Thirty-five years ago this month when I was in China, the reign of terror known as the one-child policy had already begun. It continues today.
The woman on the operating table was nearly eight months pregnant. The doctor picked up a scalpel and made a transverse incision across her lower abdomen. Soon he was through the uterine wall, and removing a perfectly formed baby boy. The little boy was dead, of course, having been killed by lethal injection into the uterus the day before.
It was March 1980, and the Chinese Party-State had just gotten deadly serious about population control. The year before, Vice Premier Chen Muhua, the female head of China’s Family Planning Board, had let it be known that “Socialism should make it possible to regulate the reproduction of human beings.” Deng Xiaoping, China’s so-called Paramount Leader, had gone even further, ordering senior cadres to “Use whatever means you must to reduce the population, just do it!”
Eager to follow orders, Guangdong provincial officials had directed local officials to stop couples from having more than one or, at most, two children. Couples were only allowed a second child, the new rule said, if more than four years had elapsed since the birth of their first. Third and higher order children were absolutely forbidden.
The Communist Party official in charge of Junan People’s Commune, where I was living, wasted no time. He rounded up all the women in the commune who were pregnant “illegally” — there were hundreds — and told them that they would have to have abortions. Those who refused were placed under arrest and incarcerated — sometimes for weeks or months — until they bowed to the inevitable.
The commune medical clinic was turned into a killing field. Women less than five months pregnant were given immediate abortions. Women more than five months pregnant were given lethal injections into the womb to kill their unborn children and bring on uterine contractions. If the dead or dying baby was not expelled naturally within a day or two, they were removed by cesarean section abortions of the kind I had witnessed. Then they were buried in unmarked graves.
As far as I know, I am the first and only Western eyewitness to the kinds of horrors — forced abortions, forced sterilizations, infanticide, and the like — which are typical of China’s one-child policy down to the present day. Ironically enough, it was the architect of that policy, Deng Xiaoping himself, who was responsible for my being in China in the first place. The Chinese side had turned down my research proposal when it was initially advanced by the U.S. State Department. Deng had overruled them.
So I got to see first-hand what he had wrought.
The one-child policy was not formally announced until 25 September 1980, but was already in effect in several provinces for many months prior to that date. (The Chinese Party-State likes to “test” its grand experiments in social engineering in a province or two prior to implementing them on a national basis.)
Thirty-five years later, the one-child policy continues to take a terrible toll on Chinese women.
Forced abortions of the kind that I witnessed must be at the top of the list. Of the tens of millions of abortions in China today, many are performed under duress. The women are brought in, by force or the threat of force, for abortions they do not want — and deeply regret. It’s no wonder that Chinese women have the highest suicide rate in the world.
Forced sterilizations are commonplace. Chinese population control police sterilize women to take them out of the baby-making business forever. The birth control regulations advise sterilization after baby number one, and require it after baby number two. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake killed thousands of only children whose parents had been sterilized by the authorities, and who were thus denied the opportunity to have more children.
Female infanticide and sex-selection abortion are rampant. Roughly one in six girls conceived in China is killed before or after birth by parents anxious to have a son. The one-child policy leaves couples with only one, or at most two, chances to have a son. It has resulted in the deaths of some 37 million girls. This shortage of women explains why China is responsible for about 60% of the world’s sex trafficking.
Abortion in China has cost the lives of perhaps 400 million children since the beginning of the one-child policy, a number greater than the population of the United States. Although the Chinese Party-State is proud of its “success,” the country will pay a heavy price in the future for eliminating half of the next generation.
Despite these abuses, China’s one-child policy has its foreign defenders. These usually claim that the country’s birth control regimen is not really a “one-child policy” because some Chinese couples are allowed to have a second child. But so what? The Chinese government has always made exceptions to the one-child rule for some couples.
The Chinese Party-State, you see, understands — as some foreign population control enthusiasts apparently don’t — that it really doesn’t matter whether it allows couples to have one child or two children. What is important is the principle — first laid down by Chairman Mao Zedong way back in the Fifties — of Party control over reproduction.
The Chinese Party-State rejects out of hand the internationally recognized right of parents to freely determine the number and the spacing of their children.
Instead, to put it bluntly, it believes that it “owns” the reproductive systems of the Chinese people.
The birth control regulations published by the Chinese Party-State are not mere suggestions to the Chinese people about the size of their families. They are hard and fast rules about when and under what circumstances they are permitted to use their reproductive systems to conceive and bear children. This is why it makes more sense to continue to call China’s population control program a “one-child policy” rather something softer-sounding like a “family planning policy.” And this is why the horrific violations of human rights detailed above continue to occur day in and day out in China.
It wouldn’t matter if the Chinese Party-State tomorrow declared a “two-child policy” across the board. This would not change the fact that the Chinese government was still asserting total control over procreation and, in pursuit of such control, continuing to systematically violate the human rights of the Chinese people.
Until China stops trying to follow Vice Premier Chen Muhua’s dictat to “regulate the reproduction of human beings,” the rights of Chinese parents will continue to be violated. And the tragedy of China’s one-child policy will continue.
Steven W. Mosheris the President of the Population Research Institute, an organization dedicated to ending abusive population control programs in China and around the world.