Chapter 69: The Bad Luck Kittens

Newborn kitten in someone's hands
Someone in Shanghai dumped newborn kittens into a garbage can near my office -- all over superstition. I wonder when luck was more important than life.

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.

4 Replies to “Chapter 69: The Bad Luck Kittens”

  1. Hi Jocelyn — Thought you’d like to know that the day-old kitten who was dumped in our Shanghai trash in 2003 is lounging on the living room floor right this minute, giving me a very satisfied look. Things turned out ok for at least one Shanghai kitty who ended up in the trash that year!

  2. Jocelyn:
    This one tugs at my heart strings!! And I am glad to hear that your friend Kathy’s kitten is doing well. Funny about superstitions…I just published a column about Russian superstitions…and it is such an interesting thing to butt your heads against foreign convictions! As ever, I enjoy your posts so much!!
    .-= Jennifer´s last blog ..Day of the Russian Entrepreneur /День российского предпринимательства: An Oxymoron or what? =-.

  3. I saved a kitten in Kunming, she was abandoned by her mother after the mother moved the litter from the woodpile outside our front door … in the middle of a rainstorm. Mom cat never came back for the little one and I was feeling maternal expecting the birth of our son at any moment and rescued her. She was tiny, not weaned yet, and I had to feed her milk which I mixed with catfood. My husband was sure she’d die.

    Long story short, she survived and even came with us from Kunming to Beijing and is now lounging on my computer monitor. Kittens aren’t much appreciated in China, people here seem to prefer dogs as pets so you see lots of stray and abandoned cats. Our neighbor on the first floor feeds at least 30 流浪猫 — stray cats — that live in the garden of our complex!
    .-= Jessica´s last blog ..Father, Son and a Big Music Festival (with mom too) =-.

  4. Dear Jocelyn,
    That is inhuman for a person to throw a gift as precious as life in the trash. Literally. My cats are in my barn. Yesterday, they were born around 5:35pm and was a litter of 5. Only 2 survived. They were healthy and beautiful. Of course, they never shut up! When I went to the barn tonight though, where the kittens had been, one dead kitten lay and the other completely vanished from sight. The kitten found looked even more healthy than before, but was dead. Sorry to say that my story isn’t as happy as most.


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