Chinese Women Look Abroad for Sperm Donors Amid China’s Shortage

Chinese Women Look Abroad for Sperm Donors Amid China’s Shortage
Chen Yun (Front) walks past Dr. Liu Jiaen (Rear) as she arrives for vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment at a hospital in Beijing on April 24, 2016. China’s decision to allow married couples to have two children is driving a surge in demand for fertility treatments. (Andy Wong/AP)
Shawn Lin

Now that Beijing allows couples to have more than one child, the shortage of sperm donors is highlighting the need for more sperm donors amid a fertility crisis and short supply of sperm in China. In 2015, Shanghai-based Xinmin Evening News reported that local couples may have to wait two to three years for donor sperm.

The human sperm bank in China's Fujian Province began trial operation on July 13. It is the 28th registered sperm bank in China.

Although China's sperm banks are not rare, there is a severe shortage of sperm donors. In March 2021, Chongqing sperm bank was “in a state of emergency and urged the public to donate sperm. In 2018, sperm banks in Zhejiang, Shandong, and Jiangxi provinces were “again in an emergency state.” Earlier, sperm banks in Shanxi, Jiangsu, Sichuan, Henan, Guangdong, Hubei and almost every other province had made similar announcements.

According to the regulations of China’s Ministry of Health, the commercialization and industrialization of sperm banks are strictly prohibited. Therefore, sperm banks in each province cannot buy sperm, but can only accept donations from volunteers, with a subsidy of several thousand yuan at most.

However, Shanghainese came up with a solution. In July 2021, Shanghai held a sperm competition to select the "invincible sperm" with the highest concentration, vitality, maximum semen volume, and lowest deformity rate. The winner of each category was awarded 7,500 yuan (about $1,100). There was also a subsidy if the contestant's semen was accepted by the sperm bank. The competition attracted a lot of college students with no income.

Inspired by Shanghai, Chongqing Sperm Bank also held a 30-day sperm quality competition in April. The competition was divided into three categories, with each winner receiving 5,000 yuan (about $740).

Jiang Hui, director of the department of andrology at Peking University Third Hospital, said infertility affects about 30 million couples in China, with an incidence of 10 to 15 percent, of which 50 percent is due to a low sperm count in the male partner, The Beijing News, a Chinese Communist Party-owned  newspaper, reported in early 2021.

Sperm banks do not sell the sperm to single women. They send it to hospitals that are treating couples seeking artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The Shortage

In the face of such a huge market, there are relatively few sperm donors in China, and the pass rate of donated sperm is getting lower and lower.

The Zhejiang sperm bank announced in April 2021 that the bank was able to achieve a pass rate of 40 percent when it first opened, but three years later the pass rate was less than 27 percent.

The cumulative number of sperm donors at the Sichuan Sperm Bank as of the end of 2019 was 5,370, but only 957 were qualified for inclusion, a qualification rate of less than 20 percent. The sperm bank was established in 2012.

The sperm bank in Shaanxi Province had about 800 sperm donors in 2015, but only 106 met the quality standards. Zhang Zhou, chief physician of the human sperm bank at Northwest Women's and Children's Hospital in the province, said the quality of sperm is getting worse, yet demand grows every year.

When market demand couldn't be met, two results emerged: one is the underground market, the other is getting sperm from abroad. The underground market is unregulated, has more risks, and carries the possibility of contracting a disease. Obtaining sperm from overseas sperm banks was once favored by high-class Chinese women and even formed an industrial chain.

Sperm banks in western countries are mostly commercial and the donor can be selected via the internet. The frozen sperm can be delivered internationally. One Chinese lady said she was dazzled by the selection of the elite donors from overseas sperm banks, who are so varied that they range from Ivy League students to doctors and models.

However, the majority of sperm seekers looking abroad are single women, and the subsequent babies are more likely to be of mixed race. The ensuing ethical concerns are discussed and even debated by the Chinese public.

Shawn Lin is a Chinese expatriate living in New Zealand. He has contributed to The Epoch Times since 2009, with a focus on China-related topics.