Film: One Child Nation (documentary)
Directed by: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang
Rating: * * * *
Winner of the Documentary Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, One Child Nation takes a look at China’s policy which lasted over 35 years, from 1979 to 2015, which enforced families to have only one child. How was the policy implemented, what were the repercussions of not abiding by it and even how life was, after enduring it.
Co-directed by Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang, it takes a personal look at how the events unfolded and the impact that it had on individuals and the society. The tales are harrowing, to say the least.
That the Chinese government had such a policy is well known – what we don’t know is, what happened behind the scenes – that a mid-wife, just one woman performed 50,000-60,000 sterilisations and abortions during her working days. Or that women were forcefully abducted and sterilised, there is also a story narrated about how a woman ran off the from operation table and was on the streets, stark naked.
Narrated by Nanfu, the director herself who now lives in the US, she was named Nanfu, which ideally is a male name which means, “man-pillar”, which means that her parents were hoping for a boy child. Nanfu, now a mother of a toddler, comes to China to delve deeper into
the nation’s policy.
She interviews her parents, other members from the community, a celebrity worker and an artist for whom fetuses became the subject of his work. From the older generation, just about everyone agrees that there was no choice but to implement such a policy, even at the cost of violating people’s rights – the punishment was harsh, some people even had their roofs and houses burnt
As much as it is about individuals, it is also about the larger picture how people are made into believing certain propaganda. Right from children’s songs to community celebrations, everyone was made to believe that their great country was doing the right thing and it was something to be proud of. Textbooks, playing cards, theatre, street graffiti – every place, every opportunity were used to propagate the one-child policy.
Shuqin Jiang, a family planning worker shows her certificates and awards that she got for being at the forefront of the programme involving abortions and sterilisations. In one picture, she is seen rubbing shoulders with the nation’s top leaders. “I had to put the national interest above my personal feelings,” she says about her role in what happened.
But there were mostly distressing stories about the implementation. Nanfu’s uncle talks about how he had to abandon his baby girl child in the meat market where no one paid attention to her for two days. “She would have been 27 or 28 now,” he says with moist eyes.
Nanfu has a younger brother – exceptions were allowed in China only if the first child was a daughter. But after the boy was born, Nanfu was sidelined in every aspect to favour the male child, she even had to quit school to look after her family and let her brother study.
The documentary doesn’t sensationalise any of the facts, the stories are told by the people who participated in it themselves and even though they do reflect on the past, they talk about in a very matter-of-fact manner. It also highlights how trafficking became big business as adoptions were allowed but even then, there were some heartbreaking stories of how people were sent to jail for saving kids and sending them to orphanages.
Given, the present Coronavirus situation, one can’t help but question how China managed to control the virus in just over two months with 3000 odd deaths, while the rest of the world is struggling (China is at number 7 now as far as the total deaths are concerned). One thing is clear though, that when it comes to implementation, few countries can deal with matters with a firmer hand than China.
The documentary itself though is an important and very effective societal, political and cultural reporting.
(One Child Nation is streaming on Amazon Prime)