Chinese yuezi is beneficial despite Westerners’ doubt
Published: May 12, 2015 06:33 PM Updated: May 13, 2015 10:27 AM
Following the public debut of the British Duchess of Cambridge with her newborn princess a mere 10 hours after giving birth, Sino social media lit up like Piccadilly Circus to debate the Duchess' audacity of breaking every Chinese rule of postpartum confinement.

In keeping with our culture's long tradition of knowing better how to take care of your baby than you do, Chinese netizens expressed their shock of Princess Kate's presumed lack of concern for both her royal infant and herself by exposing themselves to the elements rather than abiding by the customary Chinese zuo yuezi, a month-long sort of hibernation that confines mother and newborn alike to strict bed rest.

Debating yuezi is actually nothing new in China. From time immemorial, all new Chinese mommies have hotly contested this postnatal incarceration - after all, there are more Don'ts than Do's in its age-old proscriptions.

Tell me about it! Fourteen years ago, I myself was also forced to endure a yuezi at the admonishing hands of my mother and over-doting in-laws after giving birth to my daughter. I was raised in a village in Zhejiang Province, so this old-fashioned concept came as no surprise to me.

However, having been educated in Shanghai, where I also gave birth at a prestigious hospital whose medical staff dispelled the myth of not being able to take a shower or eat fresh fruit (two major no-no's of yuezi), I returned to my ancestral village expecting a lighter treatment. How unprepared I was for what ensued.

For the first time of my marriage, mother and mother-in-law united not unlike China and the Soviets throughout certain periods last century in an uneasy but mobilized front to make sure none of my big-city haughtiness carried over into their household. With these two unlikely comrades gripping each of my arms, I was led to my bedroom and placed under lock and key.

Every conceivable Don't passed down over generations was imposed on me - Don't let the wind or water touch you! Don't eat this or that! Don't get up! - declared to be for my own good. My protests were met with frowning disapproval and old wives' tales of unheeding women who suffered lifelong physical ramifications as a result of resisting their yuezi. It got to the point that I would rather just do as they say no matter how uncomfortable I was rather than try to disobey either of these domineering women.

I eventually convinced them to permit me two very liberal allowances, to be able to brush my teeth and to wash my hair for me, but by the 31st day, when I was finally allowed to get up from bed, exit my room and take a bath, the relief was beyond words. I'll spare the reader from describing what my bath water looked like.

And yet, the difference in my physicality was profound. I felt stronger than ever, fortified by a month's worth of healing and six force-feedings per day of nutritious (though not always tasty) foods and broths, which also resulted in heavy lactation, directly contributing to my daughter's strong constitution.

In stark contrast to Western women who are known for complaining how their bodies tend to deteriorate after becoming mothers, Chinese mothers who abide by their yuezi stand apart for becoming even hardier.

This past Mother's Day I expressed my appreciation and gratitude to both of my mothers for their insistence that I follow tradition. I also gave my daughter a heads up of what was to come for her someday, because you can trust I will be doing everything in my power to make sure that she too heeds the ways of "the old generation," which now includes me.

How humorously ironic it is, though, that when it comes to having a baby, the common Chinese mother is more protected, sheltered and cared for in ways that even a Duchess couldn't imagine.