“China’s Brutal One-Child Policy”

This article is a few days old but I think it’s well worth mentioning. Written by Chinese novelist Ma Jian, it is the most horrific examination of the one-child policy I’ve ever seen. For example:

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.

The brutality and inherent unfairness of the one-child policy are no secret; the wealthy can get around it by paying a special fee, while those less fortunate have no recourse, resulting at best in extreme government intrusion and, at worst, infanticide if their one child is born a girl.

One of my informal, utterly unscientific “surverys” I conducted in China about five years ago dealt with how Chinese people feel about the policy. I realize these were all white-collars I was talking to, all in Shanghai and Beijing; about half of them were native to those cities, and all of these were single children. The other half were young people who had moved to Beijing or Shanghai, usually from second-tier cities. Maybe 10 in all. Totally unscientific and non-representative of China as a whole, of course, but interesting nonetheless.

I was surprised to hear a very similar answer from most of the respondents, almost the sort of canned response I heard in regard to Taiwan. Most said it was a shame China needed such a policy, but it was absolutely imperative that something be done to control the burgeoning population. It had to be done, unfairness and intrusivenss did not make a difference. We are talking about China’s survival, and China, they argued, would be seriously handicapped if its population kept soaring. Some single children complained about what the policy has meant for them — a world without siblings and a fear they wouldn’t develop the right social skills to deal with the outside world due to growing up in a kind of cocoon, spoiled and with no brother or sister to talk to.

I would be interested in seeing the results of a real survey to measure how the Chinese feel about the one-child policy. I’d also like to know, did the government make a conscious decision that dealing with a huge surplus of unmarried men was a fair tradeoff for limiting families to one child, knowing so many would insist their child be a boy? Did they know the result would be tens of millions of “bare branches”?

I’ve seen many articles, especially recently, predicting the government is on the verge of relaxing the one-child policy. But Ma Jian argues hardliners are refusing to abandon it, and if reform comes it won’t be anytime soon. Ma closes,

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.

I don’t disagree, even if Chinese friends and acquaintances say it’s been a necessary evil. Read the whole piece to understand why there is now particular outrage against the policy because of its loopholes for the rich and powerful.

Do Chinese people still believe the policy is essential for China’s growth? I’d be very curious to know.


Hidden Harmonies

I’ve made it a point not to link to the Hidden Harmonies blog, let alone use it in a post title. As a rule, I refuse to read it to avoid a heightening of blood pressure. But this is one article you all have to see, even if it’s four days old already. (Link via James Fallows, who is as surprised as I am.) It begins,

After living here for more than 9 months, I have come to a most repugnant conclusion. It pains me to even think about it for I am a Chinese person who has often defended the traditions, institutions, values and dignity of the Children of Heaven. But the truth is often painful at first. I realize now that much of the problems in Chinese society, and a plethora of problems there are, are not from the Chinese government (not a surprise to me since I am a long time China watcher suspicious of the anti government rhetoric of the west). What is surprising is that the myriad problems within Chinese society comes from the behavior, values and the beliefs of its people, a people that with all their traditions of wisdom behave in the most atrocious, despicable manner towards each other today. In a sense, I’d always expected this but were perhaps too proud to admit it and needed first hand experience for verification. Now I cannot escape that basic truth.

Of course, it lets the government off the hook completely, but it’s still a surprise. The comments are almost as startling as the post, although the thread inevitably breaks down in the second half as a few desperate commenters try to steer the comments toward the “America is worse or at least equal” argument.

The blogger writes, “The Chinese people especially in the north, display selfishness, rudeness, greed, ignorance, and pettiness the likes I have never seen before.” And he gives examples for his claim. Say what you will of the content, but it can’t be denied it is well written and well documented. Having just returned from a long trip to China, I can safely say a lot of it is true even if it is getting better (which it is; I was struck by people waiting in neat lines at Shanghai subway stations, but was still incensed at the rampant line cutting while I was waiting for a taxi at the new Shanghai railroad station). The writer even acknowledges that millions starved to death in China during the Great Leap Forward without blaming it on the West (and yes, that’s what other HH posts have claimed – an embargo from the West is what killed those 30 million farmers).

Read the whole thing and the comments.


Back from China

I’m back home and never experienced jet lag like this, getting up at three in the afternoon. The total trip home, with layovers, was nearly 21 hours.

My last days in China were spent in Beijing, and for all it’s flaws (air, traffic, the usual headaches) it remains my favorite place to be even though Shanghai wins in the aesthetic category, with its gorgeous, winding tree-lined streets and colonial architecture, at least in the French Concession area. I can see why so many people I know swear by Shanghai and say its their favorite place to live, even though they are totally wrong.

There’s a new Sinica podcast out in which I’m interviewed. Please check it out.