The Chinese “one-child policy” has been implemented for three decades, and one proud official report estimates that 300 million newborns have been prevented since the policy was implemented.
How did that happen? Forced abortion and sterilization, economic penalties, demolition of homes, and detention of the husband or other family members. A woman with a second pregnancy is a criminal in China because the “family planning policy” has been written into the constitution. An officer of the Committee of the Family Planning has the duty and the right to uphold the law. As a result the blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who tried to protect victims of the law—pregnant women and their unborn babies— is treated as an enemy of the state. Weeks ago, after a legendary escape, Chen arrived in the U.S. and started his law studies at New York University. Would the discrepancy between Chinese and American law in terms of maternity and unborn lives be a great cultural shock for him?
Ma Jian, the London-based award-winning author of Beijing Coma (2008), has recently published his novel Yin Zhi Dao (Dark Road, Yunchen Publishing House, Taipei, 2012). Ma Jian spent years traveling around China to talk with women who want, but are not allowed, to give birth. As a father of four children, it is hard for him to write down the bloodcurdling stories of how millions of babies are killed in name of law and order in his home country.
The novel Dark Road is an absurd story about a couple, Kong Lao’er, a descendant of Confucius, and a common peasant woman who have to hide themselves in the most bizarre places in southern China—first in a boat, and later in a town’s dumpsite for electronics—in order to give birth to their second child. The woman is caught and forced to have an abortion by the authorities. Later she becomes pregnant again, yet at the due time, the baby, named Paradise, refuses to come out of the uterus. Five years pass, and when the family’s only daughter disappears mysteriously, baby Paradise arrives.
The book title, Yin Zhi Dao (Dark Road), also means vagina, or place of life and origin. Ma Jian applies magical realism to describe the perverse reality in China. Between the magical element and the reality, the readers experience the true human tragedy. Neither God nor nature determines human lives; instead it is the State and ignorant officers. “As long as you have a vagina in your trousers, no matter where you are, it will be checked. Men want your vagina, the authority controls your uterus. You cannot lock it up, they have the key. We females can’t escape our fate,” says one female character to another. The fear is immanent and well-founded, “Should one family have more than one child, the whole village will be sterilized.” This is the official slogan in reality, and it has been carried out with iron fist.
Eventually the protagonist of the novel, Kong, who symbolizes the good old Chinese traditions, has to go into exile in his home country. There is no place for the new baby’s incarnation, yet “Paradise” insists on its arrival into a world that its mother has called “hell.” What kind of future is awaiting the mother and her baby?
With colorful language and metaphors, the author shares a couple’s unbalanced fight against the cold-blooded policy that is made not to protect, but to destroy, lives.
The English version of Dark Road is published by Chatto & Windus, London at the end of 2013.
*The one child policy was replaced by two children policy since Jan. 1. 2016, due to the severe imbalance of male and female as well as aging population in China.
First published at Sampsoniaway. org on June 6., 2012, updated on Aug. 29., 2020.