So 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.
One Chinese man who dared not give his name described to the Washington Post what happened to his family in Hunan province in 2011. When his wife was seven months pregnant with their second child, the family planning authorities burst into the home and dragged his wife to a clinic. “They grabbed my wife’s body like they were grabbing a pig, four or five people holding her hands and legs and head, and injected a shot into her belly.” Ten hours later, she gave birth to a boy, alive, but weak. They put him in a plastic bag and instructed the father to pay for his burial.
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.” A monk told her that every child she helps bring into the world compensates for 100 that she killed.
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.” Was it cruel, she was asked? It was the policy, she shrugged, and she had to separate her private feelings from her duty.
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. Even Nanfu Wang’s mother tells her that when she went into labor with Nanfu’s younger brother, they had a basket waiting if it turned out to be another girl. 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. Children born outside of the quotas have no legal status, no identity papers, no access to schools or clinics. One mother, learning this week that the government had increased the permitted number of children to three, rejoiced that “Finally, my child can come outside and play out in the open.”
The poor suffered the most from the one child policy because the rich could afford to pay fines for unauthorized babies or bribe local officials into looking the other way. The bribes became so lucrative for family planning bureaucrats that they strenuously resisted the central committee’s 2016 policy change to permit two children.
And now, noting China’s worrying decline in fertility, the Communist Party has increased the baby quota to three. The Times story explained that the policy may have “jeopardized the country’s future,” but it’s much worse than that. The one child policy amounted to infanticide on a monumental scale at a time when the birthrate was naturally declining anyway. As the South China Morning Post reported, the big drop in China’s fertility rate happened between 1970 and 1979, when it declined from 5.8 children per woman, to 2.8. This was before the draconian one child policy went into effect. As any economist could have explained, fertility declines as wealth increases. Today, China’s fertility rate has fallen to 1.3, which is below the U.S. rate of 1.7 (replacement is 2.1).
The Communist Party, which thinks of Chinese people as pieces to be moved around a chessboard, not as rights-bearing individuals, is concerned about the future workforce, and the aging population. Each of those only children has two parents and four grandparents to care for—they call it the 4-2-1 problem—and while the official propaganda promised that the state would take care of the elderly, pensions are inadequate.
The Communist Party’s social engineering has created a society poor in siblings, cousins, or aunts and uncles. The imbalance between males and females consigns millions of men to permanent bachelorhood. Human Rights Watch has documented “bride stealing” from Myanmar to China:
Traffickers prey on vulnerable women and girls, offering jobs in, and transport to, China. Then they sell them, for around $3,000 to $13,000, to Chinese families struggling to find brides for their sons. Once purchased, women and girls are typically locked in a room and raped repeatedly, with the goal of getting them pregnant quickly so they can provide a baby for the family. After giving birth, some are allowed to escape—but forced to leave their children behind.
There are reports of similar kidnappings of women from Vietnam, Cambodia, and North Korea.
Many on the American left initially applauded China’s one child policy. In 2008, Thomas Friedman said the policy “probably saved China from a population calamity.” Others acknowledged that China went too far, but believed that population control was a fundamentally beneficial development. That was a grave error.
While the right was once the province of China skepticism, it has lately taken a turn toward stupidity and xenophobia. Republicans boast of hawkishness toward China, which consists of third-grade taunts like “China virus” and “Kung flu,” along with tariffs paid by Americans. But the Trump years featured hardly a whisper about China’s gross violations of human decency, and in fact, Trump praised the Uighur concentration camps.
This week’s announcement regarding family policy reminds us that China’s worst crimes have always been committed against its own people.