All of us (Americans, as well as most of the world) have heard the shadowed stories of China’s “one child per couple” policy. But, maybe because of willful ignorance, or just not being emotionally or mentally prepared for the details of that policy, we didn’t dig too deep into it. Then there’s also the what the communist country would even allow to get out into the public. Lucky for us, Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang had the guts to do what many filmmakers would never even dare do, which is risk imprisonment, and even death, to get this story heartbreaking story out there for the world to see in their new documentary, One Child Nation! (And I say this with no exaggeration. China has very strict laws about information that gets out of the country without their approval.)
The “one child” law came into effect around 1979 and continued all the way through 2013. And was set in place by government officials to control the over-population of China. Which, based on its premise alone isn’t that bad. But like most government “policies” regarding women’s bodies, it’s never that simple. The culture in China is, and always has been, steeped in misogyny. And above all else, little boys are praised as the pride of their family, where little girls are an afterthought. So when China began its “one child” law, it made it that much more dangerous for little girls in that country.
Wang and Zhang document specifically the remote village of China where Wang was raised. And she shares stories of growing up being shamed because her family had the audacity to have two children instead of one. But her being ridiculed in school was the least traumatic part of her story. She was made to participate in “one child” propaganda musicals at school. She was bombarded with imagery everywhere of couples with only one child. But this is very mild, very… “on the surface” stuff she’s revealing. But the more she digs, the darker this story gets.
“…little boys are praised as the pride of their family, where little girls are an afterthought.”
We start to hear stories of women being forcefully sterilized. Women being kidnapped in vans and held down in unsafe and unsanitary locations while doctors performed forced abortions. Even killing the babies while they are still alive. And the way most people in China lived themselves after doing such horrendous acts was to hide behind the fact it was “policy” and they had no choice. Some even went as far as to convince themselves that they were “honoring their country” by doing so and that China is somehow “blessed” for their sacrifice?
Wang’s own mother, when questioned about their own family history with it confessed that her family abandoned newborn girls on the side of the roads. Who later died a few days from cold and disease. When asked, how could they do such a horrible thing, her mother didn’t seem to be as remorseful as her uncle and grandfather were. I was extremely confused by her mother’s constant smile while talking about such inhuman acts. But maybe I just read her wrong… I hope.
We see a local artist who, while filming at a trash heap, found bags and bags of dead female babies. This was extremely hard to watch, and I had to turn away from it a few times just because it was too much to handle. He later cleaned up the dead infants and put them in a jar on exhibit to show China’s shame.
“Risking their lives to inform the world of the unspeakable acts China is very much guilty of…”
We also hear from ex-baby traffickers who, though it sounds terrible what they did, were actually saving babies left on the side of roads to sell to orphanages. Again, it’s pretty awful, but at least they were giving the babies a chance to live.
This is a documentary that is very difficult to stomach. Especially if you have children. These barbaric acts were done to only female babies, while boys were considered “little emperors!” Even though the law has changed in China from “one child” to two, it doesn’t make up for over 50,000 female babies dying for a policy.
With that said, I applaud Wang and Zhang’s bravery for making this movie. Risking their lives to inform the world of the unspeakable acts China is very much guilty of. And for putting together a very strong and well-shot documentary. This movie is what Sundance is all about!
Please go watch this film!
One Child Nation (2019) Directed and Produced by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang. One Child Nation screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, 2019 Tribeca Film Festival and the 2019 San Francisco International Film Festival.
10 OUT OF 10