Yang Zhizhu having a light moment with his two children in his hometown in Hunan Province. Photo: Courtesy of Yang Zhizhu
In April 2010, Yang was suspended from his post after his wife gave birth to their second daughter, Yang Ruonan, on December 21, 2009. “It was an unexpected pregnancy, but I just couldn’t give her up in order to respond to China’s family planning policy, as an old saying goes, even a vicious tiger won’t eat its cubs,” Yang told the Global Times, his voice redolent of his Hunan hometown.
But his return is attached to two conditions. He cannot teach classes, and most importantly, he cannot apply for any research projects related to China’s family planning policy.
“You can call it a compromise. But I’m happy to have a stable income again, after all, I need to eat and make a living,” said the professor.
“It should be a decision by the municipal government to put me back. They simply don’t want to see me making a living by criticizing the family planning policy,” he added.
Over the past two years, Yang has kept himself busy urging an end to China’s family planning policy, which only permits one child for a majority of Chinese families, by using his own case for an example.
Besides writing articles, Yang made a name for himself as a “professor of having-a-child-out-of-the-State-plan.” He used unique means to attract attention.
China allows parents who are both only children to have two children, but neither Yang nor his wife are from one-child families. After figuring he had no chance to win his lawsuit against the Haidian District Population and Family Planning Commission after they charged him 240,642 yuan ($36,300) Yang made an attempt in October of 2010 to “sell himself” on the street in Beijing, with a price tag of 640,000 yuan. “Whoever buys me, I will be his/her slave until I am dead,” reads the poster Yang wrote to stage the “show.” The video clip of his performance art soon went viral online.
But it is not the only sensation Yang has caused. After the Haidian court blocked the bank account of his wife following his refusal to pay the penalty, he tried to seek help from society, this time by begging for jmoney online. But he didn’t forget to reiterate his stance. “What I need is support, rather than pity, please don’t donate if you simply want to show your sympathy on me but still support the family planning policy,” he wrote. And indeed, he won support from many, as well as more than 110,000 yuan in donations.
Finally, Chen’s bank account was unblocked after a forcible bank transfer of 240,642 yuan from Yang’s account in April, and in early June, his younger daughter was given her hukou (household registration), allowing her to be legally educated.
Before the fine was charged, officials from the Haidian family planning commission tried to persuade him to take a mild attitude towards the policy, promising that if Yang agreed, he could be charged with less penalty, but Yang refused.
“If it meant sealing my mouth, I could never compromise in this regard,” Yang added.
Fully aware of the consequences of his decision to give birth to a second child, Yang was prepared for any punishment he was likely to receive.
But there were some things he was totally unprepared for. “It went far beyond my expectation as the media coverage and impact came so fast, a;nd on such a big scale,” said Yang, whose story, combined with his unabashed personality, has made him a media darling both at home and overseas.
“There was a point when my home turned into a studio for foreign TV stations, and my little girl Yang Ruonan became a little star worldwide,” the proud father joked. And Yang knows why his story is so welcomed by foreign media.
“Our story is always portrayed as a rare anecdote for foreign audiences, as it indeed sounds funny that a professor could end up with losing his job and then be given a huge fine, just because he wanted to have a second child,” Yang sighed.
A far more meaningful job
As an associate professor who specializes in civil law, Yang, however, admits his own interest has long gone beyond his profession.
Since he started to give special attention to the family planning policy in 1991, Yang has written more than 100 articles challenging the policy. Currently, he has turned to social media to have a louder voice. “I have five Weibo accounts and seven blogs to update every day, as combined together, they are as powerful as a media outlet,” said Yang.
He also posted pictures and information about his recent visit to Zhenping county, Shaanxi Province, to see Feng Jianmei, a woman who attracted worldwide attention after she was forced to abort her 7-month-old fetus, and his updates on his newly-resumed job.
In his view, trying to push a change on the family planning policy is far more meaningful than his academic research on property law.
“It’s about millions of lives every year, just thinking about how much value they could create for our society,” Yang said, who presented the Global Times with a statistical chart from the Ministry of Health on his laptop, showing that from 1982 to 1992, excepting 1984, more than 10 million women had been forced to have abortions due to the family planning policy each year.
As a result, the birth rate in today’s China stands at 1.18, much lower than the international population replacement level of above 2.1.
Since the birth of their younger daughter, Yang and his whole family have been crammed in a one-bedroom apartment in Beijing. Without extra space, Yang has to sleep on the upper berth of a bunk bed.
But Yang has no regrets. In fact, he’d expect a third child now, ideally a boy.