China’s family values

The Chinese communist government is going to permit three children per family. How nice. Here’s how The New York Times put it: “The announcement by the ruling Communist Party represents an acknowledgment that its limits on reproduction, the world’s toughest, have jeopardized the country’s future.”

To describe China’s “one child policy” as “limits on reproduction” is like calling Jim Crow laws “limits on political participation.” The Times account, which at least used the word “brutal” after the jump, also featured a sidebar timeline of China’s population policies that was even more anodyne. In 1978, it informs readers, the central government “approves a proposal in which family planning offices encourage couples to have one child, or at most two.”

“Encourages”? Not quite. The one child policy deserves to be chronicled among the vicious human rights outrages of our time. Millions of women were strapped to hospital gurneys and had their unborn children torn from their wombs against their will. Millions more were forcibly sterilized. Were they encouraged? Sure. People got stars on little plaques showing how well they’d abided by family planning policies. They also lost their jobs, were denied education and had their houses demolished and their property confiscated if they gave birth to a non-state-authorized baby.

Forcibly aborting eight- and nine-month fetuses was common, as was infanticide. In her unblinking documentary “One Child Nation,” Chinese-American filmmaker Nanfu Wang interviewed party officials, relatives and midwives who testified to their own acts. One midwife, now 85, said she exclusively helps infertile couples now to “atone” for all the babies she killed in her career. “The policy was from the state,” she said. “But I was the executioner. My hands trembled as I did it.”

Another family planning official who also participated in countless forced sterilizations, abortions and infanticides recalled that as their babies were taken from them, the women would “scream, cry, go crazy. Sometimes they’d run away and we’d have to chase them down.”

Discarded female newborns were left in markets — “their bodies covered in maggots” — on hillsides and in trash heaps under bridges. Delivery men, bus drivers and others who were on the move would regularly find babies in bags by the roadside. Because of the Chinese preference for male offspring (when women marry they are considered members of their husband’s family), millions upon millions of couples killed their female babies in hopes of trying again for a son. The abundance of abandoned infants gave rise to a vast human smuggling operation, in which babies were passed to brokers who sold them to orphanages for international adoptions. Eighty percent were female.

Family planning authorities used Cuban-style neighborhood watch committees to spy on couples who were suspected of hiding pregnancies. Workplaces required women to record their menstrual cycles.

If couples did flout the laws and raise their unauthorized children, they were forced to keep the existence of these children a secret.


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