May 6, 2013
In China, procreation and childbirth are, like every facet of human life, deeply political. Since the Communist party came to power in 1949, it has viewed the country’s population as a faceless number that it can increase or decrease as it chooses, not a society of individuals with unique desires and inviolable rights. At first, Mao Zedong encouraged large families and outlawed abortion and the use of contraception, urging women to produce offspring who would boost the workforce and the ranks of the People’s Liberation Army. My mother dutifully gave birth to five children. Our neighbour, Mrs Wang, produced 11, and was declared a “Heroine Mother” by the local authorities and given a large red rosette to pin to her lapel.
Mao’s reckless strategy caused China’s population to double from about 500 million in 1949 to almost a billion three decades later. By the time Deng Xiaoping took over the reins in 1978 after the calamitous cultural revolution, not only was Mao dead, but so was all faith in communist ideology. Deng knew that for the party to regain legitimacy, it would have to achieve economic growth, and a small group of technocrats, headed by rocket scientist Song Jian, persuaded him that for China to meet its economic targets for the year 2000, its population would have to be restricted to 1.2 billion. The one-child policy they proposed was swiftly introduced: couples in China could have only one child, or in the countryside two if the first child was a girl. The production of children became as subject to state targets and quotas as the production of grain and steel.
Although initially introduced as a “temporary measure”, more than 30 years later this barbaric experiment in social engineering is, astonishingly, still in force. 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 are needed to help out in the fields and provide for parents in old age, and the preference for sons is still strong, the policy has met with particular resistance, and has been enforced, periodically, with ruthless determination.
This article was posted: Monday, May 6, 2013 at 8:00 am