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Hi all; I'm currently writing an EPQ on China's one child policy. It is only a first draft and I still have 3000 words to go, but any feedback would be fantastic.
There are few systems more complex than the maze which is China’s family planning law. Its dubious nature and flagrant disregard for international human rights laws mean that its specifics are often murky and for this reason I will keep clear of the nature of the policy itself and instead focus on the effects it is having on the family, the individual and society as a whole. I will refer to China’s vast and complicated system of family planning laws as the ‘one child policy’ throughout this investigation.
Parsons, a functionalist social theorist, saw the family as having numerous functions, best carried out within the isolated nuclear family of the industrialised world. He saw the interference of the state, both in western and eastern society, as counter-productive to society’s needs. China’s once child policy is state interference on a whole new level, preventing the natural development of the ideal, the isolated nuclear family. By taking over the roles which should be filled by the family the Chinese state is destroying it as an institution.
A primary function of the family, through structural functionalist eyes, is the effective socialisation of children. Parsons saw the child as a ‘blank slate’ for a personality to be drawn onto by their parents, the main source of primary socialisation. By limiting and disfiguring the structure of the family the Chinese state is creating a new breed of ‘little emperors’.
“China’s one child policy is breeding a generation of overweight and over-indulged brats, according to one Chinese newspaper...indulgent, selfish, introverted, unconcerned and unable to care for themselves” (Guardian, 2 April 1986)
This, if true, would prove a massive hindrance for a newly-industrialising and fast developing society such as China. This is a nation which needs high numbers of socially able people to cope with the challenge of governing an authoritarian state in a world where democracy is spreading like wildfire.
However, Ann Laybourn, in her book ‘The Only Child – Myths and Reality’, appears to quash these wide-spread claims of ‘little emperor syndrome’. If claims of little emperors are to believed then their basis must lie in two presumptions; that only children are largely different from those with siblings, or Chinese children are largely different from their siblingless counterparts in the West and that these differences are only negative. Laybourn notes that as far as Western children are concerned the case seems to be open and shut; only children, if anything, appear to be better adjusted than those growing up with siblings but in China the case seems to be different;
“some studies have come out with extremely negative results on the personality and behaviour of Chinese only children” (Laybourn)
It has been suggested that this is a result of Chinese tradition; Falbo points out that Chinese children are expected to introduce themselves in birth order; they will introduce themselves as ‘first son’, fourth daughter’ and so on. This makes only children far more noticeable and thus may have biased studies. Laybourn concludes that the Chinese puzzle remains- though I doubt that only children in China differ greatly from those in our own country. It is more likely that research is biased, if not intentionally, by researchers’ and participants’ attitudes to the policy; those who are opposed strongly to it would be more likely to present negative findings on only children, and vice versa.
[IMG]file:///C:\DOCUME~1\Laurence\LOCALS~1\Te mp\msohtmlclip1\01\clip_image002 .gif[/IMG]Parsonian theory also dictates that the family are responsible for the welfare of their elderly; something which is increasingly difficult in China’s skewed demographic. The one child policy has produced a 4-2-1 demographic, unique to itself. This means that, when combined with an ever increasing life expectancy, the only child, by the time they reach adulthood, will have a duty of care to no less than six elderly relatives (see diagram). This only adds to the disintegration of the very fabric of a society which has little provision for geriatric care. This in itself proves an aspect of structural functionalism; in China’s past one of the multiple children of a person would take care of them until their death, removing the need for state geriatric care on a large scale.
This demographic disaster has further implications for Chinese society through their economy. They now have an ever expanding elderly population, no longer economically productive, to subsidise, with an ever shrinking population of working age, due to their one child policy.
On the other hand, it can be argued that these things are all minute when compare with the statistics of China. It is home to over twenty five percent of the world’s population yet has only eight percent of the world’s arable land. When combined with the rampant consumerism of newly-found capitalism and the boom-and-bust economic nature of it, the State must keep their population down to feed the desires of the millions who managed to survive state-sponsored abortion; what other way was there?
Structural functionalism, by nature, abhors abortion. The majority of their theorists are WASP males of a conservative leaning and avid proponents of the pro-life campaign. This can be seen in the US government’s denial of funding to NGOs who offer abortion, even to women who have been raped. Abortion is the primary method of stopping reticent mothers from having ‘excess’ children and forced and coerced abortion is widespread across the country, even today. In June 2012 much of the world was shocked when photographs of a woman lying unconscious next to her child, who had been forcibly aborted at seven months, appeared in Western media. Feng Jianmei, 23, already had six-year old daughter with her husband, but was forced to abort her second after they could not pay fines (Telegraph 14th June 2012). This is the individual human cost of China’s one child policy.
In 1987 Chi An went to the USA with her husband, who had a research fellowship. Her story is unique in that, as well as being a victim of China’s one child policy, she was, for many years, a nurse and health official involved in enforcing it. Steven W. Mosher, a social scientist and president of the Population Research Institute, a pro-life organisation which argues that over-population is a myth, wrote her biography after a series of in-depth interviews in Chi’s native Chinese. Although this would likely give his work a bias, he purports that, aside for the use of pseudonyms and changing of place names, it is her words. One of the most powerful accounts in the book is that of the ‘The Little-Boy-Who-Wouldn’t-Die’.
