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China and Women's Liberation: Re-Assessing the Relationship Through Population Policies.

After thirty years of reform, China's economic and social spheres have been transformed beyond recognition. The new economy has created unprecedented employment opportunities for both urban and rural workers. The governmental structures which were put in place in the 1950s to foster social stability (such as the household registration system) have been adapted to better fit the new conditions. (1) The government's strategy of fostering urbanisation combined with the phenomenon of the 'floating population' of an estimated 200 million migrant workers has changed the composition of towns and cities and emptied villages of their working age populations. (2) At the same time, the abandonment of the planned economy has resulted in a widespread lay-off of workers from state-owned enterprises. Regardless, the overall standard of living has improved for many but the demands of home ownership, consumerism, medical and educational expenses have led to unparalleled financial stresses for the newly formed middle classes. Problems as diverse as divorce, prostitution, the trafficking of women and children, the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, crime, land acquisition disputes, obesity, corruption, pollution, and environmental degradation have all increased. (3)

One area which has been particularly controversial and conflict-ridden is that of population control. In 1979 the government implemented a new stricter policy of birth limitation. The new set of regulations brought reproduction under the notion of the plan at the same time as planning itself was beginning to retreat from the economy. Family size would now be regulated by the state with the aim of limiting family sizes to an ideal of one child per eligible couple. (4) Within a few years, resistance to the implementation of planned birth was so severe, however, that regulations were loosened. At the discretion of provincial authorities the regulations could allow a second child under certain circumstances. (5) However, negative stories regarding late term abortion, forced abortion, forced contraception, and abandoned children soon began to circulate outside China.

For feminists (within and outside China) the conditions created by both economic reform and the population control policies were (and continue to be) problematic. As is the case elsewhere, Chinese women are singularly affected by the vagaries of a market economy. Despite the Chinese government's attempts to make male sterilisation and condom use popular methods of contraception, women have borne the burden of contraceptive practice and of contraceptive failure. Once a couple has achieved their allotted number of children, it is highly likely that it will be the woman who will be sterilised rather than the man. For feminists, therefore, the outcomes of the economic reform period are mixed. On the one hand, many young women have found opportunities to participate in paid work away from the village; an increasing number of women have the option of attending university; and traditional attitudes which valued sons more highly than daughters have been challenged by extensive government campaigning and policies. (6) On the other hand, government attempts to modernise China through reducing fertility and changing reproductive behaviour place a disproportionately heavy burden on women and women's bodies.

However, assessing the impact of population policies on Chinese women is no easy endeavour. In order to produce a comprehensive and accurate account of the current situation, many difficulties need to be overcome. The first of these is the lack of clear and comprehensive information regarding most aspects of Chinese reproductive policies, their implementation, and their impact. The (somewhat inaccurately named) One Child Policy only became national law in 2002, more than twenty years after the idea of limiting family size was implemented. (7) Until the Law was promulgated, birth limitation policies were drawn up on a province-by-province basis in order to allow for the huge variation in conditions that exists across China's vast territory. Even after the new Law has come into effect, provincial governments still have great leeway in shaping the law into regulations that are suited to individual provincial conditions. An enormous state bureaucracy implements and monitors birth limitation policies. The degree of complexity in both policy and regulation is further intensified by enormous variation in how policies and procedures are carried out at the grassroots level. Rather than seeing this as a failure of the state in effective governance, however, it is possible to argue that this allows for a nuanced and sensitive application of a broad principle to local conditions. Conversely, it can be argued that this degree of flexibility allows for corruption, abuse, and inequity. No matter which argument is made about the fairness of this approach, it is indisputable that accurate, detailed and consistent information is hard to come by.

In addition, not all information gathered is released publicly. In 2009, it was revealed that a number of county areas had been secretly given permission to pursue a two child policy since 1985.8 The demographic results from these areas showed that the government experiment was successful because the counties reported below national average fertility despite the policy allowing for two children. That the actual number of experimental areas is not publicly known and the fact that all the experimental areas were kept secret for twenty-five years supports the argument that making a comprehensive assessment of birth limitation policy and practice is extremely difficult due to the selective and partial availability of data.

This article does not attempt to overcome this lack of information in order to provide a more definitive account of the impact of birth limitation policies on Chinese women. Rather, the central claim of this article is that non-Chinese feminists have yet another obstacle to overcome in assessing the impact of China's population control policies on Chinese women: the role that China has played in the Western feminist imagination. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, China became a significant model for women's liberation in the West. Although this role has received inadequate scholarly attention it is essential for understanding how population policies are currently evaluated by feminists outside China. This Western valorising of China as an example of women's liberation was not based purely on fantasy. As I show in this article, in the 1950s and 60s real changes that were truly revolutionary did take place for Chinese women. However, once birth limitation policies were introduced, China lost its earlier reputation as a model for either political or feminist revolution. The way women's bodies in contemporary China are now a key site of government regulation due to population control policies makes China a women's dystopia for many Western feminists.

This means that some of the unintended, but beneficial for women, consequences of China's planned birth policies have gone largely unremarked in the English language literature. One unintended outcome has been a generation of young women who have had unprecedented access to family and state resources. The first generation of women born since the introduction of planned birth are also the first generation of women in China's history to have received total family support and access to resources. Traditional attitudes towards gender are changing. Despite a discrepancy between the lives of rural and urban women, both groups of young women are living more autonomous lives than their mothers.

In contrast, the English language literature on Chinese population policies tends to emphasise other undesirable, unintended consequences such as the gender ratio imbalance known as the 'bachelor army' of men unable to find partners and its corollary, an increase in sexual trafficking. (9) This article argues that China's position first as a model for revolutionary women's liberation during the Maoist era and later in the economic reform era as the world's largest patriarchy creates a blind spot towards China which renders positive outcomes from Chinese population policies invisible. Before attempting to unpack some of the impacts of population policies on Chinese women, therefore, it is important to explore how China and the status of women in China has appeared to Western feminists.

No longer holding up half the sky? (10)

Women from all over the world came to attend the Non-government Forum of the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women. (11) This was the first encounter between large numbers of Chinese women and feminists from almost every country. For the Chinese government the staging of the Forum was a public relations coup. It was the first opportunity for China to show that it was capable of hosting an international event after the loss of the 2000 Olympic games bid. The event was the largest gathering of women in the world and was much anticipated as an opportunity by women's groups from outside China to meet Chinese feminists. Chinese women's groups (ranging from the official All China Women's Federation to feminist study groups and university Women's Studies teachers) had been preparing for months. (12) On the streets of Beijing, there was a sense of tension: rumours were circulating that a horde of lesbians, a plague of AIDS carriers and a multitude of prostitutes was about to descend. (13) Some media reported that Beijing's taxi drivers had been given blankets to throw over the 'mad' western women who were almost certain to throw off their clothes and hold a nude protest in Tian'anmen Square. (14) Beggars, illegal migrants to the city, prostitutes and other undesirables (homosexuals, transvestites, and artists) had been rounded up. Pollution producing factories had been temporarily closed down and instructions issued to the general populace regarding maintaining a clean and well-ordered city during the NGO Forum and the UN Conference.

