PROBLEMS WITH THE ONE-CHILD POLICY
Hani minority girlThe one-child policy was severely criticized. There were reports of some provinces forcing women who became pregnant in violation of the policy to undergo late-term abortions or sterilizations and stories of female infants being killed because of a preference for boys. China now has a gender imbalance due to the policy. There were also unfairness issues. Some wealthy families have had as many children as they wanted because they could easily pay the penalty fines for extra children. . Poor families could not afford the fines. The policy also produced an aging population and labor shortages that could can severely slow down the economy. All this has occurred as increasing urban lifestyle made the one-child policy obsolete. Many couples today say they would probably choose to have just one child or no children because the cost of raising children is so high.
Laurie Burkitt wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “Abortions and sterilizations have been forced upon women by officials to meet population targets and tiny nuclear families that placed the burden of elderly care on single children. Forced abortions and sterilizations are illegal in China. But local officials sometimes force women to undergo such procedures to meet population targets set by planning officials in Beijing. Numerous studies have shown the detrimental effects of the one-child policy. China's labor force will start declining in 2025 at a rate of about 10 million a year, projections show. Meanwhile, its elderly population will hit 360 million by 2030. Critics also argue that it has contributed to the gender imbalance in China, where sex-specific abortions remain common. Almost 118 boys were born for every 100 girls in 2012—against a global average of 103 to 107—and female infanticide and the abandoning of baby girls have also been reported. This pattern will leave an estimated 35 million young Chinese men without marriage partners over the next decade. [Source:Laurie Burkitt, Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2013]
The novelist Ma Jian wrote in The Guardian:“China's totalitarian government may have relaxed its control of the means of production, but it has maintained firm control of the means of reproduction, and continues to intrude into the most intimate aspects of an individual's life, stunting relationships, destroying traditional family life and spreading fear. Two generations of children have grown up without siblings, uncles, aunts or cousins. Women have lost sovereignty of their bodies. The state owns their ovaries, fallopian tubes and wombs, and has become the silent, malevolent third participant in every act of love. In the countryside, where children were needed to help out in the fields and provide for parents in old age, and the preference for sons was still strong, the policy has met with particular resistance, and was enforced, periodically, with ruthless determination. Chinese officials recently announced that 336 million abortions and 196 million sterilisations have been performed under the one-child policy. An abortion or sterilisation performed on a woman against her will was an atrocity that, one might assume, could only happen during temporary periods of social psychosis or war. But the Chinese government was committing these crimes against humanity systematically, and on a massive scale, for more than three decades, during a period of peace and growing prosperity. The elimination of life and assault on human dignity dictated by the one-child policy belong with the worst tragedies of the past 100 years. [Source: Ma Jia, The Guardian, May 6, 2013]
Even in the 1980s there were numerous reports surfaced of coercive measures used to achieve the desired results of the one-child policy. The alleged methods ranged from intense psychological pressure to the use of physical force, including some grisly accounts of forced abortions and infanticide. Chinese officials admitted that isolated, uncondoned abuses of the program occurred and that they condemned such acts, but they insisted that the family planning program was administered on a voluntary basis using persuasion and economic measures only. International reaction to the allegations were mixed. The UN Fund for Population Activities and the International Planned Parenthood Association were generally supportive of China's family planning program. The United States Agency for International Development, however, withdrew US$10 million from the Fund in March 1985 based on allegations that coercion had been used. [Source: Library of Congress]
The one-child policy clashes with local traditions. One farmer in Guangxi told the New York Times, “Last year, I had a son, so now we can’t have any more. But the tradition here is big families and lots of sons. So no one is very happy.” As the government has taken rice bowl benefits away from people, children are the only safety net they have. In Guanxi friction over the one child policy has resulted in violence. Newspaper have reported several clashes between peasants and family planning officials.
Birth control policies vary a great deal from place and place, and the way the policy carried out can be quite arbitrary. When a peasant woman in Guizhou got pregnant with a third child, according to one report, the local authorities took her cow. When she bowed to pressure and had an abortion, she was charged half a year's income to get her cow back. Enforcement of one-child policies also varies greatly from place to place. In Guangdong Province many families have four or five children. They can get away with it because either the one-child policy is ignored of they can raise the money to pay the modest fines. In Guangxi, the policy is more strictly enforced. Family planning boards keep strict tabs on families. Rule bending is minimal. Families fear the consequences of breaking the rules because they are poor and have a hard time coming up with money for the fines.
Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on the One Child Policy Wikipedia ; Family Planning in China china.org.cn ; Christian Science Monitor article on Too Many Boys csmonitor.com ; National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China stats.gov.cn; Trends in Chinese Demography afe.easia.columbia.edu ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Institute of Population and Labor Economics cass.cn
Forced Sterilizations Under the One-Child Policy
Files are kept on every woman of child-bearing age by the local councils, who are assisted by networks of informants. In the past women who had children without permission — and were found out — were often forced to have abortions or sterilizations. If they refused to cooperate, thugs were sometimes sent to destroy their houses or beat them up. If they ran away sometimes their parents or relatives were imprisoned. Forced sterilization is the subject of a book "Frog" by popular writer Mo Yan. It is about a woman who experiences a mental breakdown after carrying out such procedure over a 30 year period.
In some cases the basis for raises and promotions of local officials was based on how well they met their population targets. This policy encouraged officials to push forced sterilizations and forced abortion and mete out tough punishments to meet their quotas. In some places enforcement was so harsh that the Family Planning Association had to give out brochure that listed the "seven don't" of population policy (don't beat up people who have an unplanned birth; don't burn their house down, etc.)
In some places periodic sterilization campaigns with banners, quotas and slogans lead to abuses. In 2010, authorities in the southern city of Puning, in Guangdong province, vowed to sterilize 9,559 people despite strenuous objections from human rights advocates. “An older man told the Los Angeles Times his wife had been sterilized 34 years ago after the birth of their only child, a daughter. He was still furious. "We hate family planning more than anything else. We don't agree with the government's policy on this." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2012]
Population Control as a Major Revenue Source in China
One senior researcher at the Central Party School estimated in 2015 that the fees collected by local officials for extra children was between $3 billion and $5 billion annually. Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “Nineteen province-level governments in China collected a total of $2.7 billion in fines in 2012 from parents who had violated family planning laws, which usually limit couples to one child, a lawyer who had requested the data said Thursday. The lawyer, Wu Youshui of Zhejiang Province, sent letters in July to 31 provincial governments asking officials to disclose how much they had collected in 2012 in family planning fines, referred to as “social support fees.” He said he suspected that the fines were a substantial source of revenue for governments in poor parts of China. [Source: Sui-Lee Wee, New York Times, May 13, 2021; Edward Wong, New York Times, September 26, 2013 |*|]
“We want to shed light on how the current family planning policy works,” Mr. Wu said via telephone. “Many are debating reform of the family planning policy. Learning how it works may help with that debate.” Mr. Wu’s findings were first published by Beijing News. Mr. Wu opposes China’s one-child policy and has written on his microblog he is a Christian. |*|
“The Beijing News report said Mr. Wu, the lawyer, obtained data showing that Jiangxi Province had collected the most in fines of the 19 provinces that replied to him; it amassed $554 million in 2012. Sichuan was second with $400 million, and Fujian was third with $340 million. The provinces that collected the least were Qinghai, with $572,000, and Ningxia, with about $2 million. Both have low populations compared with most other provinces, and they are also home to many rural residents and ethnic minorities, who have more leeway in the number of children they can have without incurring fines. The 12 province-level governments that did not provide data told Mr. Wu that the fines were collected at the county level and used there, so the provincial governments had no information. |*|
“On Sept. 18, the National Audit Office published a report on the collection and spending of the “social support fee” after it reviewed nine provinces. The office looked at five counties in each of those provinces. It found that “extra” children were not properly counted, that there were no uniform standards for collecting the fees and that management of the fees was poor. Mr. Wu said that he suspected that the fines had been “managed in a chaotic way,” and that it appeared that county-level officials overseeing the punishments had been unsupervised. He said the fee should be abolished altogether, and “it should be the family’s decision how many children to have.” |*|
Ma Jian on the Brutality of China’s One-Child Policy
Ma Jian wrote in the New York Times: For the rich, the one-child policy “is a paper tiger, easily circumvented by paying a “social compensation fee” — a fine of 3 to 10 times a household’s annual income, set by each province’s family planning bureau, or by traveling to Hong Kong, Singapore or even America to give birth. For the poor, however, the policy is a flesh-and-blood tiger with claws and fangs. In the countryside, where the need for extra hands to help in the fields and the deeply entrenched patriarchal desire for a male heir have created strong resistance to population control measures, the tiger has been merciless. [Source: Ma Jian, New York Times, May 21, 2013. Ma Jian is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Dark Road.” This essay was translated by Flora Drew from the Chinese. |:|]
