I get it. There was a big crisis. In 1979, facing a huge and growing population, Chinese government officials created the “family planning policy” as the solution. Things were turned upside down as families who years before had been encouraged to build China by adding to their family were now told they could have one child only. Couples who were from minority groups were allowed two children. And, in some rural areas, a one-son, two-child rule was upheld. If those families’ first-born child was a girl, they were allowed a second chance to have the boy they wanted and needed to ensure their own social security. It was the right thing for everyone; at least, that’s what was promoted on posters and painted on walls in villages.
It didn’t take long for people to learn that violating the policy was serious business; families were fined anywhere between 3 to 10 times their annual salary as a “social compensation fee” with increased fees for multiple violations. When the billboards and fines proved not enough, officials stepped up their enforcement. Somehow horrific became normal as women with wombs growing with life were brought into makeshift surgical rooms together for forced abortions and sterilizations. It has happened. Many, many times over. I’ve heard the stories. I have read that through all these efforts combined, China has successfully “avoided” approximately 400 million births since 1979 — 400 million.
It’s now 35 years later. I wonder if there are as many conference room meetings now about the family planning policy as there were in 1979. There likely may be. The effects of the policy that are apparent right now are dramatic. With needing a son and only being allowed one child, girls are simply missing. Some have said there are as many as 40 million more men than women in the 20-something age bracket in China. 40 million young women are simply missing.
The disparity has opened the way to a myriad of problems — prostitution and trafficking, families selling their daughters to other families as future wives for their sons, parents demanding huge dowries including houses and cars from potential husbands to their daughters. Men who are poor, uneducated, and/or disabled simply cannot compete and will likely remain alone for life. As of right now, about 12-15% of all Chinese men will never marry and will live out their lives shamefully as bare branches in their family trees.
We’ve seen the family planning policy morph in recent years in response. A few years ago, couples who were both only children in their families of origin became allowed to have two children together. Then, if even one member of the couple was an only child, they were allowed to have two children together. Upholding the policy has been said to be more “relaxed” in general. And, Beijing government officials have denounced forced abortions.
Just a week ago, I read a report online that there have been conversations among officials in Shanxi province about how to handle the current consequences of the last 35 years of the family planning policy that included the idea of forcing all couples in their province to have a second child now and fining them if they don’t.
I don’t get it.
Every night, we eat at our dining room table with both leaves extending it to the largest it can go. We don’t fit around the kitchen table anymore. Eating together are five American faces and four Chinese ones, one of them my daughter forever. The other three are friends — a 4 year old boy, his father, and his mother — who are living with us for a season because it wasn’t safe for them where they were were. There’s a baby girl growing inside her who will be meeting the world soon. Those same forced abortions that were denounced publicly in Beijing are a reality where they are from. Only an overnight train ride from the city where officials are talking about forcing families to have second children, officials are still doing whatever they can to make sure they look like they’re doing a good job for the People.
The dichotomy of the world around me is overwhelming. My head is spinning, and my heart dizzy.
Astronomical fines that cripple families.
Pink flowered onesies with tiny little bows.
The baby bib from a friend decorated with hearts
that says “Daddy’s Little Sweetheart.”
Women lying quietly in surgical recovery rooms
knowing they will never give a baby life again.
The smile of a mother hearing her baby’s heartbeat.
Officials confused by the problems surrounding them
and actually considering flipping the world upside down again
and fining the same families if they do not now have two children.
The sisterhood between mothers.
The dimples on the sweet face of my little girl.
Wondering if the woman who gave her life has the same dimples
and if she is somewhere today resigned to the hard reality of life
or if she’s as confused as I am and thinking too