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Sally L.

JISHOU, HUNAN — Yesterday was Children’s Day in China, and in my oral English class I asked students to talk about their influential childhood memories. One girl, Sally L., had an especially moving story.

Sally’s parents are farmers and have two daughters. Her uncle, meanwhile, also farms and has at least one son. She related an argument between her father, his brother and Sally’s grandfather that left a deep impression on her 7-year-old mind.

Since she was so young, Sally says she can’t remember all the details of the argument, but it involved her uncle wanting some the land her father owned, but was not at the time cultivating. Her father refused to give it to his brother, and in no time at all, the four men — father, uncle, grandfather and even her male cousin — were yelling at each other and threatening to get physical. The outcome was that Sally’s parents retained possession of the land.

Her uncle wanted the land because he had a son, while Sally’s dad had daughters. In rural China, boys are held in higher esteem than girls, so the uncle apparently believed keeping the land for two daughters was a complete waste of good farmland. Instead, he wanted his brother to give it to him and his son, because boys are “worth more” than girls and can do more than girls.

“That’s why my dream was to go to university,” Sally told us, “because I wanted to show them that girls can be as good as boys, or even better.”

As her teacher, I can truthfully say that Sally is one of my best students, and was a class officer for a time last year. She works hard, pays attention in class, gets good marks and, to top it off, has pretty good English speaking skills. Her big smile shines on me every class from the front row.

Now I understand why she works so hard.