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Chen Guangcheng and China's one-child policy


The whole world now knows the name of Chen Guangcheng, the blind Chinese human-rights activist from Shandong province who briefly took protective shelter in the U.S. embassy before being released on Wednesday under a deal struck by the American and Chinese governments.

Chen Guangcheng

Here are the names of a couple more Shandong residents who aren't so well known, but deserve to be.

Fang Zhongxia is a mother and peasant who, in March, 2005, was seven-months pregnant with a second child.  Local officials, outraged by this apparent flouting of China's "one-child" policy, took her relatives hostage (including three minors and a 70-year old woman) and forced Ms.  Fang to drink prostaglandins, a substance that induces abortion by causing premature uterine contractions.  For good measure, these same officials sterilized Ms.  Fang.  Only after this did they let her relatives go.

Li Juan is a woman from Linyi city.  When she was 24 years old and nearly full-term in her pregnancy, "Officials held her on the bed and gave her a poisonous shot, despite that her due day was soon," according to a prepared statement from Chinese lawyer Jiang Tianyong that was presented to a U.S. Congressional hearing in 2009.  "The needle went through her belly to the nine-mouth old fetus.  Li said, At first, I could feel my child was kicking; after a while it stopped.' Ten hours later, Li gave birth to a dead baby.  The official threw the dead baby into a bucket."

For decades, untold millions of mothers have been subject to forced abortions and sterilizations in China, as part of its one-child policy.  But thanks to the heroic human-rights work of Mr.  Chen, we know that the situation in Linyi city was particularly grotesque.  The widespread use of coercion to sterilize women and abort their fetuses was too horrific even for Chinese authorities.  Following on Mr.  Chen's work, they proclaimed the practices illegal and disciplined a token number of Linyi officials.

Humiliated by these disclosures, Linyi's leaders launched a campaign of vilification against Mr. Chen, declaring that he was working for "foreign anti-china forces." (There was a grain of truth to this, since it was only in the West that Chen's shocking revelations were given a full airing.) In September, 2005, Chen was placed under house arrest — where he remained until his dramatic escape last month.

His treatment betrayed all the pettiness and cruelty that Beijing typically musters against noisy human-rights campaigners: Guards even took away the toys of Mr.  Chen's six-year-old daughter.  When a New York Times reporter tried to visit him, a guard chased the man away with a broom.

Linyi's macabre implementation of one-child despotism was not the only human-rights outrage that Mr.  Chen exposed: He also was a campaigner on behalf of the disabled, and led a petition drive against a paper mill that was polluting a local river with noxious black sludge that killed fish and turtles, and produced dermatological illnesses.  But the campaign for reproductive rights was certainly his most important struggle.  China's one-child policy is barbaric, and Mr. Chen is one of the few human rights champions with the courage to blow the whistle on its most ghoulish excesses.

China's one child policy "has caused more violence against women and girls than any other official policy on Earth."

As Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women's Rights Without Frontiers, told U.S.  congressmen in 2009, China's one child policy "has caused more violence against women and girls than any other official policy on Earth." It has led not only to instances of torture, as in the above-described examples of forced abortions and sterilizations, but also has contributed to gendercide (the preferential abortion of girls, because many families seek to ensure that their one child will be male), female suicide and child abandonment.  While Mr.  Chen no doubt appreciates the burst of attention he is enjoying on the world stage, he certainly would prefer that we also focus on the massive, underlying one-child policy problem that led to his human-rights campaign, and consequent incarceration, in the first place.

Canadians in particular might want to pay close attention.  Here at home, liberals are hyper-sensitive to the passage of any abortion law, on the exaggerated fear that the prohibition of, say, thirdor second-trimester abortions might set us down a slippery slope to a world in which abortion is outlawed completely, at any point in gestation.  On such slippery-slope logic do we remain the only developed nation in the world where it is entirely legal to abort a fetus at any stage of development and viability, for any reason whatsoever — or no reason at all.

The Linyi example shows us that the slippery-slope argument works the other way, too: Once abortion becomes widely available, commonly practised and state-sanctioned, citizens and government officials become jaded to the human reality of birth and procreation.  Instead, the fetus is seen as an inanimate prop of social policy, to be terminated according to whim and expedience.

Even a blind man could see that this is an evil path.



Jonathan Kay.  "Abortion's Two-Way Slippery Slope." National Post, (Canada) May 3, 2012. 

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.

The Author

Jonathan Kay is Comment Pages Editor of the National Post newspaper.  In addition, he is a columnist for the National Post op-ed page, and a regular contributor to Commentary magazine and the New York Post.  His free-lance articles have appeared in Harper's, The New Yorker, The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and various other publications.  In April, 2002, he was awarded Canada's National Newspaper Award for Critical Writing.  In June, 2004, he was awarded a National Newspaper Award for Editorial Writing.

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