

I’ve been trying so hard to be different. But I end up like a mirror, the things I dislike about her just end up reflected in me.

For a long time late last year, I was suffering from depression. I felt like my whole body was falling down a bottomless pit, or like it was going to melt away. I hardly could gather any interest or strength to do anything.

I’ve kept my depression to myself. I worry that I might someday become schizophrenic, just like my mom.

When my mom first acted weirdly, I was in primary school. I came back home one day to find the house was on fire, and it was my mom who started it. As her condition worsened, she became paranoid that everybody was conspiring against her, and she’d take very extreme actions.

I think I know the direct cause behind her illness. She married into a patriarchal family. My grandfather favors boys over girls. So my mom gave herself a lot of pressure trying for a boy after me and my sister. She did finally carry a baby boy, but had a miscarriage late in the pregnancy. The loss was a hard blow. It was then she started getting schizophrenic. She also became more irritable, and she’d hit me sometimes for no reason.

I always had this kind of distance from her. Facing someone like this, it’s hard to take a side. Love her? Seems difficult. Hate her? Sounds unfair. She is ill after all.

We’ve never warmed to each other, even till this day. We only call each other a few times a year. And I usually find myself struggling to keep the conversation flowing.

Looking back, a few warm moments do stay with me. I remember the sweater my mom weaved for me, and that, occasionally, she did my hair in the morning. She liked to braid it so tight that it hurts. But I kept silent even so, tried not to spoil the rare loving atmosphere. I also remember that one day I woke up to find the exact pair of white shoes I’ve long wanted quietly laying beside the foot of my bed.

The picture made me think: how isolated and pathetic every human being is! That moment, I suddenly wanted to be more forgiving of people around me.

It probably has something to do with my family background that I’ve grown up into an adult wanting more love. I always put myself in relationships that I don’t typically enjoy. I just feel the need to be taken care of. And I find myself very reluctant to confront any relationship problems.

Not long after college, I came to Beijing working as an assistant in a photography studio. The boss rented a single room as a worker’s dormitory. I was the only one living there.

One day, during lunch break, he said he felt tired and wanted to come to the dormitory for a nap. I didn’t think it over that much and let him come. During the nap, his hands suddenly reached for me. I can’t really explain why I didn’t resist his touch. The next thing I know, I was raped.

I asked him to take accountability for what he did. He transferred me a few thousand kuai. I didn’t want things to develop into a public show. I did nothing more but left the job.

I then found a new job in a cafe. When nobody else was around, the boss touched my hands and grabbed my butt. I felt so helpless and thought to myself, why is this happening to me again, why me? I know I have a pretty face, but does that define everything about me?

I found a boyfriend later. At one point I tried to have this conversation with him about how women often get sexually harassed in jobs. He answered: “If a woman gets sexually assaulted, there must be something about her that incurs it.” I never brought up the topic to him ever again.

We recently broke up. I told him that I want to sleep with another guy. I suggested an open relationship. I thought it’s better to be honest with him rather than cheating on him. He became so furious. He said some awful things and packed up his stuff the next morning.

Subconsciously, he seems to see physical attraction as something dirty, something evil. But shouldn’t we see attraction as something beautiful? Even if I feel the sexual impulse toward someone, the impulse itself is pure and beautiful. How can you call a true feeling emerging from the bottom of someone’s heart ugly?

I don’t regret ending the relationship at all. I actually feel relieved to be single again. I’ve slowly gotten accustomed to being alone too. It gives me more time to think.

When waiting at a traffic light during a bike ride one day, I looked around. I saw a big crowd where everyone seemed in a rush for something. The picture made me think: how isolated and pathetic every human being is! That moment, I suddenly wanted to be more forgiving of people around me.

That’s also when I thought about my mom. I thought about what a life she’s been through. As a woman, it seems her biggest credit is having given birth to several children. I feel so sad for her.

In our next call, I want to ask if she can weave me a new sweater.

Check out the Beijing Lights archive on Spittoon.