Babies — mostly girls — were left in baskets at the side of the road or on a table in a market, while their mothers watched to see if they were claimed or if they were to be left to die. The agony of a mother not having a choice.
PBS’ One Child Nation examines the emotional and lifelong repercussions for millions of women and children from the one-child policy, written into the Chinese Constitution in the late ’70s/early ’80s limiting most families to a single child. The film won a Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019 and was one of 15 documentaries, out of 159, that was shortlisted for Academy Award consideration.
Nanfu Wang, one of the directors and producers of the documentary, grew up in China but never gave much thought to the one-child policy until she became a mother herself in America. Her research paints a devastating story of the impact on her family and the country from this failed social experiment.
Wang’s documentary explains how the Chinese government, through propaganda and punishment, convinced its population that they were doing this for the good of the country to prevent starvation and poverty. Wang’s mother believes it was necessary, as did many. The local midwife in the village in which Wang grew up shares that she performed anywhere between 50,000 to 60,000 sterilizations and abortions during the period, against her choice.
“During the making of the film, I had talked to my mom, my aunt and my uncle. All of them had once experienced a forced abortion or were forced to abandon their child or had their child taken away from them,” Wang shares. “If your child is taken away or you lose a child, it’s not something that you can forget. It’s something that stays with them their entire life.
“And for the younger generation, like me, who grew up under the policy, being indoctrinated in the belief that the policy was great, only when I became a mom did I start realizing and started thinking,” Wang says. “If you are from a one‑child family, you’re proud of it; if you have a sibling, you became ashamed of it — that’s when we realized how our emotions were sort of controlled by the government’s propaganda as well.”
In recognizing this national disaster, the Chinese government reversed the law in 2015. Today, China now has a shrinking workforce and there is gender imbalance — many men cannot find wives. Also, since the government saw an opportunity with adoption, over 100,000 children have been adopted from China, but some adoptive parents were told that these children were orphans, when many were not. Brian and Longlan Stuy, who adopted a child from China in 2000, started the organizations Research-China.org and DNAConnect.org after researching their daughter’s history. The organizations help bring together family members in both communities.
This story is one of horror and yet hope, as resources for families and adopted children encourage those impacted to start the journey to reconnect with their birth families.
One Child Nation
Monday, March 30