Film & Television

One Child Nation, a Powerful, Personal View of China’s Extreme Policy 

A particularly chilling history is related by the village’s midwife (who happened to attend both Wang and her brother’s births). The elderly woman is unable to recall how many children she brought into the world, but recounts with some certainty 50,000 to 60,000 sterilizations and abortions she was forced to perform. “Women were dragged to us like pigs,” she remembers. When children were born alive, she simply carried out her duty. But she feels guilt. “I was the executioner,” she asserts. Today, “to atone for my sins,” she works solely with couples struggling with infertility. Proudly, she brings Wang into rooms covered floor to ceiling with banners sent by successful new parents.

Others don’t regret their participation in the policy. Another health worker (at the time, they were called “family planning officials,” and held up as heroes of the state) admitted that she was horrified when she performed her first late-term abortion and almost quit. But, she was persuaded — and today, seems to believe — that the more difficult her task, the more it demonstrated her commitment to the Party.

As the policy played out, a form of human trafficking emerged. It’s startling to meet traffickers who are positioned as some of the more heroic characters in the film. These people (and Wang focuses on one family in particular, spending time with Duan, a trafficker turned security guard) took babies found on the side of the road or given to them by family members. These children would likely have died without this intervention. The babies were sold to orphanages, that then ran perfunctory “missing children” ads before placing them with adoptive families overseas. The traffickers received between $50 and $150 per infant. The orphanages charged Americans $10,000, $20,000, or more. Yet, when the government decided to “crack down” on this system, it was the individual traffickers and not the lucrative orphanages that were held accountable. Members of Duan’s family were sentenced to six to fifteen years in prison.

Along with compelling, often heartbreaking, interviews, Wang had access to a wealth of propaganda materials, depicting happy compliant families, which contrast sharply with chilling photos of aborted fetuses discarded in heaps of garbage. The images stay with you, as do the two statements heard over and over from parents and officials alike. “The policy was very strict,” they explain. And, even more often, “I had no choice.” There is a collective guilt shared by nearly all.

Toward the end of the film, Wang reflects on how the governments of her two homes, China and the U.S., have tried to exert their power over reproduction. She grew up in a time when women were forced to have abortions against their will. Today, she lives in a place where many argue that women cannot have abortions, and must carry babies to term against their will.

“Both,” Wang observes, “Are about taking away control of women’s bodies.”

 

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