“Village family-planning officers vigilantly chart the menstrual cycle and pelvic-exam results of every woman of childbearing age in their area. If a woman gets pregnant without permission and is unable to pay the often exorbitant fine for violating the policy, she risks being subjected to a forced abortion. According to Chinese Health Ministry data released in March 2013, 336 million abortions and 222 million sterilizations have been carried out since 1971. (Though the one-child policy was introduced in 1979, other, less-stringent family planning policies were in place before it.) These figures are easy to quote, but they fail to convey the magnitude of the horror faced by rural Chinese women. During a long journey through the hinterlands of southwest China in 2009, I was able to find some of the faces behind these numbers. |:|
“On ramshackle barges moored on the remote waterways of Hubei and Guangxi, I met hundreds of “family-planning fugitives” — couples who’d fled their villages to give birth to an unauthorized second or third child in neighboring provinces. Almost every one of the pregnant women I spoke to had suffered a mandatory abortion. One woman told me how, when she was eight months pregnant with an illegal second child and was unable to pay the 20,000 yuan fine (about $3,200), family planning officers dragged her to the local clinic, bound her to a surgical table and injected a lethal drug into her abdomen. |:|
“For two days she writhed on the table, her hands and feet still bound with rope, waiting for her body to eject the murdered baby. In the final stage of labor, a male doctor yanked the dead fetus out by the foot, then dropped it into a garbage can. She had no money for a cab. She had to hobble home, blood dripping down her legs and staining her white sandals red. It is not surprising that China has the highest rate of female suicide in the world. The one-child policy has reduced women to numbers, objects, a means of production; it has denied them control of their bodies and the basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children. Baby girls are also victims of the policy. Under family pressure to ensure that their only child is a son, women often choose to abort baby girls or discard them at birth, practices that have skewed China’s sex ratio to 118 boys for every 100 girls. |:|
“The Communist Party argues that the means justify the ends. When Deng Xiaoping and his fellow economic reformers introduced the one-child policy as a “temporary” measure in 1979, after Mao’s death and the end of the calamitous Cultural Revolution, they claimed that without the one-child policy, the economy would falter and the population would explode. Stubborn hard-liners will not willingly abandon population control measures that have provided the government with an estimated two trillion yuan in revenue from fines, according to the demographer He Yafu, while allowing it to maintain firm control over people’s lives. Ending this scourge is a moral imperative. The atrocities committed in the name of the one-child policy over the last three decades rank among the worst crimes against humanity of the last century. The stains it has left on China may never be erased.
Attacks on Violators of the One Child Policy
Describing the story of one Chinese immigrant in New York, Kirk Semple and Jeffrey E. Singer wrote in the New York Times, “When he was about 30 — old to be a bachelor by the standards of his village “Wang Jianhua married Lin Yaofang and they had a baby, a girl. When Ms. Lin became pregnant again, in violation of the country’s one-child policy, the authorities made her get an abortion, relatives and friends said. When word of her third pregnancy reached the government, he later told friends, officials went to their house to take Ms. Lin away, leading to Mr. Wang’s detention. [Source: Kirk Semple and Jeffrey E. Singer, New York Times, March 22, 2011]
“The authorities were at Wang Jianhua’s door in Fujian Province, China, intent on taking his wife away. Her crime: She already had a child and she was pregnant again, in violation of the country’s one-child policy. As Mr. Wang would later recount to his friends, he stepped between the officials and his wife. A scuffle ensued, Mr. Wang’s wife escaped, and the officials hauled Mr. Wang, the son of poor rice farmers, to a jail where he was held for several days and severely beaten, his friends said.”
One-Child Policy and Forced Abortions in China
Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Enforcement of China'sone-child policy has become less violent since the 1980s and 1990s, when accusations of beatings, kidnappings and killings committed by family planning officials were common. But progress is uneven. The law is vague, stating merely that family planning officials should "not violate the personal rights of civilians." But it does allow for what are euphemistically called "remedial measures" to end unauthorized pregnancies. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2012]
“Forced abortion isn't really legal, but the law isn't clear and different jurisdictions interpret it different ways," He Yafu, a demographer and family planning expert, told the Los Angeles Times. To complicate matters, abortions and sterilizations are often performed at family planning clinics, where, by the admission of Chinese officials, medical training and equipment can be inadequate.
