News reports have swept through the Chinese media site ‘Weibo’ detailing the tragic events of a Chinese mother being pressured to abort her eight month unborn child by the state.
The woman at the centre of all this, only identified as ‘Chen’, already has one child, and fell pregnant again by accident. However, it has been reported that her husband is a public servant, and therefore must abide by strict family rules. One such rule is having the state approve the conditions of your family before you are allowed to add to one.
This brings back terrible memories of the 1979 One Child Policy that caused unimaginable horror for families in China through the 80s and 90s. The birth rate in China has since fallen and the rate of population growth is now 0.5% (figure from 2014.) The impact, however, has been immense. Owing to a traditional preference for boys, large numbers of female babies ended up homeless, in orphanages, or killed. In 2000, it was reported that 90 per cent of foetuses aborted in China were female. As a result, the gender balance of the Chinese population has become distorted. Today it is thought that men outnumber women by more than 60 million, which has resulted in an ageing population.
Forced abortions are now illegal in China, however it appears to still exist should you look for it. In 2012, a 23-year-old mother was abducted under the instruction of a local family planning official, as she couldn’t afford the fine associated with having a second child. Pictures were then taken of the dead foetus next to her devastated mother and posted on social media. In most cases within China, actively having a second child when you don’t meet the requirements results in a hefty fine many families struggle to afford.
This raises serious ethical and moral concerns, and can illustrate as a warning for all of us about the dangers of the state being in a position to have so much influence.
Further reports confirm additional Chinese totalitarianism in its response to the newly founded feminism movement. Five Chinese feminist activists were recently held by Chinese police for 37 days. The charges: organising and distributing stickers on buses to raise awareness of sexual harassment on public transport on International Women’s Day (March 8th).
While not everyone agrees with feminist ideas, the freedom to express them must be paramount. The arrest had been condemned by organisations worldwide, including Amnesty International.
Women’s rights are far from mainstream in China. Most of the population, including educated young women, do not identify with it. It is regarded as a Western movement that has no place in Eastern culture. Fortunately, this incident gained unprecedented attention for Chinese women’s activism internationally, including world leaders such as Hilary Clinton, who tweeted for their release. However, while a barrage of support and media attention came from abroad, there was minimal response in China.
The story had almost no public coverage – perhaps unsurprising given that media is heavily state-controlled. However, that being said, for the first time this year, the Chinese government is drafting its first domestic violence law.
In recent years there have been more protests which verge on civil disobedience in Chinese politics. Despite the government’s reflex tendency to silence dissent, the Chinese people have not remained silent. Thousands of residents of Shifang, a city located in the Sichuan province, took to the streets to protest potential environmental health effects from a planned oil refinery. The protests, which were unique in that they involved large numbers of students, yielded an official promise to shelve the project.
The Chinese government is slowly beginning to have to reassess how they govern the country; they are experiencing more challenges to their authority and have even started funding a ‘social stability maintenance’ program. Addressing the root causes of growing popular protests in China will require meaningful change in how the country is governed — which will inevitably undermine the Government’s grip on power.
While it is of upmost importance each country has its own identity, and that many customs will not always be agreeable with Western opinions, one cannot help but hope that China starts to free the shackles of its large, oppressive government and begins to enjoy the liberties everyone should be entitled to. On the whole, it looks like things are going the right way: it may be a slow and arduous battle, but China is not keeping quiet any longer.