More than 30 years have gone by since the introduction of China’s one-child policy in response to the Mao-era population boom. At The Guardian, author Ma Jian condemns the policy’s corrosive social effects, and the coercive enforcement tactics that inspired his latest novel, The Dark Road:
Although initially introduced as a “temporary measure”, more than 30 years later this barbaric experiment in social engineering is, astonishingly, still in force. China’s totalitarian government may have relaxed its control of the means of production, but it has maintained firm control of the means of reproduction, and continues to intrude into the most intimate aspects of an individual’s life, stunting relationships, destroying traditional family life and spreading fear. Two generations of children have grown up without siblings, uncles, aunts or cousins. Women have lost sovereignty of their bodies. The state owns their ovaries, fallopian tubes and wombs, and has become the silent, malevolent third participant in every act of love.
[…] In 2007, I read of riots breaking out in Bobai County in China’s south-western Guangxi province. Under pressure from higher authorities to meet birth targets, local officials had launched a vicious crackdown on family-planning violators. Squads had rounded up 17,000 women and subjected them to sterilisations and abortions and had extracted 7.8m yuan (£800,000) in fines for “illegal births”, ransacking the homes of families who refused to pay. Tens of thousands of peasants occupied Bobai County town and set fire to government buildings to protest against the crackdown. This was the largest outbreak of popular unrest since the 1989 student protests in Tiananmen Square.
Shortly after the Beijing Olympics of 2008, I travelled to Guangxi, where I had decided my new novel, The Dark Road, would open. Before I start work on a book, I often go on a journey. […] By the time I arrived in Bobai, almost a year after the riots, the burned government buildings had been repaired, but there was still anger in the air. […]