Local television stations broadcast a raft of programs, short advertisements and interviews celebrating the improved conditions facing Chinese women in the weeks before the conference. As one frequently shown TV special claimed, Chinese women were now free to spend time and money on themselves. Women were shown at the hairdresser, the beauty parlour and even at the gym. When interviewed, these women professed gratitude to the government for allowing them to have freer and happier lives. In contrast to previous eras, Chinese women's participation in production or political activity hardly rated a mention. The presentation of women as model consumers taking an active role in the fashioning of the modern self proved that women were liberated under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. The smiling women celebrating their right to make themselves beautiful and pay attention to their appearance were announcing the end of Maoism. Beauty was no longer bourgeois. The body was no longer proletarian. Spending money on consumer items was no longer frivolous. Women's liberation was being re-framed within the era of economic reform. Now Chinese women not only had the money but also the time for leisure and self-fashioning with the blessing of the Communist Party. Although the space of liberation had shifted--from the oil field to the gym--a familiar narrative was being retold. In China, the liberation of women was still being held up as a measure of success just as it had in the 1950s. Women's success was no longer as workers (proof of the revolution in the 1950s) but as consumers (proof of the success of China's open door economic reform strategy).

For many of the Forum attendees, however, the Chinese revolutionary promises of women's liberation had fallen flat and had failed to deliver anything like liberation for Chinese women. Nor had China produced a sustained model of women's liberation for the world. In the view of many, the Chinese revolution, quite simply, had failed Chinese women. Restrictions on reproduction proved that China's traditional patriarchal nature had overpowered the promises of the Maoist revolution with its slogan that 'women hold up half the sky.' China's new-found economic prosperity failed to divert attention from the facts: women had higher illiteracy rates than men, were paid lower wages, and were the first to be retrenched in economic restructuring. Prostitution, trafficking and poverty (all said to be eradicated after 1949) had resurfaced under the new economic conditions. Modern Communist China had proven to be a Western feminist disappointment. From promising the liberation of women and a model of women's liberation, China had sunk to the position of the world's largest patriarchy. China was no longer a shining example of women's liberation. It was now a wolf in sheep's clothing or, more specifically, a patriarchy dressed up in aspiring bourgeois fashion. (15)

A strong divergence in views regarding population policies was also clearly evident. Women's Federation members from all over China had prepared a showcase on both the successes of the population policies and the huge improvement in women's everyday lives as a result. Speeches, gifts, and tours had all been prepared for a large number of visitors. It was with some shock, therefore, that the organisers discovered that only six non-Chinese women were in attendance. In the welcome speech, one organiser explained that, as it was well-known that Westerners were very interested in reproductive policies, this special event had been arranged in order to give the valued guests an opportunity to talk to everyday women about how their lives had improved and to see first hand how things were now done. Tours to an abortion clinic and a population research institute were arranged for four of the interested guests. At almost the same time, a large gathering of Forum attendees was meeting to denounce Chinese population control. (16) Clearly, at the Non-government Forum of the Fourth United Nations Conference on Women there was one 'correct' feminist view of Chinese population policies--the policies were oppressive. Any Chinese woman who disagreed was a 'stooge' of the Chinese government. Hilary Clinton's speech to the Plenary session of the official UN conference reinforced the correct feminist position regarding population policy: 'It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families, and that includes being forced to have abortions or being sterilized against their will.' (17)

I am not supporting here the sterilisation of women against their will nor forced abortion. I am arguing, however, that in taking this particular stance on family planning there is a danger that the voices of Chinese women who have benefited from the population policies will not be heard nor the complexity of the situation recognised. When Chinese women argue for the necessity of birth limitation policies it is important that their views are not dismissed out of hand as brainwashed.

Embodying women's liberation

In order to understand the vehemence with which China was portrayed as a regime oppressive to women, it is important to see how, for the nascent women's liberation movement in the West, China in the 1950s and 60s was originally portrayed as a shining example of women's liberation from constraints at work and at home. By the 1970s a thaw in U.S.--China relations had led to an increased number of visitors to China. Extension of 'people-to-people' diplomacy meant a broader range of groups was now able to visit China and witness the conditions of Chinese women first-hand. (18) Earlier accounts by 'foreign friends' such as Simone de Beauvoir had already drawn attention to the importance of judging China by the conditions faced by women. Her personal observations are typical of the countless books and reports published by sympathetic foreign visitors during this time. These types of accounts inevitably include details of the dramatic transformations in Chinese women's lives since 1949 as the position and condition of women in any particular society is used as a way of assessing the level of civilisation. Beauvoir noted the friendliness, the courtesy and the respect with which her group were treated. New China in the 1950s, wrote Beauvoir, was impressive in its achievements, its progress, its optimism, grit and determination. Women in China were now able to shake off the shackles of feudalism. Not only could women work, they were also free to marry and divorce at will. The concept of traditional roles for women had been almost totally destroyed. In short, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had liberated women to take their place as productive members of the new society. (19)

Central to the Chinese government's efforts to improve literacy, health, law and order, production, technology, agriculture and so on was the impressive mobilisation of large numbers of people--including women--to solve what had seemed to be intractable problems. From killing the four pests to eradicating schistosomiasis, people power was one of China's strengths and greatest resources. (20) A common saying from Chairman Mao at the time was that each mouth came with two hands (people are producers as well as consumers). The newly established Chinese health care system proved this, as an impressive achievement in a country which had been crippled by decades of civil war, invasion and occupation by foreign forces, and poverty. This system utilised people power to overcome a lack of professionally trained medical staff and deal with some intractable health issues. The 'Death to snails' anti-schistosomiasis campaign of the 1950s and 60s relied on engaging the entire population of an infected county to wipe out the snail hosts of the parasitic disease schistosomiasis. This public health campaign was based on political strategies developed during the civil war which combined people power with military style planning. The mass line approach used to eradicate snails required more than issuing shovels and instructions. It required firing the people 'with enthusiasm, to release their initiative and to tap into their wisdom.' (21) Every battle was planned and 'all weapons brought into play.' (22) At the heart of the success of the campaign, however, was mass labour. In one county, an estimated 300,000 work days were used in a two month period to eradicate snails from a town which used to swarm with them. (23) This campaign is relevant for two reasons: first, it demonstrated the enormous potential of a large population for achieving large goals. Second, it was a model for other health campaigns in that great health improvements could be made with little technology or technical knowledge. These insights formed the basis of an alternative vision for a health care system which was de-professionalised and democratised. The 'barefoot doctor' system which developed through this vision of democratised healthcare became an important inspiration for feminists from outside China, not only in relation to how bodies could be treated but also with regard to who could be doing the treating.

From the 1950s onwards, the way women's bodies were treated in China became an important component of 'reclaiming the body' for Western women. By the 1970s, Western women were learning 'kung fu' for self-defence, practicing taichi quan for relaxation and relying on acupressure for the relief of minor ailments. China had truly 'arrived' as a source for Western feminist plundering. As one woman wrote, 'In July 1970 I began studying Kung Fu (Chinese karate) ... which has helped me learn the discipline and control necessary for a strong healthy body.' (24) As women learnt new ways to move their bodies, the Chinese 'iron girls' and even ordinary Chinese women workers became models of inspiration. Whereas women in the United States were almost wholly confined to so-called traditional feminine occupations and pastimes, women in China climbed mountains, flew planes and fixed oil rigs. For women's liberationists this proved that it was not women's bodies themselves which were holding women back: it was a society which devalued women. Just as the body was the site where women experienced their oppression, so too it would be the place of renewal, awakening and the shedding of restrictive norms. Women learnt to touch and explore their bodies in new ways which were sexual but also more than sexual. Most women in the West had never seen their own genitals, far less those of another woman. The answer to female fear and ignorance, then, was the gynaecological self-examination as feminist practice. The pelvic self-exam could take place in either the home or at the health centre. It could be done by the woman herself or in a group. Learning how to conduct the exam, learning how to manipulate the tools involved, the speculum, was feminist empowerment in action. (25)

Sister magazine produced the defining image of this process in 1973. The cover featured the cartoon-strip character, Wonder Woman. Dressed in her customary stars and stripes costume, she dominated over a shocked and terrified male doctor. In her hand she wielded a speculum, as she exclaimed: 'WITH MY SPECULUM I AM STRONG I CAN FIGHT'. Under her high-heeled boots lay the bodies and remnants of vanquished victims: The Church, the zero population growth movement, planned parenthood, the American Medical Association, the 'pro-life' movement and Freud. Wonder Woman's speculum would be the tool that enabled her to gain self-knowledge. The speculum allowed her to see her own 'darkest continent' without relying on the ministrations of doctors at a time when more than ninety percent of physicians in the United States were male. Wielding the speculum was wielding reproductive power. No longer a passive recipient of medical male-dominate practices, those who could operate the speculum were strong in their self-knowledge and in their power to challenge oppressive or demeaning health practices.

