Let's Digress

Documentary Review: One Child Nation

There is a little-known documentary on Amazon Prime called One Child Nation. It’s about China’s national one-child policy, where families were legally allowed to have only one child at most—or else. 

Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers for the documentary and is unpleasant due to the nature of what is essentially a child holocaust. 

China’s one-child policy lasted for a devastating 35 years and according to estimates, it prevented (i.e., ended) roughly 400 million births, among copious other human rights violations. That estimate doesn’t include the number of babies who actually survived life in the womb only to be born and then abandoned in a market, given to human traffickers, or confiscated by the Chinese government to later be given orphanage, or worse, discarded.

Noncompliance with the Policy wasn’t just detrimental for babies though. If the family didn’t comply and were caught with having more than one child, Chinese officials would come into their home unannounced, forcibly take the baby from the family, and would either discard her in some fashion or turn her over to an orphanage, never to be seen by her own family again. 

Families were also heavily monetarily fined with the amount being based on their income. If they were unable to pay, then they would be placed in jail or have their assets removed. In many cases, their houses would literally be torn down or set on fire as well.

Since the Chinese culture had a much heavier preference for males than it did for females, when babies were abandoned, aborted during pregnancy, or killed shortly after being delivered, they were generally female. In fact, pregnant women who had more than one child were often compelled by the hand of the Chinese government to have abortions, and beyond that, the Chinese officials frequently forced sterilization upon them as well.

Again, Chinese women were forced to have non-consensual state-sponsored and state-facilitated abortions and surgical sterilizations.  

Another common occurrence was the event of a woman birthing twins. After the mother would deliver the twins, Chinese officials would decide which baby to take, and then they would just take it. If there were one of each gender, they would usually confiscate the female.  

Since males were valued more heavily than females, and since most of the discarded babies were female, nothing happened to them. No one wanted them because they were viewed as “undesirable” and they were left to die. The documentary shared many stories of this. One story, in particular, was of a baby girl who was left in a basket and deserted by her family in a heavily populated market. She stayed in the basket at the market for several days, completely unattended and unwanted, only to be eaten by mosquitoes and eventually die after. Bystanders did nothing because she was an “undesirable.” Not to mention that involving oneself with an abandoned baby would often result in the individual being fined or jailed. 

The documentary also discussed the prevalence of human traffickers, who would either be paid by families to take their “undesirable” first-born (usually a female or some form of handicapped) or second-born babies or they would take abandoned ones they found on the streets. The traffickers would then generally sell the babies to other interested parties or they would give them to orphanages. Traffickers who were caught selling the babies to prospective parents, leaving them at orphanages, or just having possession of them ended up with fines and jail time. 

When China eventually opened for western adoptions, the government discovered that there was a significant amount of money to be made from westerners wanting to adopt Chinese babies, and those westerners were happy to pay immensely for them. After Chinese officials would forcibly take children from their birth families, they would hand them over to the orphanage, who would place them up for adoption to westerners. The orphanages, local police departments, and Chinese officials routinely collaborated with each other to give the babies a false backstory as to how they came to be at the orphanage (i.e., not that they abducted from their family), which is the story they would tell the adopting parents. 

It’s estimated that tens of thousands of American-adopted Chinese babies were separated from their birth families in this manner and then sold to the adopting families.

The state-sponsored Policy also provided monetary incentives and other forms of encouragement for citizens to report pregnant women and families with more than one child to the government for investigation. The state-sponsored propaganda also infiltrated radio, TV, movies, and cultural events advocating that one child is the best number of children to have, as well as other messages. Some propaganda even went so far as to state that if families had more than one child, all Chinese people would eventually be forced to cannibalize each other in order to survive.

This documentary does have one downside though. Fortunately, it’s only the last five minutes, and that can be skipped. 

The narrator/host was born in the era when the one-child policy was still active and, miraculously, has a brother. She later moved to the United States, is now married, and has a son. At the end of the documentary, she was musing over the one-child policy and its far-reaching effects. 

She stated, “I want my son to have a sibling like I did, but I want that decision to be my own. I’m struck by the irony that I left a country where the government forced women to abort, and I moved to another country where governments restrict abortions. On the surface, they may seem like opposites, but both are about taking away women’s control of their own bodies.” 

This documentary is incredibly well crafted and eye-opening at the numerous atrocities forced upon Chinese citizens, families, and women, all at the behest of the Chinese government. Despite the last several minutes of the documentary causing it to lose some credibility due to the implications that everything perpetuated under the one-child policy pertaining to abortion (and presumably post-birth abortion) would’ve been okay as long as the women elected to do it consensually, it’s still an extraordinarily pro-life production.

After watching, it remains abundantly clear that all life—particularly the lives of babies and the unborn—is valuable and is something that needs to be vehemently and reverently protected by the rest of us, regardless of if it needs protecting from a totalitarian communist dictatorship or from poorly-written and immoral law crafted in the freest, most prosperous, nation in history. 

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