A new book on China's one-child policy fails to deliverby Yuan Ren / January 21, 2016 / Leave a comment
On a cold night in October last year, the leaders of China announced the end of the one-child policy in Beijing, one of the most profound and large-scale experiments that a government has imposed on its people.
My generation is not the only product of the one-child policy. For many, the policy, which came into effect in China in 1980, has already dictated their family structure. People don’t just start reproducing when the state says they can. Some of my older friends wanted more children, but now they mostly say they’ve long given up on the idea.
Mei Fong’s new book One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment gives a worthy overview of the policy. Fong, a former Wall Street Journal China correspondent, ranges widely across modern Chinese society, from the Sichuan earthquake to the foreign adoption of baby girls.
Yet the author’s ambition for scope is partly to blame for the book’s downfall. One Child is at points insightful, particularly with first-hand interviews, such as in the story of Yicheng, a city where a two-child policy was “secretly” trialled for decades. But the narrative fails to deliver the same momentum in other areas, parroting widely used arguments from the western media in a way that lacks intellectual curiosity. Oversimplified assertions are made and at times, the book wanders off into loosely associated topics (for example, the far-fetched attempt to link the growing sex doll industry to the lack of real women).
What is missing is a fresh perspective on how facts and figures could be interpreted given China’s rapid evolution and complex social reality. The book also failsto delve into the cultural mindsets and attitudes, particularly of those hardest hit by the policy: China’s women.
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Fong pitches the one-child policy as a cold-hearted calculation by leaders thought up with little reference to reality, or regard for side…