Books and pamphlets exhorted American women to overcome their fears and 'reclaim their genitals' by exploring both the outside and inside of their bodies. Touch and sight were of equal importance: seeing this zone which was forbidden to women and belonged instead to male sexual partners or doctors was crucial. Learning to conduct a pelvic self-exam meant that a woman could take charge of her own health care, not only familiarising herself with her insides but observing them from a health perspective. Women were taught how to do the exams at the new women's health centres. Since the late 1960s groups of women had taken charge of their own health care, forming collectives and organisations to share health knowledge.

Juliet Mitchell has made a strong case for the Chinese practice of 'speaking bitterness' as a Chinese political tool for articulating oppression being a model for a staple of feminist consciousness raising. Her position is worth quoting in full:
    In fact, the concept of 'consciousness-raising' is the
   of a Chinese revolutionary practice of 'speaking
   reinterpretation made by middle-class women in place of Chinese
   and in a country riddled by psychotherapeutic practices. These
   subdued by violent coercion and abject poverty, took a step out of
   thinking their fate
   was natural by articulating it. The first symptom of oppression is
   the repression of words; the state of suffering is so total and so
   assumed that it is not known to be there. 'Speaking
bitterness' is
   the bringing to consciousness of the virtually unconscious
   oppression; one person's realization of an injustice brings to
   other injustices for the whole group. Nobody suggests that this
   revolutionary practice could be imported wholesale from the
   conditions of peasants in pre-revolutionary China to Women's
   Liberation Movements in the advanced capitalist countries. But
   there is a relevance which doesn't insult the plight of the
   peasant. In having been given for so long their own sphere, their
   'other' world, women's oppression is hidden far from
   (this dilemma is expressed as 'women don't want
liberating'); it is
   this acceptance of a situation as 'natural', or a misery as
   'personal' that has first to be overcome.
   is speaking the unspoken: the opposite, in fact, of nattering

Thus China could serve as a model of general revolutionary practice which could then be adapted for use in a women's revolution. It was this approach that informed women in the health care movement. The influential Berkeley Women's Health Collective took China's medical success as its inspiration. The group formed out of frustration at the lack of good, human health care for American women. The Chinese system of barefoot doctors was the model for training para-medical workers so that they could undertake simple or routine procedures. Their information on China came originally from Joshua Horn's Away with All Pests, a book about the Chinese collective medical system, and later from meetings with Horn himself. Apart from the establishment of an extensive para-medical health system, they wrote, China had achieved huge success with a mass inoculation program. Most impressively, venereal disease had been eliminated in China. China exemplified the principles of self-help: an oppressed group taking charge of their own needs. If China, a poor third world country could establish a free, fair health system then it must be possible in the United States, they reasoned. (26)

In 1970, however, the women's liberation movement was demanding equal rights, equal pay for women, paid maternity leave, free or at least low-cost abortion on demand, free child care, free medical care, free contraception, widely available information on birth control, freedom for women from a limited choice of restrictive 'traditional' roles, funded rape crisis centres and domestic violence shelters, free no-fault divorce, the right to self-development and so on. Most of these were available in China. By 1971 in China, more than half of all medical students, and nearly 100% of obstetricians were women. This provided a dramatic contrast with the situation in America, where only 7% of physicians were women. (27) In America, while 90% of women had engaged in paid work at some time in their lives, the earnings of a full-time woman worker in 1968 was only 57% of that of a full-time male worker. In addition, few American women held executive positions. In China, as many accounts testified, women were brigade leaders, directors and leaders, in addition to the oil workers and other 'iron girls' that were a common feature of earlier visitors' reports. Ruth Sidel lists twelve diverse occupations for women which had been featured in China Pictorial in 1971 including scientist, welder, soldier and party official. (28) A small number of high-profile women, such as Song Qing Ling (deputy Chairman of the PRC) and Jiang Qing (Mao's wife) even held high level public positions although there was no doubt that men still dominated the government. (29) Maternity leave in China was paid, contraception and abortion were free and an extensive free child care system allowed women to work without worry concerning child-minding. In America, free child care was difficult to find and most child care was expensive. Working women could not even claim child care expenses as a tax deduction. The comparisons could continue and most tell the same tale: conditions seemed extraordinarily good for women in China. Instead of feeling useless, dependent, passive and intrinsically inferior like American women, Chinese women were told they 'held up half the sky' and were depicted as strong and capable. (30)

Underlying the approach in China is a particular understanding of the position of women's liberation in Marxist thought. Fundamental to the problem of women's oppression in Marxist thought is the question of women's labour. Women are oppressed because they are cut off from socially productive labour, claimed Engels. The solution is to educate women (with, for example, literacy campaigns) and free them from the constraints of the family and reproduction in order for them to labour outside the home (housework and child-rearing being considered 'nonproductive.') Thus a child-care system, maternity leave, free contraception and abortion are the minimum requirements for women to take their place in the work force. The emphasis is on work as liberation. In Marxism, work provides more than an income--it provides an escape from the patriarchal family and feudal ideology into a worker's consciousness. The experience of engaging in labour provides the 'glue' which holds the socialist society together. The liberation of women is therefore necessary for the creation of a socialist state: women's liberation as a means to an end. This is not the case with the women's liberation movement in the West and its demands regarding women and work. Work provides an escape from an oppressive family system by providing women with an independent income. Working in a low-paid repetitive job reinforces the experience of feeling undervalued-particularly in a society where worth is measured by money. The goal is self-expression, personal liberation, and individual development. The path to that goal is the recognition of gender oppression as a universal experience, which crosses class and race lines. And so it is not the consciousness engendered by the relationship to labour which provides coherence, but an experience of living in a particular body type: type 'female'. (31)

Later categorisations of the early Western women's liberation movement as 'liberal' (with the goal of personal freedom and the 'same opportunities as men'), 'socialist' (with a gender critique of 'patriarchy' combined with a class critique of capitalism) or 'radical' (imagining a different femininity, but often used as a euphemism for political lesbianism, or as a catch-all category for 'left-overs'), obscure the many commonalities between different theoretical positions. Seeing China as 'utopian' is one such commonality. The appeal of China's liberation of women for 'liberal' feminists is obvious: women can take their rightful place as the equal of men in all spheres of life, particularly in the public sphere. The appeal of China's liberation of women for 'socialist' feminists is again clear: acting on class and gender oppression while eliminating capitalism is the only way to truly liberate women. 'Radical' feminists saw Chinese women as completely freed from the constraints of femininity and therefore freed from restrictive sexual and social mores. (32) Support for each position can be found in the accounts published by Chinese women of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. These personal accounts are important because they challenge a view dominant outside China in the 1960s in which only the roles of women as workers were being changed. According to Juliet Mitchell, 'At this stage of the revolution [1966] all the emphasis is being placed on liberating women in production. This has produced an impressive social promotion of women. But it seems to have been accompanied by a tremendous repression of sexuality and a rigorous puritanism (rampant in civic life).' (33) Although not all women were 'sexually liberated' many found themselves able to negotiate new relationships of equality, engage in sexual practices previously frowned upon, and able to re-work and challenge notions of femininity. (34)

What is a (Chinese) woman?

