HomeoldTwisting “art” to justify China’s brutally repressive One-Child Policy

Twisting “art” to justify China’s brutally repressive One-Child Policy

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We’re out of our home for a few days so we wind up reading the newspaper a day or two late.

But I about choked on my apple crunch muffin this morning when I read a book review by Steven Moore that appeared earlier this week in the Washington Post.

The title of the book under review (in English) is “Frogs,” written by Mo Yan, which was published in 2009 but just translated into English by Howard Goldblatt.

To be completely clear, I have not read the book, only multiple reviews, including the one we published today by Marcus Roberts which quotes extensively from the New York Times review written by Julia Lovell. And with good reason.

Lowell says of “Frogs”

It is an anarchic, brutal book about the inhumanity of servants of the Communist state, the inadequacy of Chinese men and the moral vacuum at the heart of post-Mao China.

Understand the novel is about the nightmarish, even surreal world of China’s one-child policy that is undergirded by human rights violations of the most grotesque kind, including forced abortion, coerced sterilization, and (as a result of the limitation on children) infanticide, almost always of baby girls.

But to Moore, who we are told is a novelist, this amounts to a “social experiment.” He trivializes the abuses in the first couple of paragraphs–

Mo Yan dramatizes the pain and exasperation felt by villagers who decry the policy as unnatural and are especially frustrated if their first and only child is a girl

–only to tell us

But he also gives equal time to justifications of the policy.

(No other reviewer that I’ve read came to that conclusion.)

But in Moore’s review it is the justifications that get far, far more time than the inhuman treatment of the Chinese in general, and women and female babies in particular: Too many people, environmental degradation, even a kind of second cousin to the familiar argument that hoodlums will proliferate if the “wrong” people do not abort in sufficient numbers.

The nephew (Tadpole) of Gugu, the midwife turned cold-blooded abortionist, chastises Westerners for not understanding how necessary the one-child policy was/is. Moore writes

Tadpole’s case is strengthened years later when he is almost killed by a teenage hoodlum who turns out to be one of the few fetuses that Gugu, in a moment of weakness, decided against terminating.

And on and on, rationalization after excuse after justification.

Lowell was much, much closer to the truth when she concluded (that along with another book published in 2012)

“Both describe a country that has lost its way, a land in which a repressive state has rendered individuals incapable of making independent moral judgments about political, economic and social behavior and in which women continue to suffer at the hands of reckless male politicians and son-fixated husbands.”

China’s One-Child Policy remains one of the most controversial and heavily debated socio-political experiments of the modern era. Introduced in 1979 as a means to curb population growth, the policy’s implementation led to myriad human rights abuses and societal consequences. Amidst international scrutiny, the Chinese government utilized various mediums, including art, to shape public perception and justify its repressive measures.

Twisting Art for Political Ends

Art has historically served as a powerful tool for social commentary and political expression. However, under the authoritarian regime of China, art became a weapon to manipulate public opinion and reinforce state narratives. The government-sponsored artworks often depicted the One-Child Policy as a necessary sacrifice for the greater good of the nation, portraying it as a heroic measure to alleviate economic burdens and environmental strains.

Distorting Reality

Despite the propaganda machinery working tirelessly to portray the One-Child Policy in a positive light, the reality on the ground was starkly different. Reports of forced abortions, sterilizations, and infanticide emerged, highlighting the egregious human rights violations perpetrated in the name of population control. Artists who dared to challenge the official narrative faced censorship, persecution, and imprisonment, further underscoring the regime’s iron grip on dissent.

Resisting the Narrative

Despite the government’s attempts to stifle dissenting voices, courageous artists and activists within China and abroad refused to remain silent. Through their works, they shed light on the human cost of the One-Child Policy, amplifying the voices of those silenced by oppression. Art exhibitions, documentaries, and online campaigns served as powerful platforms to expose the truth behind the propaganda facade, prompting global outrage and calls for accountability.

The Legacy of Resistance

Although China officially ended the One-Child Policy in 2015, its legacy continues to haunt generations affected by its brutal enforcement. The scars left by decades of reproductive coercion and state-sanctioned violence are profound and enduring. However, through the resilience of survivors and the advocacy of activists, the world remains vigilant against similar abuses of power, ensuring that the atrocities committed under the guise of population control are never forgotten.


China’s manipulation of art to justify its repressive One-Child Policy stands as a sobering reminder of the dangers posed by unchecked authoritarianism. By distorting reality and silencing dissent, the regime sought to whitewash its egregious human rights violations. However, the power of art to challenge oppression and amplify the voices of the marginalized proved resilient. As we reflect on this dark chapter in history, let us remain steadfast in our commitment to truth, justice, and the protection of human dignity, lest we allow such atrocities to be repeated elsewhere.


Daniel Miller is responsible for nearly all of National Right to Life News' political writing.

With the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, Daniel Miller developed a deep obsession with U.S. politics that has never let go of the political scientist. Whether it's the election of Joe Biden, the midterm elections in Congress, the abortion rights debate in the Supreme Court or the mudslinging in the primaries - Daniel Miller is happy to stay up late for you.

Daniel was born and raised in New York. After living in China, working for a news agency and another stint at a major news network, he now lives in Arizona with his two daughters.

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