“When Demick went into a village general store and asked about the one-child policy, “a group of men lets loose a stream of expletives about the coercive methods used by family planning officials. It is not that the men are morally opposed to abortion, they say, or even to limits on family size, but to the violence that often accompanies enforcement.”I support the family planning policy, but not their methods," said Ji Shuqiang, 42, working behind the cash register at the village store, told Demick. "If they find a woman who's pregnant, no matter how far along, they'll make you have an abortion.”
Deaths from One-Child-Policy Forced Abortions in China
Shandong province is the home of Chen Guangcheng, the blind lawyer who caused an diplomatic brouhaha in 2012 and ended up in the United States. Chen served four years in prison and nearly two under house arrest for challenging abuses in family planning after filing a class-action lawsuit in 2005, claiming that forced abortions and sterilizations in Linyi, his hometown, violated Chinese law. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2012]
“Reporting from Lijin, a town in Shandong about 150 miles from Linyi, Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Forced abortions and sterilizations are the bane of villagers in this gentle farmland along the easternmost stretch of the Yellow River... Six months pregnant, 38-year-old Ma Jihong was healthy and fit, her body toned from working in the cotton fields. So when 10 people from the local family planning office showed up one morning in October, she slipped through a gap in the concrete wall around the house and bolted like a sprinter toward the main road.
“Five-year-old Yanyan, the younger of Ma's two daughters, was alone in the house with her mother at the time. Her father came rushing in from the yard when he heard the screaming. "My father tried to delay them. He used his arms to try to block them," the little girl recalled last month in the family's courtyard, cluttered with rusting farm equipment. Wearing a pink polka-dot tutu and matching sandals, Yanyan waved her arms to imitate what her father did. "But there were too many people. He couldn't stop them.”
“Ma was caught and taken in for an abortion. Her family did not see her until later in the day. By then, she was lying in a bed in the Lijin County Hospital with a roll of toilet paper supporting her head. Her complexion was sallow and a dried stream of blood was under her nostrils, her mother-in-law, Gao Hongying, said. "They took my daughter-in-law at 9 a.m. By 5 p.m., she was dead," Gao said.
“Ma Jihong and her husband, Gao Xuetao, had two daughters already, but still wanted a son. Gao was his family's only son and Chinese believe their ancestral line is traced only through the males. Many other families in the village had managed to have more children by paying the fines. What went wrong, the family still doesn't know. Lijin County officials said in a statement that she had been sent for a "labor-inducing operation," but that her "breath and heartbeat suddenly stopped before she was injected with labor-inducing medicine." Only then was she transferred to the county hospital.
“The family never found out whether they would have had another girl or the boy they'd long sought. To little Yanyan, it didn't matter. "I didn't want a little brother or a little sister," the 5-year-old said, looking down at her feet with embarrassment over her confession. The obvious went unspoken: What she wanted was her mother.
“In 2009, a woman in Liaocheng, also in Shandong province, died after being forced to get an abortion a week before her due date. Family planning officials said that Feng Junhua bled to death during a staff shift change at the clinic. It wasn't even a proper hospital. The facilities were no good," said a man familiar with the case who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution. He said that Feng had left her village to give birth, but went back briefly to take care of things at home and was grabbed by family planning employees. "They took her when she was alone. They had no permission. Nobody agreed. It wasn't right." Feng Junhua already had one child, a 10-year-old boy, but badly wanted another and felt at age 38 that she was running out of time. "People in the countryside want two children, so that they can help each other," said the man, who knew the family.
Internet Outrage Over One-Child-Policy Forced Abortion in Shaanxi
In June 2011, officials forced a Feng Jianmei — a woman in her 20s who was seven months pregnant — to have an abortion at a hospital in the northwestern province of Shaanxi, west of Beijing. The woman's treatment drew the attention of national media and the fury of China's micro bloggers after her husband posted pictures online of her with her aborted baby girl on a hospital bed.
“Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Graphic photos from Shaanxi province of a grieving mother and her almost full-term aborted fetus went viral on the Internet in China. After more than 1 million microbloggers expressed their outrage — "Auschwitz in the womb" was one typical comment — three local officials were suspended. Even the Global Times, a newspaper linked to the Communist Party, weighed in, declaring in an editorial that "forced termination of late-term pregnancies must be condemned and banned." The parents thought they were entitled to a second child because they lived in the countryside and their first was a girl. But they were informed late in the pregnancy that the wife's application would not be accepted because she was registered to live in an urban area. Family planning officials requested $6,500 to approve the pregnancy. "They decided to make an example of us," said the husband, Deng Jiyuan. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2012]
“Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: China convulsed around the story of Feng Jianmei, a twenty-three-year-old expectant mother, who was escorted from a relative’s home in Shaanxi province by local family-planning officials, shoved into a van, and driven to a hospital. She was blindfolded and given a document to sign . It didn’t matter that she couldn’t see it; she knew why she was there. She had violated the one-child policy. Two shots were injected into her belly, and on the morning of June 4th she gave birth to a stillborn baby girl. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, Japan 15, 2012]
Afterward, while she lay on a metal-framed hospital bed, her sister took a devastating photo : mother, beside the bloodied remains of her daughter. It electrified the country. Later the topic had attracted a million comments on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, and rage was mounting. China’s family-planning system has been “openly killing people for years in the name of national policy,” a commenter wrote on Clubkdnet.net “What is wrong with society?” Li Chengpeng, a widely followed commentator, wrote, “A seven-month baby can think already. I want to ask the murderer, how do you face your own mother when you go home” If this evil policy is not stopped, this country will have no humanity.”
Politics, Money, the Internet and the Shaanxi Forced Abortion Case
Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: The case of Feng Jianmei is as much about state violence as it is about abortion. And one of the remarkable things is that very similar cases have happened for years. Seven years ago, I stood outside a storefront in Shandong province, not far from Chen’s house, between a hair salon and a fruit stand, as men and women locked up in the second floor of the building shouted down to me that they had been detained by local officials to force their relatives to undergo government-ordered sterilizations and abortions. Either they consented, or the families had to pay fines that ranged from three hundred and seventy to four hundred and ninety dollars in order to be let go, nearly a year’s salary in that area. For the local officials, it was a double boon: meeting local population targets and making a profit as well. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, Japan 15, 2012]
Likewise, the Feng case is emblematic of some of the most inflammatory issues on Chinese public life, beginning with money. In a country riven by the widening gap between rich and poor, Feng and her husband, Deng Jiyuan, were told they could avoid an abortion by paying the local equivalent of sixty-four hundred dollars. “I told you, $6,400, not even a penny less. I told your dad that and he said he has no money,” a family-planning official wrote to Deng in a text message now public, and translated in a good piece by Bo Gu at NBC . “You were too careless, you didn’t think this was a big deal.” (What accounts for a sum that is nearly ten times as large as I found seven years ago? Hard to say, but probably not all inflation; Feng’s case has transpired in an area with a higher cost of living.)
What’s more, the family was being penalized because of the widely resented “household registration” system, which acts a kind of domestic passport to limit migration. Feng and her husband reportedly thought they were entitled to a second child because many of their friends were (some rural areas are less strict), but it turned out that Feng’s registration, or hukou, was still tied to her former address in another provi nce, so she didn’t get the same exemptions to the one-child policy. The house-registration system has been widely criticized for creating something like an apartheid structure, which prevents people from gaining equal access to schools, social services, and jobs. Lastly, the case is a dramatic demonstration of exactly why the Communist Party had reason to be afraid of the Internet: seven years ago, nobody in that illegal-detention facility had access to the Web. Today, Feng’s husband reportedly opened a Weibo account and uploaded the hospital-room photos with his profile, along with an image of the text message. The fact that it’s an iPhone only adds a surreal undertone to the subject of discussion. Within days, a single case, one distinguishable and atomized and unknown, became iconic.
Shaanxi Forced-Abortion Woman Harassed
The family of Feng Jianmei, the woman in Shaanxi forced late-term abortion, was attacked as "traitors" for discussing her plight with foreigners. Her husband disappeared for a few days, according to a relative and a lawyer, The Guardian reported. Tania Branigan wrote: “Relatives say they have been followed for days, and Feng's hospital was targeted this weekend by protesters carrying banners, one of which read: "Beat the traitors and expel them." Feng's husband, Deng Jiyuan, has not been seen for two days.