Anti-communist writers who demonised post-1949 China also noticed the 'liberation' of Chinese women. Communism obliterated individuality to the extreme point of eliminating the difference between the sexes, claimed the French commentator Robert Guillain. In China, 'an important segment of the human race is apparently being led by Communism along the path of the future human anthill, where the only thought of the ant will be the thought of the anthill--industrious, uniform and sexless.' (35)

The challenge to femininity was more than at the superficial dress level. A visitor to China interviewed in the early 1960s by Lucas claimed: 'Why, they even walk like men, shoulders hunched and heavy-footed--a remarkable transformation.' (36) Chinese women were not just dressing like men but were becoming men. In new China,
    the street-cleaner is a woman, the duty foreman at the steel mill
   is a woman, the tram driver is a woman. So is the house surgeon at
   the workers' hospital, the teller at the people's Bank, the
   mechanic, the lathe-worker, the river pilot, and the 10,000 coolies
   swarming over a frozen hillside in the North-East. Building the
   Chungking railroad, it is the girl who blasts the dynamite charges,
   while on the Peking radio is a girl who denounces the treachery of
   Formosa. In Shanghai station it is a girl who dispatches the
   trains, while, near Peking's meat market, the sentry is a girl,
   still in military khaki with a baby strapped incongruously to her
   back. (37) 

Lucas's list consists of occupations and tasks considered in his time (and, it might reasonably be argued, even today) to be firmly located within the realm of men. Women were trespassing in this world when 'like their husbands and brothers, they weave cotton, assemble cars and forge steel. They mix cement, saw lumber, drive trucks and load trains.' (38) This caused a conflict with orientalist stereotypes of Chinese (and other East Asian) women. In contrast to the naked and sensuously rounded figures in Orientalist portrayals of women in the harem, East Asian women were portrayed as a mix of subtly sensuous beauty combined with a graceful sense of decorum. (39) They were 'willow-slim creatures, with eyes like crescent moons and skin more delicate than porcelain...They were fragile, submissive and secretive.' (40) The Chinese girls, according to Guillain, 'turn out to be ugly or at least have become ugly. Has China ceased to produce the feminine beauties for which she was once famous?' (41) The contrast, therefore, between the idealised figure of the delicate Oriental woman and the black-booted communist worker seemed grotesque to those who were nostalgic for the Chinese woman of old.

The Chinese woman, according to Lucas, was 'assured equal rights, equal labour and equal pay. By a stroke of the brush, the social values of three millennia were shattered and, most astounding of all--Woman, the eternal feminine, lost her identity.' (42) This question of identity was fundamental for Simone de Beauvoir who writes in The Second Sex that 'the theory of the eternal feminine still has its adherents who will whisper in your ear: "Even in Russia women are still women"." For Beauvoir, 'if functioning as a female is not enough to define woman, if we decline also to explain her through the "eternal feminine", and if nevertheless we admit, provisionally, that women do exist, then we must face the question: what is a woman?' (43)

To sum up, Chinese women after 1949 shattered many of the myths and stereotypes of oriental femininity. The government seemed committed to implementing the slogan that 'Women hold up half the sky' in industry, in family life through marriage reform, and in society at large. Mass campaigns around health gave people, including women, not only improvements in health but also access to a democratised healthcare system which was de-professionalised. China's achievements were well-noted outside China and served as a basis for new ideas about the possibilities for women: as workers, and as women. The vehemence of the sexist responses to changes in China speaks not only to orientalism but attests to the power of the changes that were happening in China as challenging conditions for all women. Until the 1980s and the end of the Maoist era, therefore, China was a powerful beacon for feminists outside China.

Chinese women, abortion, and population control in contemporary China
    The woman of China, despite everything, still preserves her shell
   of modesty, that proven defence against all indelicacy. She may
   live in a boiler suit, chop firewood and never touch a lipstick,
   yet, inside, instinct rebels against all overt talk of sex, much
   less any scientific meddling with the rhythm of childbirth. (44) 

For feminists, China's promotion of birth control including access to abortion, condoms and other contraceptives, as well as sex education, in the 1950s and 1960s was proof of the Chinese government's commitment to improving conditions for women. As Mitchell noted in 1966, China was one of the first countries in the world to provide free State authorised contraception on a universal scale to the population. (45) For masculinist critics such as Lucas, these efforts could never be successful because an essentialist notion of femininity would prevail, leaving childbirth in the realm of the 'natural' and thus untouched by revolution. This was certainly not the case. In this section, I want to show how abortion and population control became less about women's liberation and more about government control and, thus, problematic for Western feminists. At the heart of the argument is the premise that the high regard in which China was initially held regarding women's liberation means that a sense of disappointment and betrayal can easily occlude a recognition of both the benefits as well as the negative outcome from government population policy. The example discussed here is that of the massive gender disparity which has arisen since the 1990s. Although superficially an easy target for feminist critique, the gender disparity and the Chinese government's efforts to ameliorate the problem are not well understood outside China.

One of the most controversial aspects of the Chinese population program has been abortion. Throughout the 1970s the Chinese government encouraged women to start families late, practise contraception, and limit their family size for the good of the country. (46) Abortion, legalised in 1957 after a long battle by women within the Communist Party, was not commonly performed until the introduction of a national family planning program in the 1970s. (47) The number of abortions increased in 1983 due to the implementation of a strict one child per couple policy. In 1984 a relaxation of the policy allowed many rural couples to have a second child if the first were a girl. As a result, the number of abortions fell dramatically. By the late 1980s the number of abortions had again increased when family planning restrictions mandated a spacing of some years between first and permitted second births. (48) By the 1990s a cultural acceptance of abortion was enhanced with the technical means to discover the sex of the unborn child. (49) This had a dramatic effect on the practise of abortion. (50)

Chinese women could choose traditional methods of determining the sex of the foetus, and one research team reported there was a more than 80% accuracy rate using traditional Chinese medicine. (51) It was the introduction of new technology, however, that enabled the massive gender ratio disparity to develop despite the inaccuracy of both amniocentesis and ultrasound until the final trimester. (52)

Other explanations for the gender disparity were originally posited. Abandonment and under-reporting were all initially blamed as was infanticide. However, as Davin notes, it was extremely difficult to estimate the extent of female infanticide in the early 1980s. For Davin, the fact that the problem received an enormous amount of media attention within China and even abroad was not an indication that female infanticide was widespread. (53) Indeed, later research failed to find evidence of mass infanticide and suggested that the 'missing' girls could even be alive. Instead of being murdered at birth, a new explanation for the sex ratio anomaly suggested that the girls were alive but not registered thus rendering them invisible to the state. The premise here was that a large number of families would conceal the birth of girls in order to have the opportunity to have another child and, hopefully, a son. (54) Problems with registration (hukou) could be compounded by the sheer size of the population. It was even possible that the 'missing girls' problem was exaggerated statistically due to the difficulty of collecting accurate statistics. Perhaps the 'missing girls' problem was more a statistical artefact rather than a reality. Zeng, for example, argued that the underreporting of female births accounted for between 43 and 75 percent of the high sex ratio. (55) Other ways of evading population policies such as abandonment of children backed this view. (56) Abandoned girls could be recorded as a death if not registered at all. That the vast majority of children in orphanages are girls and have living parents also backs this up. (57) Other explanations for the 'missing girls' were discovered during the 1990s. During that decade, overall infant mortality declined yet female infants had a higher mortality rate than males. This is proof of how a preference for sons can lead to the death of girls. Girls were less likely to receive medical care and other economic resources. The resulting neglect contributes to a higher mortality rate for baby girls. (58)