‘The Little-Boy-Who-Wouldn’t-Die’ is worth quoting at length and is a harrowing illustration of the realities of the policy. Although most would not be this extreme, from my research I doubt it is an isolated case at all.
“...the cervix was fully dilated and the top of the infant’s head exposed. A hypodermic syringe would then be filled with formaldehyde. This would be injected, using a five centimetre needle, deep into the brain...The woman screamed as Doctor Wan approached, and the baby’s head literally popped out of her body...he gripped it’s head with one hand, and with the other plunged the needle into it’s skull...The little boy took half an hour to die.” (A Mother’s Ordeal, the Story of Chi An- Steven W. Mosher)
The psychological effects of this kind of trauma on a woman are unimaginable; to have a 9 month old foetus, a child, killed inside you. World Health organisation research on suicide rates around the world found that China had the highest female suicide rate and was one of only two countries where the female suicide rate was higher than male. China’s female suicide rate is almost five times higher than the UK’s (per 100,000) and Littlejohn attributes to the coercive family planning measures in place- almost 500 women kill themselves every day in China.
Women’s rights without frontiers describe another case of forced abortion, from 2008;
“they took me...and forcibly induced labor on me without any examination or my signature. My seven month unborn child was killed. At that time I was crying out loud for help and those people beat me up. They and some doctors and nurses pushed me onto the ground and took my pants off...then they roped me to a sickbed...nobody came to help me...” (Wang Liping, victim of forced abortion, quoted on WRWF)
Aside from the obviously awful effect on the women subjected to this there must be a massive psychological cost to those involved in the enforcement of the one child policy; the doctors, the nurses, the women’s federation officials. This type of work can bring out the worst in people which, going back to the structural functionalist perspective, would result in further faulty socialisation of their children and the deterioration of the healthcare system as a whole. Having to perform these kinds of brutal treatment have to dehumanise their victims, much as the guards in Nazi concentration camps did, in order to carry out such atrocities. This dehumanisation is often directed towards the poor as the moneyed classes can afford fines which allow them to have multiple children and subsequently leads to a further breakdown in an apparently classless society. Thus the cost both in individual and societal terms is huge.
Reggie Littlejohn, founder of Women’s rights without frontiers, has given congressional testimonies numerous times to try and fight against the might that is the Chinese State about the gendercide occurring in their country. Gendercide was first coined by feminist Mary Anne Warren in 1985 and refers to the systematic killing of a specific gender. Gendercide in China is performed largely through sex-selective abortion of girls and the infanticide of female babies; the evidence of this can be seen in the hugely skewed gender demographics of China; there are forty million more men than there are women.
One incident of attempted female infanticide was reported in Western media recently; a premature female child was found, dumped in a rubbish bin with her throat slit. She was still alive when she was found.
World Health organisation research on suicide rates around the world found that China had the highest female suicide rate and was one of only two countries where the female suicide rate was higher than male. China’s female suicide rate is almost five times higher than the UK’s (per 100,000) and Littlejohn attributes to the coercive family planning measures in place- almost 500 women kill themselves every day in China which is shocking, especially when you consider that women are in a minority.
There are also latent consequences of gendercide; the mass excess of men, known colloquially as bare branches, as they cannot carry on the family line, have no prospects of finding a wife. Returning again to the functionalist perspective, they see sexual control as a primary function of the family. When there are so many men with no prospect of marriage two main things happen; the sex industry grows and women are trafficked in to fuel it. This, in a country where Mao’s regime had almost eradicated venereal disease, proves to be a health epidemic. The incidences of Aids in China have risen significantly and research published in The Official Journal of the International AIDS Society showed that, due to the rising number of unmarried males, their were correlating rising numbers of female sex workers, many of whom did not use condoms on a regular basis.
A second latent consequence of the rising number of ‘bare branches’ is the trafficking of women; whilst this is obviously a bad thing it has, in itself, further latent consequences. The trade in brides is a way many women escape the oppressive regime of North Korea- The DPRK – as outlined in Barbara Demick’s book ‘Nothing to Envy’. In this a woman who was suffering through an abusive relationship escaped the DPRK, and its archaic divorce laws, by selling herself as a bride to a Chinese man. North Koreans are offered asylum and citizenship if they escape to South Korea and many do this through the northern border with China.
However many women are not as lucky. Many end up treated as slaves and others are sold on by their Chinese husbands into the sex industry, unable to escape brothels and in an unfamiliar country which speaks a different language. Showing how the one child policy has destroyed yet another function of the family; sexual control.
The fastest and most significant drop in fertility rates in China was before the one child policy as we know it was introduced, during the longer-later-fewer campaign of the early seventies. The Party only introduced the current draconian measures to show that they had changed policy during the economic reforms, after Mao’s death, thus millions of women have gone through unimaginable suffering and thousands of innocents slaughtered, just so The Party could save face.

Blue skies,
Shafqat Khan
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