Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
These were the bitter words of Chi An, a Chinese woman who was forced to abort her second child. The chilling story in , by Steven Mosher, revolves around her struggle against all odds to have more than one baby. Not only was she a victim of China's one- child policy, she was a perpetrator.
The policy started in 1957 when Chairman Mao Tsetung gave a speech on "Contradiction," stating that the "Chinese should begin to control their fertility." To have a child, the couple must apply for a birth quota, and if it was granted, they must have the baby within a year. If these standards were not met, another application had to be submitted the following year (Mosher, 169). Programs were also introduced to ensure a couple could have no more than two children, and they must be at least four years apart (Mosher, vii). Then women were recommended to have one child, and pregnant mothers were forced to have abortions.
In A Mother's Ordeal, Chi An underwent such a gruesome experience. After giving birth to a son, she wanted a girl. At that time she was still able to apply for a birth quota in four years for her second child. When an official asked her to choose a method of birth control, she said that the pill would reduce her milk supply and an IUD would aggravate the infection in her uterus. As a result she became pregnant when her son was only seven months old and the fetus had to be aborted. Because of Chi An's infection, the doctor concluded that an abortion could be potentially dangerous to her. Such a medical decision was unacceptable to the official, who screamed: "[I]f you won't do it . . . then find us a doctor who will" (Mosher, 206). The physician did as he was told.
The one-child policy was promoted through propaganda (Winberg Chai, New Politics of Communist China, 169). The Chinese were forced to attend meetings which gave them "informational material describing the advantages of abortion and sterilization, and the use of condoms, vaginal diaphragms, chemical solution, and occasionally, the rhythm method" (Chai, 170). Other strategies at these meetings were to show films on birth control and to pass out samples of "contraceptive appliances for people to inspect" (Chai, 170). When a woman was discovered to be pregnant with a second child, a representative would tell her to "have an abortion immediately," and she would "receive a cash bonus and a week off work" (Mosher, 264). If the woman refused to comply, she would be dealt with according to "local laws and regulations," says the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights (http://www.christusrex.org/wwwl/sds/hr_facts.html). In Mosher's book, the regulation was to lock up the woman in a cell while the population control workers continued to persuade her to have an abortion. This could last right up to the actual birth of a baby. Should this happen, the child would be aborted during the delivery (Mosher, 169, 284).
There is not a word strong enough to describe the brutality of a late-term abortion. The graphic details given by Mosher cast a chill over the entire book. Doctors would "induce premature labor," says Chi An, who is a trained nurse. "Then, after the cervix had dilated and the crown of the baby's head was exposed, he would inject pure formaldehyde into the fetal brain through the fontanel, or soft spot." If the cervix did not dilate fully, the doctor would "reach in with forceps and crush the baby's skull" (Mosher, 255). In China a late-term abortion was considered legal as long as the baby was "partly in the womb" (Mosher, 255).
Because of the one-child policy, female infanticide was common in China's villages where people preferred a son because he "would stay by their sides forever, carrying on with the farm work after they retired, looking after them in their old age" (Mosher, 229). A couple in the home village of Chi An's husband, for example, planned to bury their daughter alive, but the child tearfully pleaded for her life, by promising to never desert her parents. Ignoring her plea, the father smacked his shovel into her head and split her skull open. The parents ended up feeling so guilty that they turned themselves in (Mosher, 231).
Some readers question if Mosher's sources are creditable and whether he has exaggerated the details. At times Chi An does seem a gifted taleteller, endlessly spinning yarns from her memories of a country that has disallowed her to have a second child. Others feel that China, which staggers under a population of 1.2 billion, needs a zero percent growth rate. I agree, but the way the one-child policy is administered is inhumane, with no respect for the sanctity of human life and the rights of an individual. It is not fair to put a limitation on the number of children a woman is allowed to have.
After her own abortion, Chi An was asked to attend one of those meetings that marked the beginnings of the one-child policy. The women who agreed to sign an agreement to be sterilized received a cash bonus. Chi An was among those who refused, but she finally relented when the academic career of her husband, Wei Xin, was contingent upon her consent. He had applied to further his study in mechanical engineering in the United States, and her choice to bear another child would jeopardize his chance of being accepted.
After Wei Xin left for the U.S., Chi An found a job in her field of nursing. The only catch was that she would be part of the population control committee. Chi An seemed to have changed her mind, and cherished the one-child policy as a much-needed strategy for her country's economic prosperity. Secretly she felt that if she could not have any more children, then no one else should. Her job was to convince mothers who were found pregnant to have an abortion. She did her job well and was eventually promoted to a higher position, which involved assisting abortions.
Finally Wei Xin wrote Chi An, asking her and their son to join him in America. She left China once she received permission to do so; her only warning was she could not get pregnant in the U.S. She also had to have an X-ray to see if her IUD was still in place. When she was with her husband in America, she somehow became pregnant despite her IUD. She wrote back to the authorities to see what would happen if she returned with a second child. Chi An and her husband received threats from the population control workers. The couple then turned to Steven Mosher for help and later became American citizens. Chi An gave birth to a girl named Mei, which means America in Chinese, "the land of her birth" (Mosher, 335).
Some readers accuse Chi An of being manipulating and selfish. That seems an odd charge laid against a woman who did not even have the freedom of speech. She was unable to express her desire for having a daughter, and her only means of holding on her dream was by dodging the authorities. Her pregnancy in America was totally accidental. I believe that her decision to keep Mei was subconsciously related to her sense of guilt from her first abortion.
Mosher, however, neglects to state the fact that the one- child policy is for the people of China's well-being. I just wish that there were another solution. The policy still exists in China today. "The population is currently growing at the rate of about two percent per year, but the official policy is to try to reduce it to one percent per year and eventually to zero population growth," according to one source published more than two decades ago (Gil Loescher and Ann D. Loescher, The Chinese Way: Life in the People's Republic of China ,143). Recent statistics show that the rate has been reduced to one percent -- twelve million -- which is still larger than the population in the entire province of Ontario (10,928,000 in 1994). Meanwhile the debate about national obligation and individual freedom continues as China struggles to improve the standard of living for its enormous population.
Chai, Winberg. New Politics of Communist China. Pacific Palisades, California: Goodyear Publishing Company, 1972.
Loescher, Gil and Ann D. Loescher. The Chinese Way: Life in the People's Republic of China. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974.
Mosher, Steven. A Mother's Ordeal. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993.
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights. "Women." China Human Rights Sheet (March, 1995). http://www.christusrex.org/wwwl/sds/hr_facts.html (March 19, 1996).
Copyright © 1996 by the author. Information from this article should be attributed to the author.