NEW YORK — As Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng prepared to give his first speech in the United States, a group of Chinese expatriates gathered in New York City May 29 to discuss abuses in their homeland’s one-child-per-family policy.
Chen is the blind human-rights lawyer who had been under house arrest in his native Shandong Province for documenting abuses of the one-child policy. He escaped and took refuge in the American Embassy in Beijing in April and was subsequently allowed to go the United States to study at New York University. He is scheduled to speak at the Council on Foreign Relations in Manhattan this morning.
Like Chen, Women’s Rights in China , a New York-based organization advocating for the rights of women and children in China, is concerned about the abuses that accompany the 30-year-old one-child policy, particularly forced abortions and forced sterilization, but also the very notion that the state can dictate how many children a woman may have and when.
Its founder, Zhang Jing, who is Catholic, presided over the conference in the heavily Chinese section of Flushing, in the borough of Queens, N.Y. The audience included members of Women’s Rights in China and people involved in the Chinese democracy movement.
The organizers had invited several China-based activists who have worked to change the policy, but two invitees reportedly failed to receive permission to leave the country. One of them, Yang Zhizhu, had lost his job teaching at a university in Beijing because he and his wife had a second child without state permission. His speech was read in absentia. He said family-planning officials sometimes “interrogate” pregnant women to make sure it’s their first baby.
All the speakers painted a bleak picture of the policy’s effect on women who have undergone forced abortions and sterilizations, as well as its destructive impact on the whole of Chinese society.
Ann Noonan, the only non-Chinese speaker on the program, pointed out how the policy has transformed the nation. She said that only a couple of generations ago Chinese family photos would show mother and father, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins.
“Today, a photo of a Chinese family would likely include a mother and father, one child — probably a boy — no sisters and brothers, maybe an aunt or uncle and maybe a cousin,” said Noonan, who is executive director and co-founder of the Committee for U.S. International Broadcasting, which works to strengthen the free flow of uncensored news from the U.S. into other countries. “The one-child policy … has completely changed the Chinese family.”
All pregnancies must be authorized by the government, she said. The Chinese preference for sons, combined with the policy, has resulted in a “huge disproportion” of males to females in China, she added. The policy, which, according to other speakers, has become a large part of the rhythm of everyday life in China, causes women “extreme anguish” that they are not allowed to discuss. And China has an extremely high suicide rate among young women.
Fact and Fiction
Ma Jian, a Chinese writer living in Great Britain, spoke of interviewing victims of the one-child policy for a novel. Some families actually live in garbage dumps and house boats in their efforts to escape a forced abortion or heavy fine for having a second child, he found.
Ma’s presentation included several slides, including a photograph of “baby soup,” considered by some Chinese to help men increase virility. He said that some illegal abortion and sterilization facilities have arrangements with certain restaurants that sell the fetus-laden soup for $500 a bowl.
Ma, who has four children, said that even the “privileged classes” in China — high officials in the Communist Party — are subject to the one-child policy. “It is extremely rare for a policy to be so penetrating in China.”
In some villages, he said, there are whole streets full of propaganda promoting the one-child policy. A typical street-side slogan reads: “One Child, One Happy Family.”
“In China, women are treated like a reproductive tool instead of a human being,” Ma said.
During a question-and-answer period, Noonan pointed out that the Obama administration had reinstated U.S. funding of the United Nations Population Fund.
According to the Population Research Institute, the UNFPA has supported the one-child policy in China since 1979 and operates family-planning programs in 32 counties.
In 2002, the administration of President George W. Bush cut off $34 million in U.S. funding of the UNFPA because it said it provided aid to Chinese government agencies that force women to have abortions. A spokesman for the agency said at the time, ''We've never been involved in coercion in China."
Nonetheless, Ma Jian said local family-planning officials use the fact that the UNFPA financially supports Chinese family planning to “frighten” women into submission to the one-child policy.
John Burger is the Register’s news editor.