”Amah” is a Chinese word meaning nanny or maidservant. Until the Communist takeover in 1949, wealthy Chinese and foreign families in China usually employed an amah to nurse the younger children and look after the older. Less fortunate families used their amah for all sorts of domestic tasks as well as shopping.

Amahs were of poor, usually rural, families. An amah or her parents could apply for employment, but usually she was sold without being consulted. Traditionally, girls in China had no rights.

Killing newborn girls was common. An amah capable of nursing had often just killed her own baby and thus produced milk.

When the children grew up and married themselves, they often inherited their amah, who was thus a hereditary commodity in a family until her death. But if they were displeased with their amah or if their spouse also inherited an amah, they could sell or simply dismiss her.


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