Under-reporting, increased female infant mortality, and the abandonment of girl children failed to account for all the large number of 'missing girls'. By the end of the 1990s, extensive research was consistently recording that a sex ratio imbalance was widespread across some parts of China. It has been estimated that at least 8.5 million girls are indeed 'missing' due to being aborted. (59)

The Ministry of Public Health had forbidden foetal sex determination in the mid-1980s and further legal regulations were issued in the 1990s. (60) The regulations clearly stated that the aborting of planned pregnancies was now forbidden. (61) The link to planning is significant as couples needed permission to give birth legally. Once permission was granted and the pregnancy had begun, any abortion not linked to deformity was almost certainly as a result of sex determination of the foetus. The regulations affected more than the individuals, however, as all government officials were directed to 'take effective measures' for the good of 'the nation and descendants.' (62) Strong penalties were introduced for those workers who breached the regulations. (63) There was a clear link between rewards and punishments for family planning workers, and the abortion rate had been clearly established in 1990 when a reversal of the practice of paying family planning workers for abortions occurred in 1990, leading to a dramatic drop in the number of reported abortions in the following year. (64)

Despite the government's efforts, controlling sex-selective abortion proved to be difficult. In the shift to a consumer society, even organisations such as hospitals were seeking ways to raise funds. By 1989 the Ministry of Public Health moved to crack down on those hospitals making money by allowing pregnant women to know the sex of their foetus. (65) At the same time, an industry in ultrasound machine manufacture had sprung up since 1979. By 1987, at least 13,000 locally made and imported ultrasound machines were in operation in China. By 1991, the largest Chinese manufacturer of ultrasound machines had an annual production capacity of 5,000 machines. (66) With a rise in economic living standards, couples with money could easily find private clinics with ultrasound facilities. In addition, planned birth officials still needed to meet quotas regarding the number of permitted births in their area. Abortion became a key way of ensuring that these quotas were met. Thus the needs of the officials and the desires of the pregnant woman may coalesce around the issue of sex selective abortion. With the shift to consumer society, private clinics are now ubiquitous in all provinces of China. Government campaigns seemed to be of limited efficacy. In 2005, Guizhou province enacted a crackdown on sex-selective abortion. Posters were prominently displayed around the capital declaring a campaign to 'Firmly crack down on the criminal activity of drowning and other brutal killing of female babies.' Only a few metres away, however, a poster for a private abortion clinic advertised the availability of ultrasound. (67)

Despite government intervention in the form of regulations, laws with harsh penalties, and education campaigns, a large number of Chinese couples continued to express their preference for a son through illegal sex selective abortion. With the rise in living standards and a government-supported shift towards an increasingly urbanised society, it may be presumed that the desire for sons would actually fall. After all, the desire for a son, many researchers argued, was due to the need for productive farm labour as a form of social security for the rural elderly. (68) Underlying attitudes towards son preference seem to guide reproductive behaviour.

Traditionally, in old age parents would rely predominantly on sons, since daughters 'married out' into other families, thereby joining another economic unit. (69) Traditional sayings supported the value of having sons, with feeding girls equated with feeding a mouth in another family or throwing away resources. Having a son was an important obligation and filial piety was outlined in The Book of Rites. (70) According to Mencius, a follower of Confucius in the fourth century BCE, not having an heir (son) was the most serious form of unfilial behaviour. (71)

The problem of the status of women and preferencing of sons has been long recognised by the Chinese government. (72) The 1949 Marriage Law aimed to improve the status of women and children by outlawing what was termed 'feudal practices'. From at least the 1970s the Chinese government has included a practice of stressing the value of girls in its population programs. Billboards exhorting the value of population control often use girls as models in a conscious attempt to reverse centuries old beliefs regarding the low value of daughters. Posters showing 'barefoot doctors' administering contraceptives were replaced by images of happy, well-fed babies, many of them girls. (73) In village areas, slogans calling for equality between men and women and for recognising the value of girls ('girls are also descendents'--'nuer ye shi houdai') are painted on walls and chalkboards in local community areas. (74) Another government campaign has used economic incentives to encourage uxorilocal marriage--that is, the practice of the groom moving to be part of the bride's family. (75) Subsequent legal initiatives such as the Women's Protection Law and the Maternal Health Care Law have been aimed at protecting mothers and children and turning around the aversion to girls. Households with two daughters may be classified as 'hardship households' and awarded special financial help and support. (76) New laws in 1985, 1986 and 1992 gave women the same inheritance rights and overall legal rights as men. (77) The gap between male and female basic education has narrowed. (78) By 2002, a revised Marriage Law stated that 'infant drowning, deserting and any other acts causing serious harm to infants and infanticide shall be prohibited.' (79)

Concern about the rising sex ratio has been expressed at the highest levels of government. (80) The Central Committee and State Council set the normalisation of the sex ratio as a goal for 2010. (81) In 2006, Premier Hu Jintao publicly discussed the sex ratio and reiterated the importance of controlling it. This new public commitment from the top leaders led to a set of new programs such as Care for Girls. (82) A new pension scheme was introduced to reward couples with daughters and the government indicated its intention to amend the criminal code making the identification of the sex of a foetus (except for legitimate medical reasons) a punishable crime.

As proof of the impact of the population policies adopted in the late 1970s, China's birth rate and overall fertility has fallen to below replacement level. (83) Fortunately, many surveys have revealed that daughters are now more valued than in the past. (84) The overall standard of living has risen and new employment opportunities in factories and light industry have given girls more employment options. The sex ratio, however, has continued to rise in some provinces. The government's response has been manifold. Not only has it legislated against sex selective abortion, carried our extensive education campaigns for a change in attitude towards girls, started to build a social security system in order to reduce reliance on sons, improved the education system, worked hard to raise the overall standard of living, and introduced a policy of promoting and supporting urbanisation. (85) For the Chinese government, son preference is evidence of the continuing presence of 'feudal remnants' in Chinese society. With increasing modernisation and urbanisation, it reasons, such attitudes should die out.


For feminists the 'missing girls' issue is a fraught one. (86) The problem has rightly been recognised as of grave concern. Girls are suffering discrimination that results in neglect or death as a result of the attitude of son preference. Girls are being abandoned and denied education and health care. However, for pro-choice feminists the missing girl problem raises a serious hurdle. It is difficult to argue for a woman's right to choose abortion and yet argue against the woman's right to choose to abort a female foetus. Some have gone so far as to call this 'femicide' (87) or 'gendercide'--the systematic wiping out of females. (88) However the 'right to choose' argument recognises that a woman may decide to abort a foetus because she believes having a child will cause hardship (either emotional or economic through pressure from the extended family and/or the husband) and thus will have a negative effect on her health and her life. That the foetus is female does not undermine this argument. The difficulty for pro-choice feminists, then, is how to argue for a woman's right to choose but argue against sex-selective abortion. As Mary Warren states, 'there is a great danger that the legal prohibition of sex selection would endanger other aspects of women's reproductive freedom.' (89) Sex-selective abortion highlights potential weakness in prochoice rhetoric. (90)

I do not wish to diminish the importance of reporting coercion, forced sterilisations, and late term abortion; I do want to argue that the Chinese population policies and practices are being analysed in a very morally and politically charged atmosphere. It is difficult to critically discuss something as controversial as China's population policy (in the West generally and the United States particularly) when everything is taken as either pro- or anti-abortion or pro- or anti-China. (91) China's dual position, first as a model for women's liberation and later as a failed feminist state, further complicates how the situation for Chinese women is understood.

