China’s one-child disaster should make pro-choice advocates think twice

A father helps his son drive a kids' electric car in a fai ground in Dafeng, in east China's Jiangsu province (AP)

When one is in the company of Western feminists (there are several among my acquaintances) who are certain of their dogma that it is “a woman’s right to choose” whether to save or abort their unborn child, it might be worth changing one’s argument. Instead of getting involved in a discussion as to when life begins, at conception or later on, simply challenge them with the question: “What do you think of the situation in China?” This will throw them off-guard and give you time to describe what happens in a country where millions of women were not given “the right to choose.”

This not only forces Western women to confront the reality faced for decades by the Far Eastern sisterhood, but it also reminds them that for millions of women just as secular as themselves an abortion is not an inconvenience that is quickly solved by paying money to a clinic, but the death of a living baby, often under horrible circumstances.

I make these points because I have been reading One Child by Mei Fong, published by Oneworld for £12.99. The author, born to Chinese parents in Singapore and for many years a writer for the Wall Street Journal, decided to investigate “the story of China’s most radical experiment”, as the subtitle of her book puts it. So she travelled around China, interviewing many women and couples affected by the draconian law of 1980 that decided the only way to curb China’s population expansion would be to enforce a strict “one child” policy.

None of this is news to Catholics who have followed the stories and articles put out over the years by pro-life organisations, in particular Human Life International, started in 1981 by Fr Paul Marx in the US. But it might be news to vocal feminists in the western world who have become so trapped in their own rhetoric that they have failed to see how abortion has scarred the lives of millions of women the other side of the world who have been denied the luxury of “choice.”

I think if some of our own pro-choice advocates in, for example, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), were to face up to the colossal social disaster brought about in China by the one-child policy, it might – just – make them re think their self-righteous position. It is not simply that the law, now 35 years old, degraded and brutalised countless women across the country and caused the heartrending and violent deaths of their long-for babies. The consequences of deliberate nation-wide tampering with natural human desires and instincts brought other unforeseen results.

These include a rapidly aging population; a significant gender inbalance between men and women (by 2020 China will have over 30 million surplus men); the common practice of the infanticide of unwanted baby girls; numerous “bachelor villages” where the young men will never marry or have children; a hidden population of “shidu” parents who have lost their only child and who therefore face a lonely old age and the dread of an unlamented death; and the trafficking and kidnapping of babies for adoption by childless couples.

Perhaps the saddest result of all is that although China has now relaxed its policy and is allowing Chinese couples to have two children, many choose not to; raised as only children themselves and living in a highly competitive society, they have internalised the constant propaganda of “ren tai duo” (“Too many people”) and have decided that one child is quite enough. In London on a pro-life rally a few years ago, I met a pleasant young Chinese student. When I brought up China’s one-child policy with him he looked puzzled, then said earnestly: “But it is the only way. We have too many people.”

The value of Mei Fong’s book is that it is deliberately sociological and secular – not something produced by what our opponents would dismiss as the “religious right”. The author is not preaching a pro-life message, although she does describe the one-child policy as “that great unnatural disaster”; she is just very effectively showing what happens when a huge country enacts an insane and cruel law which, as she explains in her introduction, was not even necessary. China’s population, along with other Asian populations, was beginning to drop significantly by the 1980s without any coercive measures; it was all for nothing.