Black kittens with soft white paws don’t belong in the garbage can. But that’s where they were, carelessly tossed into a dumpster near my office in Shanghai. Only days old, these tiny, partially blind bundles of fur were saved by what nature gave them — plaintive mewing that drew the attention of a cleaning attendant. Somehow, the cleaning attendants must have known that a couple of the trade show girls in our company had a soft spot for animals — because there they were, in front of the womens bathroom on my floor, trying to nurse them back to health with eye-dropper filled with milk.
I’ve raised kittens all my life, and this miniature feline nativity drew me in instantly — but not without drama.
“It’s refusing to eat,” sighed one of the trade show girls, trying to feed a kitten.
“Do you think it’s going to die?” I asked, looking over her shoulder into the makeshift box where the kittens lay.
“If it doesn’t eat, it may not survive very long,” the other one frowned.
“What about the rest of them?” I wondered. “Will they survive?”
“We hope so,” answered one of the trade show girls. “But they’re newborns, and they should have been with their mother. It’s hard to say.”
Abandoned by their mother? How could this be? “So why aren’t they with their mother?”
“Bad luck.” The thing is, some Chinese consider black kittens with white paws as a bad omen. And one bad omen leads to another, the thoughtless disposal of these fragile lives into a garbage can.
It reminded me of something I once heard about this year, 2003, the year of the sheep — how a girl born in the year of the sheep is considered inauspicious. I suddenly imagined scores of baby girls aborted, or worse, abandoned — just like these kittens.
The kittens disappeared from our floor after that day, but I continued to check on them through the trade show girls. They told me some of them were doing OK. Of course, that meant that some didn’t — perhaps that little one they nursed that afternoon. Maybe I was foolish to hope it might survive.
But then again, someone in China was even more foolish to value a superstition over life itself.
How has superstition in China (or elsewhere) surprised or shocked you?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or browse the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.