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The Wonderful Thing China’s One-Child Policy Did For Me


China’s one-child policy, now reportedly ended, is one of the great tragedies of our time. Not everyone sees it that way, of course. Some, from the safety of a free society, celebrate forced population control as a reasonable reaction to their environmental fears. They easily overlook the policy’s malignant methods and effects, such as hundreds of millions of babies aborted (many by force), men and women coerced into being sterilized, and years of gendercide resulting in a wildly skewed sex ratio. Add to that the abandonment of many thousands of baby girls and children with birth defects, all of them stuffed into crowded orphanages with almost no chance of adoption.

As I write these words, one of the policy’s victims is sitting on the couch behind me, eating goldfish crackers from a plastic cup and reading “Little House on the Prairie.” She’s the youngest of my five children: a delightful eight-year-old girl with silky black hair in braids, wearing a plaid Catholic-school uniform, and cheerfully kicking the arm of the couch repeatedly with her scuffed Mary Janes.

The Girl Who Has Stolen Our Hearts

She has scabs on her shins from riding her scooter furiously down our driveway, her dear little black dog is cuddled up beside her, and sitting with a bowl of Halloween candy full of teeth-rotting sweets I am too soft-hearted to take away from her. She is, in short, the darling of the family, and holds all of our hearts in her little brown hands.

She was found at the age of three days or so, on a dirty sidewalk in Szechuan Province, by a kind man who took time to pick up the wailing infant and take her to a local police station. The next month, her picture was published in the local paper, along with that of 15 other baby girls, in a “finding” ad.

Falling in love with her was the prettiest thing that has ever happened to me.

I have that newspaper, and it’s one of my treasures. The grainy black-and-white face is solemn and thin, and it is the only infant picture I have of my daughter. I met her when she was almost a year old, with chubby cheeks and a careful smile. Falling in love with her was the prettiest thing that has ever happened to me.

Reading that the one-child policy has been repealed in favor of a two-child policy in China has stirred up many emotions for me, as I imagine it has for other fortunate adoptive parents. Adoption has pangs, too, like natural births, and one of them is knowing—really knowing—the awful loss the birth parents have. My daughter is not, to me, one more abandoned Chinese girl. Knowing and loving her is a priceless privilege, one denied to those that had the best right to it.

A Murderous Policy Not Fully Repealed

She might have been a second child, or possibly a first girl in a culture where only a son is a safeguard against the ravages of old age. Maybe her mother and father were under 23 years old, or simply did not have a birth permit or money for the fine. Maybe they evaded the family planning police for months, saving their little girl’s life, and hoped for a miracle to happen on that sidewalk. The one-child policy dictated the circumstances, whatever they were, and caused her mother and father tremendous injury.

Here in the United States, where we have the choice of keeping the children we conceive, there is half-hearted applause for the policy change.

This hurt has been reproduced endlessly, in countless variations, for decades across the teeming nation. The amount of resultant human suffering can never be measured. The awful fact is that moving the goal from one to two children will not do much to stem the tide of loss. Illegal children will still be conceived, and sometimes born, to parents who are not rich and cannot pay the government for the privilege of keeping them. Women will still be forcibly sterilized, this time after their second child instead of their first. The human-rights abuses will continue, simply dialed back a notch.

Meanwhile, here in the United States, where we have the choice of keeping the children we conceive, there is half-hearted applause for the policy change. I have even read newspaper articles by Americans who think the policy was and is justified. They use environmental fears to write articles excusing unimaginable cruelty that they would cry out against if it affected themselves or someone they loved.

I am quite sure the couches in their offices are not as beautifully occupied as mine, or they could not have written so.