“His sister Deng Jicai told the Guardian he rang to say that he was safe, but she did not know his whereabouts. "Three or four guys are following me. I don't know who they are...The whole family feels very depressed and pressured," she said. "The government have sent a team to investigate and don't have a result yet, but right now we want freedom before the investigation results come out. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, June 26, 2012]
Earlier, she told the South China Morning Post the protesters at the hospital this weekend had "shouted and shouted, saying we were ungrateful and traitors since the government had promised to solve this matter but we still talked to foreign media ... My cousin, who took pictures of them, was injured, with bruises and scratches all over his body." Zhang Kai, a lawyer who has been advising the family, added: "It is impossible the villagers made the banner about Deng Jicai. It must have been orchestrated by local officials." He said that higher levels of government had handled the matter correctly by launching an investigation but noted: "Things seem to be getting worse for the family, as some local officials have to take responsibility for this incident, and it will be criminal responsibility. They are panicking.”
‘supporters also believe local officials may be behind a large number of online attacks on the family and smears about them. Zhang said a relative who visited Feng found her tyres had been slashed when she returned to the hospital car park. Officials in Zhenping county and Ankang did not answer calls. Asked whether officials would investigate claims of harassment of the family, a spokesman for Shaanxi provincial government, who gave his name only as Mr Jia, said: "I don't know where you got that information. I have not heard of that. You said you had heard it— how did you hear it? The government is doing the investigation. We have announced everything on our website. You should check our website rather than following rumours." A spokesman for the National Population and Family Planning Committee said its investigation was continuing.
One-Child Policy Murder in China
In January 2009, a Chinese court has sentenced a mother to death for hiring a man to strangle her 9-year-old son so she could have a baby with her new husband without violating the “one child” policy. Li Yingfang had previously ordered a failed attempt on the life of her young stepdaughter, court officials in Shaanxi, central China, confirmed today.[Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, January 16, 2009]
Li, 36, gave custody of her son to the boy's grandmother after her first husband died, an official at a lower court in Weinan confirmed to the Associated Press news agency. People who remarry may have second children if their new partners are childless. But Li's second husband had a daughter from his own first marriage, preventing the couple from having a child together legally.
According to Shaanxi Television, Li initially paid Wang Ruijie about 70,000 yuan (£6,900) to kill her stepdaughter. But after the girl resisted and escaped, Li took her own son to a meeting with Wang, who strangled the boy and left his body by a rural road.
The court in Weinan originally imposed a suspended death sentence because Li had suffered from depression after having two abortions because of the population laws. Such sentences are often commuted to life in prison. But the higher people's court in Shaanxi ordered her execution after it ruled her depression was not directly related to her crime. Wang was given a suspended death sentence. Both were ordered to pay compensation to the bereaved grandmother.
Riots Against the One-Child Policy in Bobai County, Guangxi
In May 2007, riots broke out in Bobai and Shabei counties in an “autonomous” region of Guangxi over attempt to enforce strict family-planning policies. Villagers protesting heavy fines for having extra children burned cars, damaged buildings and fought with police armed with guns and cattle prods. Between 300 and 3,000 people participated in demonstrations and attacks against government offices in four townships. Twenty-eight people were detained The riots were prompted by a campaign by government work teams who went from town to town and village to village fining anyone believed to have violated the one child policy. Tension did not abate until officials retreated and admitted possible wrongdoing. Members of the government work teams carried cattle prods and sledge hammers and imposes heavy fines on the spot and looted and ransacked home of people that could not pay and seized their farm tools, furniture and other valuables, even taking the windows and doors off their homes. In some cases men and women of childbearing age were forced to undergo forced sterilizations and pregnant women that already had children were forced to have abortions.
Reuters interviewed one Bobai farmer who had six children with two wives had thought he was off the hook when he paid 2,000 yuan ($260) in fines to his townships government in 2004. He was shocked was given a one-page notice that he owed $15,500 “45 times the region’s annual income — in fines. “I already cleared this by paying 2,000,” he said. “I told them “This government now wants 120,000 from me. Where am I supposed to get it?
