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NY Times - May 21, 2013

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

 

By MA JIAN

Published: May 21, 2013 

LONDON — ZHANG YIMOU, the celebrated film director and arranger of the 2008 Summer Olympics’ opening ceremony in Beijing, was accused last week of being the latest high-profile violator of China’s one-child policy. The People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, alleged that Mr. Zhang had fathered seven children with four different women.

The news has ignited an angry online debate, with Internet users condemning the unequal application of a 1979 law that stipulates every couple may have just one child (or two for ethnic minorities and for rural couples whose first child is a girl). The truth is: for the rich, the law is a paper tiger, easily circumvented by paying a “social compensation fee” — a fine of 3 to 10 times a household’s annual income, set by each province’s family planning bureau, or by traveling to Hong Kong, Singapore or even America to give birth.

For the poor, however, the policy is a flesh-and-blood tiger with claws and fangs. In the countryside, where the need for extra hands to help in the fields and the deeply entrenched patriarchal desire for a male heir have created strong resistance to population control measures, the tiger has been merciless.

Village family-planning officers vigilantly chart the menstrual cycle and pelvic-exam results of every woman of childbearing age in their area. If a woman gets pregnant without permission and is unable to pay the often exorbitant fine for violating the policy, she risks being subjected to a forced abortion.

According to Chinese Health Ministry data released in March, 336 million abortions and 222 million sterilizations have been carried out since 1971. (Though the one-child policy was introduced in 1979, other, less-stringent family planning policies were in place before it.)

These figures are easy to quote, but they fail to convey the magnitude of the horror faced by rural Chinese women. During a long journey through the hinterlands of southwest China in 2009, I was able to find some of the faces behind these numbers.

On ramshackle barges moored on the remote waterways of Hubei and Guangxi, I met hundreds of “family-planning fugitives” — couples who’d fled their villages to give birth to an unauthorized second or third child in neighboring provinces.

Almost every one of the pregnant women I spoke to had suffered a mandatory abortion. One woman told me how, when she was eight months pregnant with an illegal second child and was unable to pay the 20,000 yuan fine (about $3,200), family planning officers dragged her to the local clinic, bound her to a surgical table and injected a lethal drug into her abdomen.

For two days she writhed on the table, her hands and feet still bound with rope, waiting for her body to eject the murdered baby. In the final stage of labor, a male doctor yanked the dead fetus out by the foot, then dropped it into a garbage can. She had no money for a cab. She had to hobble home, blood dripping down her legs and staining her white sandals red.

It is not surprising that China has the highest rate of female suicide in the world. The one-child policy has reduced women to numbers, objects, a means of production; it has denied them control of their bodies and the basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children.

Baby girls are also victims of the policy. Under family pressure to ensure that their only child is a son, women often choose to abort baby girls or discard them at birth, practices that have skewed China’s sex ratio to 118 boys for every 100 girls.

The Communist Party argues that the means justify the ends. When Deng Xiaoping and his fellow economic reformers introduced the one-child policy as a “temporary” measure in 1979, after Mao’s death and the end of the calamitous Cultural Revolution, they claimed that without the one-child policy, the economy would falter and the population would explode.

Thirty-four years on, despite mounting criticism, the Party still clings to it. But their argument is based on shoddy science: the birthrate, already falling before the policy was introduced, is now officially 1.8, or nearer 1.2 according to independent demographic experts like Yi Fuxian — much lower than the necessary 2.1 population replacement level. Mr. Yi and others have warned of China’s impending demographic disaster: a rapidly aging nation that a dwindling work force will be unable to support.

Rising incomes and urbanization generally lead to falling birthrates. If the one-child policy were scrapped tomorrow, most Chinese wouldn’t rush to produce as many offspring as Zhang Yimou. And despite recent signals that the Party might be considering gradually relaxing birth restrictions, there is still considerable resistance.

Stubborn hard-liners will not willingly abandon population control measures that have provided the government with an estimated two trillion yuan in revenue from fines, according to the demographer He Yafu, while allowing it to maintain firm control over people’s lives.  

The public outrage voiced against Mr. Zhang during the last week plays into the Party’s hands. Instead of attacking the government’s barbaric policy, the people are being encouraged to criticize the rich for escaping its claws.

Ending this scourge is a moral imperative. The atrocities committed in the name of the one-child policy over the last three decades rank among the worst crimes against humanity of the last century. The stains it has left on China may never be erased.

Ma Jian is the author, most recently, of the novel “The Dark Road.” This essay was translated by Flora Drew from the Chinese.

NY Times - Nov. 15, 2013

 

Wang Zhao/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Chinese limit of one child for most families, which was enacted to slow population growth, has led to criticism.

By CHRIS BUCKLEY

Published: November 15, 2013

HONG KONG — The Chinese government will ease its one-child family restrictions and abolish “re-education through labor” camps, significantly curtailing two policies that for decades have defined the state’s power to control citizens’ lives, the Communist Party said Friday.

The changes were announced in a party decision that also laid out broad and potentially far-reaching proposals to restructure the economy by encouraging greater private participation in finance, vowing market competition in several important parts of the economy, and promising farmers better property protection and compensation for confiscated land.

Senior party officials, led by President Xi Jinping, endorsed the 60 initiatives at a four-day Central Committee conference that ended Tuesday, but details were released Friday. Mr. Xi described the document as a bold call for economic renewal, social improvement and patriotic nation-building — all under the firm control of one-party rule.

