JLF 2017: China’s horrible secret out in the open for the world to see

On the opening day of the Jaipur Literature Festival, journalist-writer Mei Fong discusses how China’s one-child policy has led to a growing population of lonely old men, and an increase in the trafficking of women and all-round unhappiness.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Updated: Jan 20, 2017 13:03 IST
Dhrubojyoti Purkait
Dhrubojyoti Purkait
Hindustan Times
JLF 2017,China's One Child Policy,Jaipur Literature Festival
Journalist-writer Mei Fong is the author of the book One Child.

When a devastating earthquake hit China’s Sichuan province in 2008, it crushed tens of thousands of homes, flattened cities and left at least 70,000 people dead.

But journalist and writer Mei Fong’s curiosity was irked by something else – old and bereaved parents started making almost daily trips to hospitals just days after burying their children.

Some investigation led her to the harrowing truth: thousands of parents were desperately attempting to reverse their surgeries after losing their only child, as mandated by the Chinese government under its one-child policy.

“I write about a 50-year-old miner Zhu Jianming and his 45-year-old wife who scraped together enough money to try and reverse only his vasectomy. They said living in the village after the loss of their teenager was painful. Everyone avoided them because they thought they would be dependent,” she told people on the opening day of the Jaipur Literature Festival on Thursday.

The award-winning journalist, whose book One Child drew the spotlight on China’s controversial policy, repeatedly stressed that the country’s phenomenal economic growth had little to do with coercive population control measures. “The ones who designed the system were rocket scientists who didn’t figure problems like male preference or a burgeoning population of elders.”

That problem has grown to gargantuan proportions – China now has 30 million more men than women, causing ripple effects in the economy, society and general well-being of society. “Imagine a country as large as Canada of horny lonely men. Parents buy property for their sons to make them attractive. This sustains an artificial real estate boom.”

But has it helped women, who were traditionally at the receiving end of strict measures and forced to undergo abortions? “No, women are seen as valuable, not valued. Trafficking has peaked. Fertile women are commodities to be sold.”

The 44-year-old pitches for measures that give women more choice and control over family, education and jobs, recalling that policies preceding the one-child policy slashed the number of children per family from six to three. “It was the most successful policy in China’s history. But the decision makers were men, who didn’t listen and thought women’s fertility was a switch that could be controlled.”

That assumption has now taken disastrous proportions, especially for China’s elderly. By 2050, the country’s seniors will form a third of the population – with little support from their “one child” who is mostly a son, or social security. “Even Chinese words for paternal, maternal relatives are dying out. Policy makers now want everyone to have more children. But such quick solutions will never work.”

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First Published: Jan 19, 2017 19:44 IST