NY Times Op-Ed: China's Brutal One-Child Policy

Op-Ed by Ma Jian


Ma Jian is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Dark Road.” This essay was translated by Flora Drew from the Chinese. A version of this op-ed appeared in print on May 22, 2013, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: China’s Brutal One-Child Policy.


LONDON — ZHANG YIMOU, the celebrated film director and arranger of the 2008 Summer Olympics’ opening ceremony in Beijing, was accused last week of being the latest high-profile violator of China’s one-child policy. The People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, alleged that Mr. Zhang had fathered seven children with four different women.


The news has ignited an angry online debate, with Internet users condemning the unequal application of a 1979 law that stipulates every couple may have just one child (or two for ethnic minorities and for rural couples whose first child is a girl). The truth is: for the rich, the law is a paper tiger, easily circumvented by paying a “social compensation fee” — a fine of 3 to 10 times a household’s annual income, set by each province’s family planning bureau, or by traveling to Hong Kong, Singapore or even America to give birth.


For the poor, however, the policy is a flesh-and-blood tiger with claws and fangs. In the countryside, where the need for extra hands to help in the fields and the deeply entrenched patriarchal desire for a male heir have created strong resistance to population control measures, the tiger has been merciless.


Village family-planning officers vigilantly chart the menstrual cycle and pelvic-exam results of every woman of childbearing age in their area. If a woman gets pregnant without permission and is unable to pay the often exorbitant fine for violating the policy, she risks being subjected to a forced abortion.


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