WASHINGTON, D.C.—Before Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao leaves the U.S., human rights activists say President Obama should bring up a topic that is as important as it is underreported: the systematic destruction of tens of millions of unborn babies, overwhelmingly female.
It began on Sept. 25, 1980, almost 30 years ago to the day. After two years of policy formulation, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party promulgated its plan to launch a one-size-fits-all approach to reproduction, the coercive family planning scheme known as the one-child policy.
The architects of the policy were actually elite scientists in the military establishment—at that time in China almost all science was military science—who applied theories of cybernetics to disputed sociological theories from the West, redefining China’s population problem along the lines of the hard science of complex machine systems. The result was a radical solution to the perceived “overpopulation” problem, led by one of China’s leading strategic weaponeers, according to the extensive research of Dr. Susan Greenhalgh from the Univeristy of California, Irvine.
The resultant “cruel and inhumane policy” and the brutal way it is implemented are among the worst human rights abuses in the world, according to speakers at an event held on Sept. 24 to commemorate the anniversary of the policy’s initiation. Led by Congressman Chris Smith, supported by Congressman Trent Franks, the speakers gathered near the Capitol Building’s East Front, in the heat, giving their views for close to an hour.
Standing behind the speakers was photographic evidence of the substance of their speeches: dirt villages with red banners strung across telephone poles reading “Crack down with no mercy on unauthorized births, violators who can make an escape for the moment can’t hide forever;” the face of blind activist Chen Guancheng, who was jailed and is now under house arrest for his advocacy on the part of mothers who underwent forced sterilizations; and on the left, the most troubling image, a 23-year-old woman named Li Ping lying on a bed, staring at the remains of her aborted child near her feet.
Reggie Littlejohn, an active opponent of the one child policy and president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, explained what happened to Ms. Li. Pregnant without a birth permit, she was pulled off the street by an overzealous “population official,” and her child was forcibly aborted. Because she had no money to pay for the disposal of the baby’s dead body, the doctors dropped it into a bag and placed it on her bed.
Ke Chengping, an invited speaker at the event near the Capitol Building, recounted a similar experience firsthand. When found pregnant the decision to abort was taken immediately, for her, by a population official. She was not allowed to call her husband, nor given an anesthetic when the official performed the procedure. “I will never be able to forget that,” she said at the end of her speech, through quiet tears. After the baby was removed from her uterus, the official inserted a sterilization device. When her husband arrived, they both cried.
One of the well-known former leaders of the Tiananmen Square student movement in 1989, Chai Ling, made a speech representing the NGO she recently founed: All Girls Allowed. She likened the one-child policy to death on the scale of the Tiananmen massacre “happening every hour” in China.
Officials adopt a multi-pronged approach to birth control, including, most commonly, fines for recalcitrants (of up to ten times the monthly income), promotions and bonuses for cadres who strictly follow population policies, regular and intrusive fertility checkups of women, the monitoring of reproductive cycles, birth permits, and a culture of fear. Coercion and violence is used when the usual mechanisms of control break down.
Representative Smith spoke about the head of a population control unit from China’s south. In a reversal of the fairytale trope, she was a mother at night and a “monster” during the day (her words), where “all the power of the state was vested in her and her family planning cadres to bring women to the abortion mills.” Resisters could be arrested and detained, and when a woman went into hiding, her husband and family members would face the same treatment.
As with all repression in communist China, this one comes in waves. Rep. Smith gave a chilling description of such a campaign in Puning county, Guangdong Province, where thousands of people were treated as livestock. Local officials there formed a crack team to round up women, men, and relatives of resisters to the policy, holding them in cramped conditions, then working overtime to sterilize them. Ten thousand people were sterilized within 20 days.
Speakers also outlined the calamitous repercussions of the policy: a ratio of between 120 and 160 males for every 100 females, which will leave millions of Chinese males without a partner; a result of this the vertiginous rise in sex trafficking to China; a rate of female suicide in China that outstrips that of men by three times, meaning that 500 women kill themselves every day partly in response to the one-child-policy; and distorted gender ratios among Chinese communities in the U.S., presumed a result of continued sex-selection practices by families once they arrive here.
Near the tail-end of the event distinguished guest speaker David Aikman former bureau-chief of Time in Beijing, arrived. It is a “terrible policy” that is disastrous for Chinese society, he said; it brings “indescribable suffering” to Chinese women.
It is a “system of repression that has been traumatizing Chinese women for thirty years,” Rep. Smith said. “No other government policy anywhere in the world systematically punishes, abuses, and violates women so grossly as this.”
As a practical measure, Rep. Smith suggests the U.S. stop funding the UN Population Fund, which he says has been the “enabler in chief” of forced abortion and forced sterilization in China. He suggests that Obama bring it up with the Chinese Premier before the latter leaves the United States. Obama met Wen yesterday, but did not touch on the issue.