The Children of China

Jiayang Fan, a rural-born Chinese girl who later left China for the United States, tells her life story as a girl in rural China under the one-child policy . From the New Yorker:

In my kindergarten class of only children, we drew pictures of the things five-year-olds were supposed to know. China was a red flag with dots of yellow stars. Home was the cinderblock high-rises where we, children of the urban Army base, lived. A family was three stick figures: two big, one small. Even when chattering about our “sisters” and “brothers,” as we sometimes did in a flurry of familial intimacy, it was understood that we could only mean cousins.

[…] In the village elementary school where I enrolled for three months—semesters were divided according to the harvest season—I did not know how many of my classmates had siblings. Their questions were not about the fact that I was an only child so much as about the type of tricycle I had and the number of times per week that I ate meat.

[…] A more perceptive child might have noticed that there were fewer only children in the village—that there “brothers” might actually mean brothers—and that my two uncles and my father all went on to earn university degrees, take up residence in cities, and abide by their policy of single births, while all three of my aunts bore two sons each in the village of their birth. Not me.

Nor did I notice the strangely high ratio of boys to girls in the village. Sons have always been preferred, and baby girls are often aborted before birth—in my aunt’s generation, they were sold or sometimes killed. To me at the time, it just seemed advantageous: our teacher ranked grades according to our sexes, and I came in third over-all and first among the girls in my class (I only reported the latter to my mother).

See more on the one-child policy via CDT.


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