China’s draconian one-child policy has claimed many victims—hundreds of millions of unborn children have lost their lives, tens of thousands of women have died from botched abortions and sterilizations, and tens of thousands more have committed suicide to end the pain of late-term, forced abortions—but Wang Guangrong’s story is particularly tragic.
Wang, a 37-year old Chinese father of four, had long been persecuted by local government officials for daring to flout China’s restrictions against multiple children. He had been subjected to heavy fines, had his livestock confiscated, and his children declared to be non-persons.
Things came to a head when Wang sought to have his children, three daughters and one son, enrolled in the local school. Public education in China is free, at least up to junior high school, but local officials insisted that Wang pay another round of heavy fines before agreeing to admit his children. After the previous rounds of fines and punishments, Wang and his wife were destitute.
They had nothing left to give the government—except Wang’s life. Public suicides in protest of official wrongdoing have a long history in China. So Wang decided to end his life in the hope that this would shame local government officials into allowing his children to attend school. That way, they would have the chance at a better life that an education would provide them with.
A British newspaper, the Daily Express interviewed Wang’s wife, Wu Jinmin, who explained that her husband grew desperate after his children were denied schooling. “He couldn’t take it anymore,” said Wu. “‘What did we bring them into the world for, to be as dumb as cattle?’ he said to me. ‘I cannot see my children grow up uneducated.’ And then he cut his wrists.”
Wang’s sacrifice was not in vain. When the domestic and international press picked up on the story, local government officials were quick to engage in damage control. They promised to compensate his widow for the loss of her husband and even pledged to build a new house for her and the children.
We are glad that Wang’s widow and children will not be left to starve in the shadowy world that China’s illegal children occupy. But millions of other children of the shadows—“black” children, as they are called in China—have not been nearly as lucky. They have not just been abandoned by the Chinese state, they have been positively ostracized by a government which refuses to feed, house, clothe, or educate these lost children in any way.
One sees them begging on the streets, or working in sweatshops, or hawking cheap trinkets to passers-by, all in a desperate effort to survive. Their only crime is that they were born without official permission in a state where birth permits are mandatory.
None of this is any secret, of course. The Chinese people are constantly barraged with anti-natal propaganda, and are well aware of the extensive system of punishments that awaits those like Wang who violate the misnamed “family planning policy.” Everyone in China understands that having multiple children makes you—and your “black” children—enemies of the state.
We would not have predicted that the one-child policy would have endured this long, given its devastating effects on Chinese society. Suicides, forced abortions, sex-selection abortion—all are rampant in China. China’s bachelor population already numbers in the tens of millions, while its population of elderly is also in the tens of millions.
What kind of a government considers it a crime to bear too many children, and punishes those who do? What kind of a country leaves loving fathers like Wang Guangrong with no way to help his own children but to take his own life?