China’s Population Control Abuses in Bobai County, Guanxi
Ma Jian wrote in The Guardian: “In 2007, I read of riots breaking out in Bobai County in China's south-western Guangxi province. Under pressure from higher authorities to meet birth targets, local officials had launched a vicious crackdown on family-planning violators. Squads had rounded up 17,000 women and subjected them to sterilisations and abortions and had extracted 7.8m yuan (£800,000) in fines for "illegal births", ransacking the homes of families who refused to pay. Tens of thousands of peasants occupied Bobai County town and set fire to government buildings to protest against the crackdown. This was the largest outbreak of popular unrest since the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square. [Source: Ma Jian, The Guardian, May 6, 2013 ^*^]
“Shortly after the Beijing Olympics of 2008, I travelled to Guangxi, where I had decided my new novel, The Dark Road, would open. Before I start work on a book, I often go on a journey. I need to immerse myself in the places I write about: inhale the scents, tread the dusty paths and absorb the rhythms of the local speech. By the time I arrived in Bobai, almost a year after the riots, the burned government buildings had been repaired, but there was still anger in the air. A vast hoarding above the town entrance showed a couple and their single child and the message: "When every family benefits from the family planning service, every village will rejoice and blossom." The road beyond was lined on both sides with brand new family-planning propaganda signs that were the same rectangular shape and blue-and-white colouring as the surrounding traffic signs. The effect was oppressive and surreal. ^*^
“I spoke with roadside hairdressers, stallholders and hostel room attendants, and asked them what had led to the riots. "Those corrupt officials!" one man said. "They just used the crackdown as an excuse to line their pockets. Have you seen the lavish new office blocks they've built themselves?" A man with a motorbike agreed to take me to meet a family who had been persecuted the previous year. "They live in a remote valley, far from the nearest village, so the local officials are unlikely to see us," he said as I climbed on behind him. He drove me through dark green hills, past brick shacks painted with half-defaced slogans, one of which read: "After the first child: insert an IUD; after the second: sterilise; after the third: kill, kill kill!" When we arrived at the house, Ah-Li was laying out shrivelled, salted vegetables to dry in the sun. She had to care for four children and her husband's elderly parents, and looked much older than her 30 years. When I asked her about the forced abortion she suffered, she flinched. "It crippled me," she said. "I couldn't stand up straight for weeks afterwards. I had to spend hundreds of yuan on painkillers." ^*^
"I heard you worked in a factory in the south for a few years, so you must have had some savings. Did the family-planning squad take the lot?" I looked down at her spindly neck and the duck droppings scattered over her concrete yard. The warm air smelled of singed feathers. I could hear shouting coming from the four children and the television inside her small house. "Yes, the gods are always against me!" she sighed. "I tried to travel to the county town to lodge a complaint, but the police turned me back. If you write about my story on the internet, don't mention my surname." She rose to her feet and brushed the dung from her trousers. "I paid thousand-yuan fines for my second, third and fourth daughters, but the squad told me that those didn't count, and I'd have to pay another 10,000 yuan for each of them." ^*^
"Was the aborted baby a girl or a boy?" I asked, feeling uncomfortable questioning a stranger about such matters. "I don't know," she answered. "When the squad turned up, I was cradling my youngest. The officers tore her from my arms, kicked me in the belly and forced me into the minibus. In the clinic, they gave me a shot in the arm. When I woke up two days later, the baby in my belly was gone. I didn't realise until a month afterwards that they'd sterilised me as well. Every woman in this county has been sterilised – apart from the ones who managed to escape. Now look what I've become: a useless, withered wreck." From behind her dark fringe she eyed me with a look of distrust and despair. ^*^
Women Fleeing Population Control Abuses in Bobai County, Guanxi
Ma Jian wrote in The Guardian: “On the way back to Bobai town, I asked the driver where the escaped women had fled. "At the start of the crackdown, many pregnant women went to hide near the reservoir, but the police hunted most of them down and took them off for abortions. The ones who escaped fled to the Yangtze. Very few of them have returned." I packed my bag, then set off for the river. [Source: Ma Jian, The Guardian, May 6, 2013 ^*^]
Two thousand years ago, after Confucius was forced into exile by the Duke of Lu, he roamed through the outlying states and wrote: "If my path comes to an end, I will board a raft and drift towards the sea." In today's China, where every inch of land is controlled by the state, rivers still offer refuge to the nation's outlaws and outcasts. Dressed in scruffy jeans and a frayed shirt, I posed variously as a migrant worker, a tramp, or a traveller in search of adventure, and lived among family-planning fugitives in their dilapidated barges on the Yangtze. Most of the families had three or four daughters born "out of quota". They live abnormal lives on the margins of an even more abnormal society, picking up menial jobs in the river towns, raising ducks, scavenging refuse sites, hoping to produce a longed-for son who will carry on the family name; all the while nervously scanning the banks, ready, at the first sight of a police van or family-planning squad, to pull anchor and set sail.
