Greetings again from the darkness. Living in a free society means we get to make many of our own life decisions … big ones and small. Of course, those decisions are best if managed within generally accepted societal norms. Most of us can’t even imagine living under the rule of a government that controls something as personal as the number of kids we can have in our family. Well, in 1979 China imposed a “one child” policy. It stood for more than three decades, until 2015. Filmmakers Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang give us an insider’s glimpse of the effects of this policy by talking to the folks who lived through it.
Ms. Wang was born in China and moved to the U.S. Having recently had a baby, she decided to return to her birth country and explore the effects of the policy under which she was born. The social experiment and restrictive policy was instituted out of desperation for a country whose population was booming, yet the economy and food supply were a mess. She shows us the propaganda that was seemingly everywhere – from artwork on neighborhood walls to television shows. The approach was to make people think this was their patriotic duty, and that one child was the idyllic life.
What has never been discussed or studied was the dark side of what the policy meant. It was a system that encouraged boys and downgraded girls. To Ms. Wang’s credit, she interviews those on both sides of the policy – those who believe it was necessary and prevented over-population, and those who tell the horror stories of families torn apart, babies abandoned, and the secretive human trafficking that occurred. It’s quite devastating to hear these people discuss the personal impact.
The film is autobiographical in nature, in that Ms. Wang is our narrator, often appears on camera, and even interviews her own family members – both to personalize the story and to educate herself. Hearing the story of her grandfather stepping in to prevent sterilization of Nanfu’s mother is incredible. We learn she later had a son who became the favored child within the family. And yes, we get details … very specific details … on the forced sterilizations and abortions that occurred. One doctor takes credit for ‘tens of thousands’ of abortions and sterilizations, which Ms. Wang effectively contrasts with America’s ever-increasingly restrictive abortion policies. These are the two extremes in preventing women’s control of their own bodies.
No top government officials are interviewed, but the implications are quite clear. We even learn of the Utah organization Research-China.org that researches Asian children adopted during this era, often with the adoptive parents unaware of what was happening in China. We even learn of a set of twins who were separated at birth – one raised in the U.S., the other in China. They have never met. Ms. Wang is quite effective as a documentarian-journalist. Though the film lacks any attempt at style points, the details are astounding. She even shows how the Chinese government transitioned from ‘one child’ to marketing the benefits of a “two child” household, and how the propaganda machine kicked in. This film is all about impact, and it will deliver a gut-punch.
watch the trailer: