The photo was undeniably cute: a studio portrait of eight babies in identical onesies and perky white cotton hats, sporting an array of expressions from giggly to goofy, baffled to bawling.
Intended as an advertisement for the studio, the photo grabbed a different kind of attention: In a country that limits most couples to one child, many Chinese were amazed to learn that a couple had spent nearly a million yuan ($160,000) and illegally enlisted two surrogate mothers to help have the four boys and four girls.
The incident has highlighted both the use of birth surrogates, a violation of Chinese law, and how wealthy Chinese do as they please, with scant regard for the rules that constrain others. The most common reaction, though, has been simple disbelief.
“Heavens. To have one family with eight kids ... in an era of family planning where most people have just one, the contrast is just too much,” said popular Chinese Central Television news anchor Bai Yansong as he introduced a 20-minute special report on the babies last weekend.
Chinese media are calling the mother “babaotai muqin,” or “octomom,” a reference to the American woman who gave birth to octuplets using in vitro fertilisation. Much remains uncertain about the family from Guangzhou, the capital of south China’s Guangdong province.
According to the Guangzhou Daily, a government newspaper, the biological mother carried two of the babies, while two surrogates gave birth to three each. After the babies were born in September and October last year, 11 nannies were hired to help take care of the children.
While some suspect a hoax, a media officer with the Guangdong Health Department said the case was real and under investigation.