Along the banks of a Yangtze tributary in Hubei Province, I approached a battered houseboat. The pregnant woman inside glanced up at me like a thief caught red-handed. When I asked if I could hire her boat for a sightseeing trip, she relaxed and said: "No, I need to deliver a cargo of rice to a restaurant downriver this afternoon." We fell into conversation. She told me she'd escaped Bobai with her husband and two daughters, and had been living on the river for almost two years. When I told her I had a three-year-old daughter, she smiled briefly. Then she stroked her large belly and, tears filling her eyes, told me that before she left Bobai she was given a forced abortion. The eight-month-old foetus was a boy. "He was still alive after the nurse pulled him out from me. He was a tough little creature. He clutched the nurse's sleeve and wouldn't let go. She had to peel his fingers off her one by one before she could drop him into the bin." I stared at the woman's gold-plated wedding ring, and the dirt caught beneath her fingernails. She looked at the ducks foraging the rubbish-strewn bank and said: "Not many tourists come here. The water's so polluted. You should go to the Li river near Guilin. It's a world-famous beauty spot."
I travelled by passenger ferries and cargo barges to the southern province of Guangdong. In Chinese philosophy, rivers represent the life-giving yin, the "eternal female". But on my long journey down the poisoned waterways of China, I discovered that the rivers are treated with the same callous disregard as the bodies of Chinese women. In the rivers' lower reaches, death was everywhere. Decaying waste, polystyrene scraps, yellow factory effluent and dead animals seemed to clog every channel. When a black plastic bag floated past, my fellow passengers would point at it and mutter under their breath: "Another dead baby."
“One Child Nation”: Nanfu Wang’s Documentary About the Horrors Of the One-Child Policy
“One Child Nation” is a documentary about the horrible ways in which China’s One-Child Policy was carried out. It was made by director Nanfu Wang, who is well known in U.S. documentary circles, and made the Oscar documentary feature shortlist in 2019. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2010, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Documentary. It has been ignored in China. The film has been portrayed by some as being too one sided.
Deadline reported: the film “paints a devastating picture of the way the Chinese government enforced its one-child policy. “Wang and co-director Jialing Zhang interviewed former government officials and others tasked with carrying out the strict policy. “In every level of the government there was a family planning office. People’s job was to monitor women down to like when their periods come and whether a woman was pregnant or not. So, if a pregnant woman gave birth to their first child, within a month they would be forced to have a sterilization,” Wang states. “And if women resisted, let’s say if they tried to hide in a different city, in a different village, once they were discovered they would be taken into a clinic to have a forced abortion.” [Source: Deadline, December 28, 2019]
In the film, former midwife Huaru Yuan (who delivered Wang in 1985) reveals her role enforcing the one-child law. “I’ve done a total of between 50,000 to 60,000 sterilizations and abortions,” Yuan declares, saying she now feels guilt about it. “I aborted and killed babies. Many I induced alive and killed. My hands trembled doing it. But I had no choice; it was the government’s policy.”
Female babies were routinely cast aside, Wang says. “This happened very commonly in rural areas… There is a traditional value that has been going on for thousands of years in China that male is valued more than female,” the director notes. “So when the one-child policy started, families had only one chance to have a baby. They would give away or abandon the daughters in the hope of trying again for a son.” “My own uncle… left his daughter in the market right after she was born and then she died,” she reveals. “And ’til this day it is still very painful and [he] suffered from the trauma because he had to do that.”
Wang maintains the one-child policy wound up fueling a kind of international trade in babies. “When we were making this film we discovered in China in the early 1990s, when the international adoption program started, the government realized that there was profit to be made through this program,” she asserts. “In some provinces government officials would, instead of forcing a woman to abort, they allowed the woman to carry the baby into full term… Then after that, they would go take the baby away and put them into the orphanage by saying that the family had violated the one-child policy. So the child was confiscated and eligible for international adoption.”
“One Child Nation emphasizes how the Chinese government used propagandistic messaging to convince the public of the wisdom of the one-child policy. In one 1998 propaganda video excerpted in the film, a narrator assures listeners, “The one-child policy was essential. Since its implementation… our country has prevented 338 million births and saved $130 million worth of resources.” “The government has never admitted that the one-child policy has done a lot of harm on the society,” Wang comments. “Instead, when they opened up the two-child policy… the overall official narrative from China is now China has grown into a much more powerful country and we are able to provide more resources to each individual, so the government is making strategic planning to allow a family to have more than one child, and two is the best.”
Image Sources: Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ Beifan; Wikicommons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2021