Why did Suyuan keep her twin daughters a secret?

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As a mother and a new American, Suyuan was concerned for her American born daughter, Jing-mei (known as June) and for their future in the United States. She agonized over the decision to leave her baby daughters in China, but the war left her with no viable option: she could...

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As a mother and a new American, Suyuan was concerned for her American born daughter, Jing-mei (known as June) and for their future in the United States. She agonized over the decision to leave her baby daughters in China, but the war left her with no viable option: she could not outrun the attacks carrying two infants, and she believed her actions could save them. Her relationship with Canning took her to the United States where they started a new family.

Although June learned about her half-sisters relatively late in life, Suyuan did not keep the twins completely secret from everyone else. June’s father, Canning, was fully aware of the babies’ existence and Suyuan’s decision. While still in China, the two of them had looked for the girls. The political break between China and the United States had prevented her sending mail, but as soon as she could, Suyuan began writing to friends in China, asking them to look for the girls. She was too ill to travel herself. Although her efforts paid off when a friend recognized the girls (now young women who strongly resembled their mother), this occurred after Suyuan’s death. One of the most poignant aspects of the novel is June’s realization of how much her mother wanted to protect her and the burden that bearing these secrets had been.

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Suyuan effectively abandoned her twin daughters, and so it's not surprising that she wanted to keep it a secret. Having said that, she really didn't have much choice in the matter. Due to the Japanese invasion, Suyuan lost almost everything that was precious to her. She was determined, then, to do everything she could to give her daughters at least a fighting chance of survival. She knew that if she died with the children but they survived, no one would take care of them. The only option left to her was to abandon her daughters in the hope that some kind stranger would happen upon them and look after them. So, as she left Chungking, Suyuan left her babies by the side of the road with her possessions and an address in the hope that someone would be able to give them a better start in life than she could.

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