The End of China’s One-Child Policy

fanshisan1Since China announced the end of its one-child policy last week (replaced by two), I’ve been thinking about Fan Shisan’s 2 of Us exhibit we saw at Ai Wei Wei’s Beijing studio, Three Shadows. (Ai is known as an opponent of the one-child policy, though not as closely identified with it as dissident Chen Guangcheng. The blind lawyer suffered beatings, as did his wife, for defending women involuntarily sterilized; his dramatic nighttime escape from house arrest – to shelter with the U.S. government  – was an international incident, with then-Secretary Hillary Clinton getting Chen out.)

fanshisan3Photographer Fan Shisan’s double exposures highlight the kids’ aloneness, pairing them with themselves. Fan calls China’s 100 million only-children “the loneliest generation in history…Besides the Rusticated Youth and the Cultural Revolutionaries, they are the most turbulent generation in post-Mao China though the turmoil is more personal and internal.” My students often considered first cousins to be siblings because they were so close; likewise, the feelings were intense for school and college dorm roommates.

paint men onechild-policy your responsibility(This billboard, in a village in Hebei, tells men that having only one child is their responsibility.)

I had one memorable student with four siblings, whose parents paid heavy fines. She wrote an essay about sister love, using e.e. cummings’ poem to convey her feelings. She gave the poem to her sister and brother-in-law for a wedding gift:

“I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)
I am never without it
(anywhere I go you go, my dear;
and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)
I fear no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)
I want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you”

Lijun ends her essay: “I hope the man I barely know and never see will carry her heart just as well.”

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Praise for a Five-Child Policy

A former student in Beijing has four siblings — a rarity for ’80s kids in China. Below is a bit out of an essay, a love paean to her older sister on the occasion of her sister’s wedding. I love my siblings and watching my two kids grow up together. I was moved a few years ago by this exhibition of photographs at Three Shadows, commenting on the One Child Policy — bleached, hyper real double-exposures pairing only children with themselves.

1 child policy exhibit

Loneliness is the message of Fan Shisan’s “2 of Us,” a take on China’s 30-year-old One Child policy. The generation of 100 million only-children is “tragic,” Fan writes in exhibition notes. “The loneliest generation in history. Besides the Rusticated Youth and the Cultural Revolutionaries, the most turbulent generation in post-Mao China – though the turmoil is more personal and internal.” Only children “won’t know what they’ve lost.”

My writer, Lijun (Julia) reached out to me for a grad school rec this month. So she and her writing on her siblings, a topic she returned to in several assignments, are on my mind.

“I gave my brother-in-law a big smile and thanked him for the willingness to shelter my boring leftover sister.

What will I bring to my sister’s wedding, what can I say? I think I will bring nothing but one of my favourite poems, if she will forgive me for not bringing any gift.

I Carry Your Heart With Me  by E. E. Cummings
I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart) I am never without it
(anywhere I go you go, my dear; and whatever is done by only me is your doing, my darling)
I fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet)
I want no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide) “
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart)

And I hope from that wedding day, the man I barely know and never see will carry her heart just as well.”

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Sweet and Bitter

Outside Beijing, it’s suddenly rural Hebei province. Where my generous, beautiful student hosted us in her village. We walked through the sweet potato fields (also some peanuts and corn). Ethan loved pumping water and bringing it inside. Fun, she said–the first time. Small farming terraces, impossible for machines to navigate, greatly increase farming’s hardship. An amazing cook, her mom has farmed for more than 30 years.

From the sweet potato, mom made fantastic silky cellophane noodles (lunch, with greenbeans; dinner, cold with cucumbers and vinegar). With dishes of fish, pork in black bean sauce, roast duck, other vegetables, and the holiday special rice dumplings filled with date, sweet potato was also served in sugared cubes that harden like candyapple when dipped into cold water at the table. What a feast at this farm on Dragon Boat Festival.

Later, since a mom is never allowed to rest, and since she hadn’t already cooked a feast, the children demanded a lesson in making dumplings. It begins with fresh greens.

We talked about how poorly equipped and staffed rural schools are, and the far higher college-entrance exam scores rural kids need to get into college. Suddenly I understood: this discriminatory policy is to reproduce more farmers. By capping their opportunities, food will be grown. China won’t starve.

The poster says, “Men! The One-Child Policy is your responsibility.”

The noodles, made by a neighbor in the village from sweet potato flour.

My Students, in Their Own Words

Beijing Foreign Studies University


“I have often thought about what makes me different from the millions of the others who also got the same name. I believe, it is those people who raised me. My family is not a well-off one. But through my parents’ love and care I learnt about faith and trust. Through their examples of reading at night I learnt about the power of knowledge. Through their everyday housekeeping, through every meal, every outing, every call, I learnt responsibility and happiness and love. And my grandma, who regards me coming first in everything I do, never have doubt on my capabilities, she is my inspiration…I am glad to be myself. I am the Yang Yang who is like no one else.”

***

“For me, English is the best friend and teacher I ever had. It showed me how beautiful a language could possibly be, and it changed my perspective of certain issues like democracy.”

***

“I have experienced the atmosphere of overcoming difficulty after difficulty. Thousands of tests have effectively shaped me in calmly tackling barriers.”

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“I come from a very traditional Chinese family with no siblings. To some extent, it results in the loneliness and independence of my personality. And I am somewhat grateful for the small size of my family because I can receive all my parents’ attention.”

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“My choice of journalism major was not something random. I’d get moved by stories told by journalists and journalists themselves who fought for causes as human rights, peace and democracy. I can feel the language and I feel its power. It is my will to wield it as sheild and sword to preserve the many things worth fighting for.”

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“Though I love it, I have never made up my mind to be a journalist, part of the reason for which is the objection from my parents. They don’t want me to be in danger but unfortunately, journalist is never safe.”

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“Unlike most children around me, I was brought up by my grandparents. My parents have been away from home to make a living. They came back home twice a year, leaving my brother and me growing up independently. I always hoped summer and winter vacation could come soon, because only then could I get a chance to see my parents. Because of this unforgettable experience, I have been dreaming of becoming a teacher. I hope to get an average income from this stable job and use it to support my family. I dream that one day my parents no longer need to struggle alone.”

***

“I hope to be an international NGO worker, a member of the institutions under UN, to be someone speaking for our people, fighting for the promising future of the entire human beings.”

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“I hope that I can be more critical and analytical every time I read some materials especially news reports and articles about current affairs. I hope to sharpen my thoughts so that I can see the essence of the events better.”

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“I was raised under the influence of Chinese Confucianism and hold the faith in the ideal of ‘cultivating yourself, managing your family, governing the country and chase global peace’ proposed by Confucius thousands years ago. Thus I do not desire a life simply driven by money or fame but one with inner peace.”

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“My ultimate goal is to do something good for the whole society. I can be a politician or a diplomat, or a employee in cross-continent corporations, or even a part-time writer. No matter what job I do, I will always remember to make this world better.”

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“It is very hard for Chinese to make our voice heard. That is a big problem. And I want to be one of the journalists to introduce the wrold to China, as well as introduce China to the world.”