Summary and book reviews of One Child by Mei Fong

One Child

The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment

by Mei Fong

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

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Book Summary

An intimate investigation of the world's largest experiment in social engineering, revealing how its effects will shape China for decades to come and what that means for the rest of the world

When Communist Party leaders adopted the one-child policy in 1980, they hoped curbing birthrates would help lift China's poorest and increase the country's global stature. But at what cost? Now, as China closes the book on the policy after over three decades, it faces a population grown too old and too male, with a vastly diminished supply of young workers.

Mei Fong has spent years documenting the policy's repercussions on every sector of Chinese society. In One Child, she explores its true human impact, traveling across China to meet the people who live with its consequences. Their stories reveal a dystopian reality: unauthorized second children ignored by the state, only children supporting aging parents and grandparents on their own, villages teeming with ineligible bachelors. Fong tackles questions that have major implications for China's future: whether its Little Emperor cohort will make for an entitled or risk-averse generation; how China will manage to support itself when one in every four people is over sixty-five years old; and above all, how much the one-child policy may end up hindering China's growth.

Weaving in Fong's reflections on striving to become a mother herself, One Child offers a nuanced and candid report from the extremes of family planning.

Prologue

In the midst of the Cold War, China's rocket scientists came up with an ambitious plan that had nothing to do with missiles, or space exploration, or weaponry of any kind.

It concerned babies.

On September 25, 1980, China's Communist Party unveiled this plan through an open letter that asked members to voluntarily limit their family size to one child. The request was, in truth, an order.

Thus began the one-child policy, the world's most radical social experiment, which continues to irrevocably shape how one in six people in this world are born, live, and die.

Like crash dieting, the one-child policy was begun for reasons that had merit. China's leadership argued the policy was a necessary step in its Herculean efforts to lift a population the size of the United States' from abject poverty. But like crash dieting, the one-child policy employed radical means and aimed for quick results, causing a rash of negative side effects.

The excesses of the one-child ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. What makes this book distinctive?
  2. This book is made up of stories of many people feeling the effects of the one-child policy, from parents made childless by the death of their only child, to bachelor villages, to people who courageously opposed the policy, and the rocket scientists who drew it up. Was there a specific story that had left an impression, good or bad? Share the story and its effect.
  3. Did your earlier opinions about the one-child policy change after reading this book? Where there aspects of the policy that you were not aware of, prior to reading the book?
  4. After reading the book, has your interest been piqued about the subject matter? If so, would you consider reading more on the topic in the future?
  5. Did the author ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews

The Wall Street Journal

A timely, important work that takes stock of the one-child policy’s damage…One Child is, like the policy’s abolition, long overdue, and Ms. Fong was the perfect person to write it.

The New York Times

The policy itself remains a monument to official callousness, and Fong’s book pays moving testimony to the suffering and forbearance of its victims.

New York Review of Books

A searing, important, and eminently readable exploration of China's one-child policy.

Kirkus Reviews

Finished just before the announcement of the policy's demise, One Child is a touching and captivating anthropological investigation of one of the most invasive laws ever devised.

Library Journal

Starred Review. The vast ironies and evils of the one-child policy are hard to comprehend, but Fong's human-scale portrayal of individual stories, weaving in her own fraught journey toward motherhood as well, makes for an approachable and edifying treatment.

The Guardian (UK)

Fong’s fine book is a moving and at times harrowing account of the significance of decisions taken by a small coterie of men with too much faith in science and ideology, and too little in humanity.

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