You’ve probably heard about the one child policy in China. You may have also heard stories about female newborns or fetuses being killed. I’ve heard these stories over the years, too, but prefer to think of them as old wives tales. It’s hard to imagine these things really happening in the world we live in today, but they do.
My best friend from college is having a baby, so they recently had a gender reveal party. The doctor wrote the baby’s sex on a small piece of paper in a sealed envelope, which was then delivered to a baker, who baked a white cake with either blue or pink icing on the inside. At the party, the parents-to-be were joined by family and friends to cut the cake and the baby’s gender was revealed to everyone at once. They found out they’re having a boy (congrats!), but the entire family would have been thrilled either way.
The night before the party, I was walking home from the gym with my Chinese bestie, Xia Yuan, excitedly telling her that I was planning to attend the reveal via Skype. Naturally, Xia Yuan had never heard of a gender reveal, so I explained what is rapidly becoming a popular new tradition for American families. As soon as I saw the surprised look on her face, I remembered who I was talking to and felt like an insensitive fool.
Xia Yuan explained that in China, it is illegal for doctors to reveal a baby’s sex to the parents, because the murdering of female infants is such a huge part of the country’s past (and present). As the economy progresses and the population becomes more educated, these instances are becoming less and less common, but the “sons are good, daughters are bad” mentality is still very prevalent, especially in more rural areas. In fact, Xia Yuan expressed her concern that it happens in the small town I currently live in. Although doctors are technically forbidden to reveal a baby’s sex, rumor has it that illegal ultrasounds are a booming business in China. That’s not a good thing for female fetuses.
How did killing daughters become a thing, you ask? Well, let me explain. When it comes to childbirth, you have a 50/50 shot of having one sex or the other, right? When every woman in a country is under inescapable pressure to bear a son while simultaneously facing a one child policy, she only has one chance to “get it right.”
Xia Yuan has been pressured for years to give birth to a son. Apparently, her husband’s grandfather has stated in no uncertain terms that he cannot die until she provides a great-grandson to carry on the family lineage. The first time she told me that, I laughed. And then I realized she was dead serious.
In Chinese culture, the general consensus that boys are better still exists today and it’s a problem. The male to female ratio is so unbalanced that it’s obvious in everyday life. Millions of Chinese men have to face the fact that they will never find a spouse unless they leave the country. Some statistics say that by 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women in China. That’s insane.
Speaking of the one child policy… Xia Yuan’s husband was born in 1981, when the family planning policy was in full swing. His mother happily gave birth to a son, but two years later, she became pregnant again. Because they chose to keep their second child, the family was required to pay a massive fine, his father lost his job in the city, they were ostracized from social circles and forced to relocate to the countryside to work as farmers and raise their children in comparative isolation.
Although the rules vary depending on where you live in China, the one child policy has been relaxed dramatically in recent years. A family planning application is required for a second child, but most couples are currently allowed to have two, especially if one of the parents was an only child himself. There is no penalty for twins, so many families use fertility treatments to get around the one child policy. I see twins more often in China than I would at home and they’re always dressed in adorable matching outfits.
Hearing someone I’ve become such good friends with speak so matter-of-factly about this tragic part of her culture was sobering. Conversations like this one remind me why I’m blessed to be American.