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One Child

The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment

by Mei Fong

One Child by Mei Fong X
One Child by Mei Fong
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2016, 272 pages

    Jan 2018, 272 pages


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Power Reviewer
Cathryn Conroy

Rife With Horror Stories, This Book Details the Unforeseen Consequences of China's One-Child Policy
For Americans, the idea that the government would mandate that couples could have only one child is the stuff of dystopian novels. It is not real life. But in 1980, the Chinese government did just that, and in the sweep of a pen created a law that dizzyingly overturned hundreds of years of Chinese culture: Large families not only provide economic sustenance now, but also care for the elderly later.

Written by Mei Fong, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the Wall Street Journal who was born in China and lived much of her life there, this book looks at the unforeseen consequences of this Orwellian policy—ramifications so severe, so dire and so ominous that China has reversed the one-child policy and now allows (many) couples to have two children. (Of course, they first have to apply to the government for permission.)

The book is rife with horror stories about the human impact of the one-child policy:
• Find out how China enforces the one-child policy by paying someone in the neighborhood to keep track of who has a child and if there is an "out-of-plan pregnancy."
• Find out the truly horrific and violent ways the one-child policy was enforced.
• Find out why "out-of-plan" children—and there are some 13 million people in China who fit this description--are denied a lifetime of public services, including education and health care.
• Find out why "birth planning" officials, as well as physicians, were paid bonuses for the number of abortions and sterilizations they achieved.
• Find out why there was a rash of infanticide and gendercide in a culture that values males over females.
• And if the girl babies are aborted or killed/abandoned at birth, who will all those boy babies marry one day? Find out the effect of a nation where the boys are so spoiled they are nicknamed "Little Emperors" and then grow up to be lonely bachelors.
• When a couple's only child dies, they are grief-stricken, of course. But find out the horrible and inhumane things that then happen to them, courtesy of the Chinese government, because they have no offspring.
• Find out why China's very future as a country could be at risk.
• And here is the ultimate irony: The vast majority of China's young couples today truly think that one child is just fine and have no desire for more. Find out the not-so-surprising reason why.

This book is imminently readable and sprinkled throughout with the author's first-hand observations and poignant stories of the sometimes tragic effect on real people of the one-child policy. Highly recommended.
janis Rezek

social policy has many latent consequences
This account of China's one child policy shows the far reaching unintended or latent consequences of this social policy. On the surface we think of the intended consequences of a social policy being put into place. Now looking retrospectively we can see the consequences are multidimensional. They are cultural, economic and political. The part that brought the most surprise to me was the impact on aging parents and who would care for them. I intend to use this book in one of my sociology courses to demonstrate the impacts a social policy can make and how we need to use a holistic approach when policies are being made. This a a very good read for anyone interested in the cultural aspect of economics and politics.
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