In Ai Qing Dayanhe's poem "My Wet-Nurse," it shows how in traditional China, wealthy woman sometimes hired a new mother as a nurse for their children. Part of the duties of these “wet-nurses...

In Ai Qing Dayanhe's poem "My Wet-Nurse," it shows how in traditional China, wealthy woman sometimes hired a new mother as a nurse for their children. Part of the duties of these “wet-nurses “was to provide milk for their employers’ babies." In this poem, the speaker identifies himself as “the son of the landlord.” He notes, however, that he has been “brought up” on the milk of this peasant woman. Is the relationship between the poet and Dayanhe presented as strictly economic? If not, what else is it?

Asked on by christyeh

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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There is an economic consideration in the relationship forged between Ai Qing and Dayanhe.  The poet speaks to this as the basis of the poem.  There is an inherent "unfairness" in the relationship in which the landowners and wealthy are able to extract the very nectar of life from the poor.  Ai Qing's poem suggests that this condition of being represents the economic condition that binds both the rich and poor, a setting in which the latter serves the former.

I would suggest that Ai Qing presents a vision that seeks to change this economic condition of being.  The poem is a homage to the sacrifice that the poor give to the wealthy.  In this, there is an intrinsic call for change within such a condition.  The admission that Ai Qing gives is one in which he recognizes how he is only able to live off of the milk of Dayanhe:  "I am the son of a landlord/ But I have been brought up on Dayanhe's milk." This relationship might be rooted in economics, but it is clear that Ai Qing wishes to make it more than simply something material.  In being "brought up on Dayanhe's milk," it is evident that Ai Qing wishes to acknowledge the connection present between he and his wet- nurse.  The fact that Ai Qing continues in exploring the blurred lines between Dayanhe's own family and his experience, there is a relationship which transcends a purely economic condition.  Ai Qing presents a vision in which Dayanhe lives an economically challenged life with the duties she must perform, as well as the need to provide for another's children:  "She washed our clothes/ She carried the vegetables/ She stirred the swill in the pig's trough."  These are examples of the struggle that economics had placed upon Dayanhe.  Yet, in the the validation offered in the poem, Ai Qing wishes to suggest that there can be a new way to conceptualize the relationship between he and his Dayanhe that is not predicated upon purely economic exploitation.

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