Although unintentional, undeniable outcomes of the population policy are the increased abortion of foetuses (including for sex selection purposes) and the exacerbation of son preference because of the limits on family size. However, the emphasis on these aspects occludes recognition of other, more positive outcomes.

The efforts of the government to counteract discrimination against girls seems to be having some effect. Recent research shows that many rural women are choosing to have only one child. (92) In one rural area, couples married between 1991 and 2000 showed the most acceptance of the one child policy. Even couples who were eligible for a second child were happy to voluntarily limit their family to one child. (93) This is due to a variety of factors including a recognition that 'girls can be ancestors too', a Chinese slogan which aims to dispel the myth that only sons can carry on the family. New economic options that have allowed the rural population to access economic possibilities previously unavailable offer attractive options for young rural women. Higher living standards, together with the increase in costs for medical and educational expenses due to the retreat of the state and the introduction of user pays systems, mean that families now spend a great proportion of their income on their child. Fong has described this as the 'first world children, third world parents' phenomenon, a condition in which all family resources are poured into the child, especially with regard to education. (94) These Chinese 'first world girls' are the first generation in China's long history to have such access to family resources and support. Recognising their potential requires moving beyond the constraints imposed by the assessment of China as an oppressive patriarchal state.


(1) The household registration system, known in Chinese as the hukou, ensures that Chinese citizens are eligible for social welfare benefits (which include access to education and medical care) in the location at which they are registered. Those who move without gaining even temporary hukou for the new location are denied benefits and are effectively illegal migrants.

(2) Chinese government estimate put the size of the floating population at 140 million in 2005. Unofficially, most demographers estimate the true size as closer to 200 million.

(3) A good summary of some of these issues can be found at The Congressional Executive Commission on China, 2005 Annual report. See section III Monitoring Compliance with Human Rights. Available at < annualRpt/annualRpt05/2005_3f_women.php#26b>

(4) In Chinese the term for the population control policies is jihua shengyu which is best translated as 'planned birth' rather than family planning. This makes it clear that it is the state rather than the couple undertaking the planning.

(5) Commonly, if the first child is a girl, a couple living in rural areas or townships may be allowed to have a second child with some years in between as spacing. Many of China's 55 ethnic minorities are also allowed two or three children.

(6) An example is the 'Care for Girls' campaign which was initiated in 2000 to create a favourable environment for girls by exempting poor families with girls from school fees, and providing preferential treatment for housing and welfare. Some families have also been given cash.

(7) The Population and Family Planning Law, Sept 1, 2002.

(8) Gu Baochang and Wang Feng, An Experiment of Eight Million People (bahai wan ren de shijian) Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press, 2009 (in Chinese). For a report in English see Li Xinran, 'Little county skips on big policy' Shanghai Daily, 9/2/2009, available at < 20090209/article_390379.htm>

(9) See Kaz Ross, 'Army of Bachelors?--China's male population as a world threat.' Journal of Asia Pacific Studies Vol. 1, Issue: 2, 2010.

(10) Chairman Mao's well-known aphorism: 'Women hold up half the sky.'

(11) The NGO Forum ran from 31/8/95 to 8/9/95 in the township of Huairou, about an hour's drive from Beijing. The UN Conference on Women was a separate event to the NGO Forum and was held 4-15 September in Beijing itself. The notion of an NGO Forum had developed alongside the UN conference since the first conference in Mexico in 1975 as a site for lobbying UN delegates to the conference. By 1995, the Forum had grown enormously and was considered a major event in its own right. Of the 36,000 participants registered to attend the NGO Forum, about 25,000 came to Beijing. According to the Chinese Organising Committee (COC)16,552 visas had been granted by 8 September (Xinhua News Agency). A final figure has never been released by the COC. This was the largest of the four UN conferences on women.

(12) Both the preparatory work in organising the event and the event itself had an enormously positive impact on the formation of women's studies centres, NGOs and other organisations dealing with women's issues in China. Indeed, the global media focus on security issues, human rights, population control and so on meant that the positive work being done at the event was largely overlooked. See Jude Howell, 'Post-Beijing reflections: Creating ripples, but not waves in China', Women's Studies International Forum Vol. 2, Issue 2, 1997, 235- 232.

(13) Many women's groups registered protests at the way the organisers attempted to restrict visas to groups deemed sensitive: HIV positive women, prostitutes and sex workers' rights groups, Tibetan independence groups and Taiwanese women's groups. Some women were denied visas or told that visas would be granted but the visas did not arrive before the Forum began. Information obtained during interviews conducted with various delegates during the Forum--31 August to 8 September, 1995 in Huairou.

(14) As far as I can ascertain, there has only been one lone naked protester at any UN Conference on Women. Reports of blankets given to taxi drivers were from a local Beijing radio station, 24 August, 1995.

(15) The mismatch in understandings of liberation was vividly exemplified by the 'showbag' of products given to Forum attendees. Alongside T-shirts, pamphlets and books the bags included a product which was a mystery to non-Chinese speaking guests. This was revealed to be a liquid intended for vaginal douching. According to the accompanying promotional material, the product's benefits included 'tightening the vagina in a healthy and scientific way which would lead women to not only feel younger but also happier as they would be more appreciated by their husbands due to increased sexual pleasure from a tighter vagina.' It is not surprising, given the emphasis on male pleasure, that feminist visitors to the Forum failed to see this as evidence of sexual liberation for women.

(16) In addition to a number of sessions dedicated to exposing Chinese reproductive policies, there were some protests. One of the handful of public protests had the slogan 'Population control is anti-woman, racist, eugenic.' See 'A First Hand Report from the 4th World Conference on Women NGO Forum in Beijing China, Sept. 1995', Feminist Women's Health Clinic, <>

(17) Hillary Rodham Clinton, 'Women's Rights are Human Rights', Remarks to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Plenary Session in Beijing, China: 5 September 1995. <> Clinton was also taking aim at the Vatican and various Islamic countries who were objecting to the provision of family planning being written into the Platform of Action.

(18) See Anne-Marie Brady, Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People's Republic. Buffalo: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003.

(19) Simone de Beauvoir, The Long March. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1959.

(20) Sparrows, flies, rats and mosquitoes were the subject of the 1958 Eradicate the Four Pests campaign which relied on people power to kill identified pests.

(21) Joshua Horn, Away with All Pests. London: Hamlyn, 1969, 97.

(22) Horn, 1969, 98.

(23) Horn, 1969, 102.

(24) Anne Kent Rush, Getting Clear: Body Work for Women. New York: Random House, 1973, 89.

(25) It is worth noting that China has no history of pelvic self-examination. My point here is that China offered a new way of taking control of healthcare which then served women's liberationists well in their adaptation of the barefoot doctor principle. Indeed, women from the American Feminist Women's Health Center write about the workshops they held in self-examination at the UN Forum in 1996 as transgressive, illicit, and revolutionary. There is little doubt that the guards policing this conference would have stopped and reported these workshops if they had become public knowledge at the time. Beverly Whipple, 'A First Hand Report from the 4th World Conference on Women NGO Forum in Beijing China, Sept. 1995' available at <>

(26) Berkeley Women's Health Book Collective, Our Bodies, OurSelves. Berkeley: BWHBC, 1970, n. p. A brief perusal of early 1970s feminist self-help texts shows page after page of discussion and many photos and descriptions of pelvic self- exams. Why, then, has this extraordinary practice not received critical feminist attention? The answer lies in the ongoing division in Western thought between mind and body. In my reading of early (American) women's liberation texts, exploring, understanding, reclaiming and rewriting the possibilities of, and for, the female body is a fundamental, mutually shared attribute, regardless of ideological and theoretical positioning. Through a continued, albeit much criticised emphasis on the mind over the body, a certain blindness has meant that the physical practices of the women's liberation movement have been overlooked in preference for analyses of thought/ideology and theory. Thus the role of women's consciousness raising groups is well recognised, while the importance of women's health practices goes unnoticed.