“We must certainly have the courage and conviction to renew ourselves,” he said in a statement accompanying the decision. Both were issued by the official news agency, Xinhua.

Mr. Xi, who assumed China’s top party leadership post a year ago and the presidency eight months ago, has tried to project an image as a leader who can pursue a potentially conflicting agenda: making China’s economy more responsive to market forces and giving its people greater social and economic freedom while fortifying traditional one-party rule.

For months, analysts have speculated about the economic policies that could be introduced at the meeting. But the planned changes to population policy and punishment, two areas where overhauls have been debated, and delayed, for years, gave the decision significance beyond the economy. They could stir public expectations of even bolder changes under Mr. Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang in the decade they are likely to spend in office.

“Xi Jinping may have the most concentrated power of any Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping,” said Xiao Gongqin, a professor of history in Shanghai who closely follows Chinese politics and advocates “neo-authoritarian” rule to protect the march of market overhauls. “Politically, he has pursued an ideological tightening, because he wants to prevent the kind of explosion in political demands that could come in a relaxed environment. That’s the biggest danger for any government entering a period of reform.”

For decades, most urban couples have been restricted to having one child. That has been changing fitfully, with rules on the books that couples can have two children if both parents are single children. But that policy will now be further relaxed nationwide. Many rural couples already have two children, and some have more.

“This is the first time that a central document has clearly proposed allowing two children when a husband or wife is an only child,” said Wang Guangzhou, a demographer at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “Now it’s just talking about launching this, but the specific policies have to be developed at the operational level.”

If carried through, the relaxation would be the first significant nationwide easing of family size restrictions that have been in place since the 1970s, said Wang Feng, a demographer who teaches at both the University of California, Irvine, and Fudan University in Shanghai. He estimated the policy could lead to one million to two million more births in China every year, on top of the approximately 15 million births a year now.

“This step is really, I think, the middle step toward allowing all couples to have two children, and eventually taking away the state’s hand,” Professor Wang said. “But this shift is historical. It’s fundamental. To change the mentality of the society of policy makers has taken people more than a decade.”

The one-child restrictions were introduced to deal with official fears that China’s population would devour too many resources and suffocate growth. But they have created public ire and international criticism over forced abortions, and have created a population of 1.34 billion, according to a 2010 census, that is aging relatively rapidly, even before China establishes a firm foothold in prosperity. Experts have for years urged some relaxation of the controls.

Mia Li contributed research from Beijing.


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: November 15, 2013

Earlier versions of this article misspelled the given names of the Chinese prime minister and a history professor in Shanghai who said President Xi Jinping had the greatest concentration of power of any Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping. The prime minister is Li Keqiang, not Kequang, and the professor is Xiao Gongqin, not Gongqing.

NY Times May 2013 - Myanmar Limits Birth of Muslims

 

One Region in Myanmar Limits Births of Muslims

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Published: May 25, 2013

YANGON, Myanmar — The local authorities in the western state of Rakhine in Myanmar have imposed a two-child limit for Muslim Rohingya families, a policy that does not apply to Buddhists in the area and comes amid accusations of ethnic cleansing during earlier sectarian violence.

Officials said Saturday that the new measure would be applied to two Rakhine townships that border Bangladesh and that have the highest Muslim populations in the state.

The unusual order makes Myanmar perhaps the only country in the world to impose such a restriction on a religious group, and it is likely to fuel further criticism that Muslims are being discriminated against in the Buddhist-majority country.

In a recent meeting with President Thein Sein, President Obama mixed praise for the country’s rapid pace toward democracy with a warning that violence against Muslims “needs to stop.”

It was unclear how the local government would enforce the rule, and the announcement could be as much about playing to the country’s Buddhist majority as about actual policy. It was also unclear what effect the new limits would have; there have already been restrictions on Rohingyas marrying, which analysts said were meant to decrease the birthrate.

A spokesman for Rakhine State, Win Myaing, said the new program was meant to stem rapid population growth in the Muslim community, which a government-appointed commission identified as one of the causes of the sectarian violence.

Although Muslims are the majority in the two townships in which the new policy applies, they account for only about 4 percent of Myanmar’s roughly 60 million people. The measure was enacted a week ago, after the commission recommended family planning programs to stem population growth among Muslims, Mr. Win Myaing said. “Overpopulation is one of the causes of tension,” he said.

The policy will not apply yet to other parts of Rakhine State, which have smaller Muslim populations. The central government has not made any statement about the two-child policy, which was introduced at a local level. Calls seeking comment on Saturday from two government spokesmen were not immediately returned, but an official with Rakhine State, Myo Than, said all local policies require “consent from the central government.”

A new wave of sectarian violence in Myanmar first flared nearly a year ago in Rakhine State between the region’s Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. Mobs of Buddhists armed with machetes razed thousands of Muslim homes, leaving hundreds of people dead and forcing 125,000 to flee, mostly Muslims.

Human Rights Watch has accused the authorities in Rakhine of fomenting an organized campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against the Rohingya.

Since then, violence against Muslims has erupted in a few other parts of the country. Containing the strife has posed a serious challenge to Mr. Thein Sein’s government as it tries to make democratic reforms. It has also tarnished the image of opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been criticized for failing to speak out strongly in defense of Muslims.

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