Wednesday, March 01, 2006

One Child Policy

China experienced some major political, economic, and social upheaval between the late 50's and 70's, including the failed Great Leap Forward (1957-60), Mao Zedong's utopian idea to bring Communism to China overnight. However, the economic and political turmoil never slowed down the rapid growth of the Chinese population. Mao Zedong's advocacy for a high birthrate and larger population added almost 300 million more people between 1949 and 1976, the year Mao died. By 1978, when the new leadership came to power, the Chinese economy had come to near collapse. Blaming the population explosion as the key obstacle to economic recovery, the government decided to adopt an extreme family planning policy called the One-Child Policy (OCP), backed by serious punishment for offenders. It is safe to say that the OCP has successfully contained the critical population explosion in China and contributed to the Chinese economic recovery, but it has also brought out some of the worst and most extreme facets of a thousand-year-old tradition of female discrimination- female abandonment.Valuing males over females is deeply rooted in the Chinese culture. In a country where agriculture plays a supremely important role in society, such fundamental responsibilities like labor for farming, inheriting the family's land, continuation of the family name, and care-taking of the elderly are regarded as the essential duties of a man. The fact that a girl cannot inherit her family's name, will be married off into her husband's family, and is "unfit" for tedious farm labor, renders her worth less than a man's worth in traditional Chinese society. Until the mid-twentieth century, girls were deemed unworthy of receiving formal education, venturing into society, becoming involved in politics, or conducting business.While many reasons exist for female discrimination in China, carrying on the family's last name may be the primary one. Unlike the USA, where families' last names are diverse and countless, there are only about one hundred commonly-used family names in a country of 1.3 billion. Chinese put the family name first, while westerners keep the family name last. If a family does not have a boy to inherit their family's name, it is equal to discontinuing the family existence. Nonetheless, before the 1970's, gender discrimination, no matter how powerful it had been throughout Chinese history, had never led to large-scale female abandonment. Traditional Chinese families have always loved to have multiple children, as having both boys and girls is considered "good fortune". It was not until the One-Child Policy came into effect in 1978 that Chinese families, especially families living in the countryside, were forced to make the impossible decision, i.e., to abandon the first or second baby girl to try for a boy. With no concrete action or prosecution toward the crime of abandonment and death of countless female infants, it is hard to believe that China and the OCP have never been challenged until recent years. What is important to know is that the majority of pregnant women receive good, albeit Western pre-natal care, as it is their hope to give birth to a healthy son. Despite this, it is hard to imagine what goes through the birthmother's head while pregnant. Bear in mind that these rules may sound unspeakable to our western beliefs, however, it is these same beliefs that will help me bring my daughter home. However there is a feeling of sadness that one mother must suffer so the other can rejoice.

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