(27) Only South Vietnam, Madagascar and Spain had lower rates of female physicians. Our Bodies, OurSelves, citing American Journal of Nursing, vol.71, no.4, 1971, 664.

(28) Ruth Sidel, Women and Child Care in China: A First Hand Report. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972, 26.

(29) At this time Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, was presented as a model of Chinese female determination and success. Another five years would pass before her downfall as part of the Gang of Four. Jiang Qing was the subject of a biographical paper at the first conference on women in China held in San Francisco in June 1973. This was later published in the extremely influential first collection of essays on women in China. Margery Wolfe and Roxane Witke, eds. Women in Chinese Society. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1975. In a gesture towards the highly sensitive situation between China and Taiwan, the Jiang Qing essay was excluded from the edition of this book published in Taiwan. A fascinating and controversial portrayal of Jiang Qing was later published by Witke (Comrade Chiang Ch'ing. Boston: Little, Brown, 1977). See also Susan Gardiner, "The Enemy of Women's Liberation': A Response to Roxane Witke's Comrade Chiang Ching,' Hecate 4.1 (1978): 25-46. For a full discussion of how the figure of Jiang Qing has been constructed in the genre of biography see Elaine Jeffreys, 'Woman, Nation and Narrative: Western Biographical Accounts of Jiang Qing, Australian Feminist Studies, (No. 20, Summer), 1994, 35-51.

(30) Our Bodies OurSelves, 7.

(31) China was lauded by a range of other women scholars. Julia Kristeva found Chinese language to be matriarchal during her visit in 1974 (On Chinese Women. New York: Marion Boyars, 1977.)

(32) Tyrene White has shown how the gains Chinese Communist Party women made in terms of access to divorce, contraception, and abortion before 1949 were undermined by the government after the foundation of the People's Republic of China despite the 1950 reform of the marriage law. It took extensive campaigning from Communist Party women for these gains to be restored to all women. Tyrene White, 'The origins of China's birth planning policy.' In Engendering China: Women, Culture, and the State, ed. Christina K. Gilmartin, Gail Hershatter, Lisa Rofel, and Tyrene White, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994, 250-278.

(33) Juliet Mitchell, 'Women: The Longest Revolution.' New Left Review, No. 40, 1966. Also see Juliet Mitchell Women's Estate. Penguin, 1971.

(34) For first-hand accounts of women's experiences see Xueping Zhong, Zheng Weng, Bai Du, ed., Some of Us: Chinese Women Growing Up in the Mao Era. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2001.

(35) Robert Guillain, The Blue Ants cited in Christopher Lucas, Women of China. Dragonfly Books: Hong Kong, 1965, iii.

(36) Lucas, 1965, 108.

(37) Lucas, 1965, vi.

(38) Lucas, 1965, 324.

(39) For example, the paintings of Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863) such as The Women of Algiers depict the rounded and sensuous figures of Middle Eastern women.

(40) Lucas, 1965, i.

(41) Guillain, cited in Lucas, 1965, iv.

(42) Lucas, 1965, iii.

(43) Simone de Beauvoir, Introduction to The Second Sex cited in Marks, 1980, 43.

(44) Lucas, 1965, 227.

(45) Mitchell, 'Women: The longest revolution'.

(46) The slogan used in this campaign was 'late, spaced, and few'.

(47) Tu Ping and Herbert Smith, 'Determinants of induced abortion and their policy implications in four counties in North China,' Studies in Family Planning Sept-Oct 1995, Vol. 26, No.5, 278-287.

(48) Karen Hardee-Cleaveland and Judith Banister, 'Fertility Policy and Implementation in China, 1986-1988,' Population and Development Review, Vol. 14, No. 2 (June), 245-286. See Terence Hull, 'Recent trends in Sex Ratios at Birth in China,' Population and Development Review, 16, No. 1, March, 1990, 6383, for a year by year estimate of the number of abortions from 1971 to 1986.

(49) For the most detailed exploration of Chinese attitudes to abortion see Nie Jing-Bao, Behind the Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005.

(50) Rachel Murphy, 'Fertility and Distorted Sex Ratios in a Chinese County: Culture, State and Policy,' Population and Development Review 29, no. 4, 2003, 595-626, 602.

(51) Peng Xizhe and Huang Juan. 'Chinese traditional medicine and abnormal sex ratio at birth in China,' Journal of Biosocial Science, 31 no. 4, 1999, 487-503, 493.

(52) Wei Yan et al., use data from the 2001 National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Survey to show that sex-selective abortion is still widely practised. Wei Yan, Li Shuzhuo Marcus Feldman, 'Boy Preference and Induced Abortion in Rural China,' Chinese Journal of Population Science. no. 2, 2005, 12-21 [in Chinese].

(53) Delia Davin, 'The Single-child Family Policy in the Countryside.' In China's One-Child Policy, ed. Elisabeth Croll, Delia Davin and Penny Kane, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1985, 62.

(54) Zeng Yi, Tu Ping, Gu Baochang, Xu Yi, Li Baohua and Li Yongping, 'Causes and implications of the recent increase in the reported sex ratio at birth in China,' Population and Development Review, 19, 2, 1993, 283-302; Sten Johannson and Ola Nygren, 'The missing girls of China--A new demographic account,' Population and Development Review Vol. 17, no. 1, March 1991, 35-51.

(55) Zeng et al., 1993, 289.

(56) Murphy reports anecdotal evidence from Jiangxi province that firecrackers were set off when girls were abandoned to ensure that they were discovered. Murphy, 2003, 602. Johnson, however, argues that this was mostly not the case. Kay Ann Johnson, 'The Politics of the Revival of Infant Abandonment in China, with Special Reference to Hunan,' Population and Development Review 22, no.1, March, 1996, 77-98.

(57) Johansson and Nygren estimated that adopted children whose birth was not reported accounted for half the 'missing girls.' Sten Johannson and Ola Nygren, 'The missing girls of China--a new demographic account', Population and Development Review, 17, No. 1, 1991, 35-51. Johnson shows that often the girls are abandoned on the doorsteps of a likely adoptive household--one with a son already. They also argue that abandonments are difficult to hide and that, despite officials knowing about incidents of abandonment, very few prosecutions have taken place. See Johnson, 1996.

(58) Peng Xizhe and Huang Juan, 1999, 493. The United Nations Children's Fund has noted with concern that the infant mortality rate is not falling as fast as it should be. The rate dropped dramatically between 1940 (200 per 1000) to 1958 (81 per 1000). However, it has only dropped from 35 per 1000 in 1982 to 32 per 1000 in 2000. Robert Stowe England, Aging in China: the Demographic Challenge to China's Economic Prospects Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2005, 99.

(59) Yong Cai and William Lavely. 'China's Missing Girls: Numerical Estimates and Effects on Population Growth,' The China Review 3, no. 2, 2003, 13- 29, 25. This is a 2003 estimate.

(60) 'Notice on Forbidding Prenatal Sex Determination' formulated jointly between the Ministry of Public Health and the State Family Planning Commission issued to all provinces in September 1985. Provinces which issued regulations include: Liaoning in May 1999, Henan and Hainan in May 2000, Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous region in October 2000, Anhui in November 2000. Other provinces include Shandong and Fujian. Chu Junhong. 'Prenatal Sex Determination and Sex-Selective Abortion in Rural Central China,' Population and Development Review, 27, no. 2, June 2001, 261 and 278 n.3.

