While Wu Liangjie was gathering money to pay a fee so his wife Pan Chunyan could give birth to the baby they were expecting, city officials in their Chinese province kidnapped her and killed the baby through a forced abortion.
The couple — and others — are using social media to outwit censors and spark protest of China's one-child rule and forced-abortion practices. They hope revealing what happened to them and to others will encourage countries like the United States to pressure the Chinese government to change that one-child policy and end practices that kill the unborn.
The supervisor of family planning enforcement in Dajo province, Wang Jinding, arranged a convoy that included police to take the woman against her will to the hospital where she was injected with chemicals to kill the well-developed baby. She was eight months pregnant at the time, according to USA Today's recounting of the story by Calum MacLeod.
"In years past, this couple's clash with authority might have ended there," wrote MacLeod. "But access to the Internet has allowed millions of people to elude China's censors and read postings from fellow citizens on taboo subjects such as forced abortion, dissidents and Communist Party corruption.
"This story went one step further. In an even rarer phenomenon, the swelling anger on blogs over what happened to another pregnant woman in June has forced the monolithic party to respond to the outrage: It will investigate the matter. This month, a government-run website overseen by the Communist Party's propaganda agency suggested 'perhaps it is time to rethink' China's one-child policy," the article said.
Twitter, blogs and social sites are becoming a force in spreading the word about such incidents, despite official Chinese government efforts to silence criticism of its policies. The initial reaction of the government when confronted with the outrage of its citizens was to increase censorship of anything related to abortions. The exposure provided by the Internet, so hard for a government to control completely, is giving those who oppose policies both courage and tools to speak out within the country, while pressuring those outside to bring pressure, as well.
According to Time magazine, "This month, three high-level Chinese researchers published an essay in a state-run newspaper calling for the one-child policy to be revised.' The longer we take to adjust the policy, the more vulnerable we become,' the authors wrote, noting that a population bulge of retirees will strain the country’s social services and family bonds. The academics also worried about a future labor shortage in China."
The Time author, Hannah Beech, described a mounting outcry that prompted a settlement from China's Shaanxi province in a recent case. Earlier this summer, Feng Jianmei's head was covered with a pillowcase and she was forced into a car and driven to have a forced abortion, which killed her baby girl. But instead of bowing to the usual pressure, the family took pictures of the 23-year-old woman with her dead baby girl beside her and distributed the photo through social media sites. "A horrified Chinese public rallied to her cause," Beech wrote.
Unusually, the government has agreed to pay $11,200 in that case. But Feng's husband, Deng Jiyuan, told Time that "far from feeling any sense of closure," Deng notes that criminal charges have not be levied against anyone who forced the abortion. Is his family safe? "There are rumors on the street that after this thing calms down, when people are not paying attention to us any more, they will kill my family," he told Time.
Critics of the one-child policy have said it's also a question of economics and that lifting it is overdue. "The phasing out of the policy should have begun at least 10 years ago," Wang Feng, who runs the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy in Beijing, told NPR's Frank Langfitt.
The policy, which started in 1979, allows city couples one child and rural couples two if the first one is a girl. According to USA Today, "China's leaders have long held that enforcement of family size is necessary to lift the world's most populous nation out of decades of poverty. It was not always so. The founder of the People's Republic of China, communist leader Mao Zedong, encouraged families to have many children as a way to build a prosperous nation. In the late 1970s, the country's leaders believed that a growing population of impoverished citizens would impede economic development. They imposed a strict family planning policy...."
"But Wang says the problem now isn't that Chinese couples are having too many kids, it's that they're having too few. Last year, census results showed what demographers had long suspected: The fertility rate is very low," wrote NPR's Langfitt.
Experts like Wang said China needs more than the expected 1.5 children per household to replace its population, which will otherwise "age very rapidly."
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