(61) Li Nan, Marcus Feldman, Shripad Tujapurka, Zhu Chuzhu, A Survey of Transmission of Son Preference in Two Counties in Shaanxi Province. Working Paper 75, 1999, Morrison Institute for Population and Resource Studies, Stanford University.

(62) 'Proposals and Suggestions on How to Prevent the Uprising of Sex Ratio at Birth,' cited in Peng and Huang, 1999, 500-501.

(63) Kay Johnson, 'The Politics of the Revival of Infant Abandonment in China, with Special Reference to Hunan,' Population and Development Review, Vol. 22, No.1 March 1996, 77-98, 81.

(64) Tu Ping and Mark Hereward, 'Report of the effort to improve the family planning surveillance system in rural China' unpublished report, 1992 cited in Herbert Smith, Tu Ping, M. Giovanna Merli and Mark Hereward. 'Implementation of a demographic and contraceptive surveillance system in four counties in north China,' Population Research and Policy Review 16, 1997, 289-314, 296.

(65) Beijing Review, 10-16 July 1989. Terence Hull, 'Recent Trends in Sex Ratios at Birth in China,' Population and Development Review, 16, no.1, March, 1990, 74 and 79.

(66) Chu Junhong, 2001, 260.

(67) Howard French, 'Chinese Crack Down on Illegal Abortions,' The New York Times, February 18, 2005. Cited in Laurel Bossen, 'Forty Million Missing Girls: Land, Population Controls and Sex Imbalance in Rural China,' report, October 7, 2005. Available at <>

(68) Delia Davin, 'Gender and Population in the People's Republic of China' in Women, State and Ideology: Studies from Africa and Asia ed. Haleh Afshah. London: Macmillan, 1987, 117.

(69) Research by Li Jianming shows how support for the elderly has been built upon an inter-generational exchange of economic resources which has been challenged by family planning regulations and practices. Li Jianmin, 'Study on Social Security for the Once Family Planned Elderly Couples in Rural China,' Chinese Journal of Population Science No. 3, 2004, 40-48 [in Chinese].

(70) The Book of Rites (Li Chi) C. Chu and W. Chu, Trans., New York: University Books, 1967. Vol. 2.

(71) Dim Cheuk Lao, trans., Mencius. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970.

(72) Banister notes a substantial decline in discrimination against girls during the Maoist period (1949-76). Judith Banister, 'Shortage of Girls in China Today,' Journal of Population Research, 21, no. 1, 2004, 19-45, 33.

(73) Stewart E. Fraser, 'Posters and Population: China uses Billboards to Encourage Family Planning,' Development Communication Report No. 39, September 1982.

(74) Author's observation, southern Anhui, November, 2005.

(75) See Han Hua, 'Sexuality and Uxorilocal Marriage in rural North China: Impacts of the One-child Family Policy on Gender and Kinship,' Journal of Family History Vol. 28, No. 3, 443-459; Laurel Bossen, Chinese Women and Rural Development: Sixty Years of Change in Lu Village, Yunnan. Lanham, MD: Rowman Littlefield, 2002.

(76) Murphy traces how this approach has had the opposite effect to what was intended by emphasising the connection between a lack of sons and hardship. Murphy, 2003.

(77) Elaine Zuckerman, Alf Blikberg Cao Menglin, China Country Gender Review 2000, Unpublished report, World Bank, Washington, D. C. Cited in Banister, 2004, 39.

(78) 97 per cent of boys and 96 per cent of girls reach grade 5 according to the China National Working Committee on Education in 2001. Cited in Banister, 2004, 39.

(79) Marriage Law of the People's Republic of China, Available at <>

(80) The depth of concern was revealed in the way the 2000 Census was reported. In contrast to the first data reports from the 1982 and 1990 censuses, Major Figures on 2000 Population Census of China omitted figures for overall birth rates and sex ratios although more extensive data was published on unemployment and migration, two areas previously considered politically sensitive. William Lavely, 'First Impressions from the 2000 Census of China,' Population and Development Review 27 no. 4, 2001, 755-769, 765.

(81) March, 2000. Susan and Edwin A. Winkler. Governing China's Population. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005, 273.

(82) 'Care for Girls Gaining Momentum,' China Daily 8/7/04. Initiated in 2000 as a co-operative effort between the family planning authorities and Xi'an Jiaotong University, this program not only focused on changing grandparents' attitudes towards girls but also offered small loans for improving production and income to daughter-only families.

(83) The below-replacement national rate of fertility was reached in the 1990s. The 2000 Census puts the birth rate at 1.22 but the Chinese government has declared this inaccurate and too low due to the under-reporting of births. It estimates that a figure of 1.8 is more accurate. Other Chinese demographers put the figure at between 1.4 to 1.6. See Robert Rutherford, Minja Kim Choe, Jiajian Chen, Li Xiru and Cui Hongyan, 'How far has fertility in China really declined?' Population and Development Review Vol. 31, No. 1, 2005, 57-84; Xinhua News Agency, 'Death outstrips births in Shanghai,' China Daily (English edition), 5/1/96; Zhu Baoxia, 'Beijing achieves negative population growth in four districts,' China Daily (English edition) 25/9/96.

(84) 'Chinese Demographics: 6.3 brides for seven brothers,' The Economist, Vol. 349, Issue 8099, Dec 19 1998-Jan 1 1999, 56-59.

(85) Government programmes which support rural families with one child or two daughters received much publicity during the 1990s: Ma Lie, 'One child families win extra aid,' China Daily (English edition) 26/3/95; Zhu Baoxia, 'Family Planning helps end poverty,' China Daily (English edition) 11/1/96; Xinhua News Agency 'Birth Control links family,' China Daily (English edition) 22/1/96; Xinhua News Agency, 'Family Program benefits farmers,' China Daily (English edition) 28/1/96.

(86) Sawitri Saharso, 'Feminist ethics, autonomy and the politics of multiculturalism,' Feminist Theory Vol. 4, No. 2, 2003, 199-215; Clare Chambers, 'Autonomy and equality in cultural perspective: Response to Sawitri Saharso,' Feminist Theory Vol. 5, No. 3, 2004, 329-332; Sawitri Saharso, 'Sex- selective abortion: Gender, culture and Dutch public policy,' Ethnicities, No. 5, 2005, 248-266; M. Tickin, 'Culture or inequality in sex-selective abortion?: A response to Sawitri Saharso,' Ethnicities No. 5, 2005, 266-271.

(87) The femicide reference is from April L. Cherry, 'A Feminist Understanding of Sex-Selective Abortion: Solely a Matter of Choice?' Wisconsin Women's Law Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, 1995, 161-223.

(88) This became a topic for debate for feminist bio-ethicists in 1980s and 1990s, as technology used to detect foetal abnormalities was being used to detect foetal sex.

(89) Warren, Gendercide, cited in Marcy Darnovsky, 'Revisiting Sex Selection: The growing popularity of new sex selection methods revives an old debate,' GeneWatch Vol. 17, No. 1, Jan-Feb. 2004.

(90) Cherry, 1995, 164.

(91) Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, China Wakes, London: Nicholas Brealey, 1994.

(92) Hong Zhang, 'From Resisting to 'Embracing?' The One-child rule: understanding new fertility trends in a central China village,' The China Quarterly 192, December, 2007, 855-875.

(93) Zhang, 2007, 863.

(94) Vanessa Fong, Only Hope: Coming of age under China's one child policy. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.
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Author:Ross, Kaz
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Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:May 1, 2010
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