TV & Radio
７０００人に避妊、中絶強制 中国山東省でと米誌 (共同 2005/09/12)
Sunday, Sep. 11, 2005
Enemies Of the State?
How local officials in China launched a brutal campaign of forced abortions and sterilizations
By HANNAH BEECH/SHANDONG
The men with the poison-filled syringe arrived two days before Li Juan's due date. They pinned her down on a bed in a local clinic, she says, and drove the needle into her abdomen until it entered the 9-month-old fetus. "At first, I could feel my child kicking a lot," says the 23-year-old. "Then, after a while, I couldn't feel her moving anymore." Ten hours later, Li delivered the girl she had intended to name Shuang (Bright). The baby was dead. To be absolutely sure, says Li, the officials--from the Linyi region, where she lives, in China's eastern Shandong province--dunked the infant's body for several minutes in a bucket of water beside the bed. All she could think about on that day last spring, recalls Li, was how she would hire a gang of thugs to take revenge on the people who killed her baby because the birth, they said, would have violated China's family-planning scheme.
Since 1980, when China began fully carrying out what is commonly known as the one-child policy, officials in the provinces have often resorted to draconian measures--forced sterilizations and late-term abortions among them--to prevent the country's population of 1.3 billion from expanding into a Malthusian nightmare. Government leaders credit China's stringent population control with helping spur economic growth by reducing the number of mouths that must be fed. But in 2002, as personal freedoms proliferated in other areas of life, parliament voted to ease the deeply unpopular policy. Instead of forbidding extra children outright, the new law, among other reforms, allowed couples to have multiple offspring if they were willing to pay big fines. The costs can be exorbitant for peasants like Li--$365 or more for the first additional child in Linyi, around four times the average annual net income in this impoverished region. But at least the Chinese now possess a modicum of choice in family matters, which they lacked a few years ago.
The Communist Party bureaucracy, however, doesn't seem to have caught up with the new law. Despite laxer regulation, the career advancement of local leaders, especially in rural areas, still often depends on keeping birthrates low. "One set of bad population figures can stop an official from getting promoted," says Tu Bisheng, a Beijing legal activist who has helped document abuses related to the one-child policy.
At a provincial meeting last year, Linyi officials were castigated for having the highest rate of extra births in all of Shandong, according to lawyers familiar with the situation. The dressing-down galvanized what appears to be one of the most brutal mass sterilization and abortion campaigns in years. Starting in March, family-planning officials in Linyi's nine counties and three districts trawled villages, looking to force women pregnant with illegal children to abort, and to sterilize those who already had the maximum allotment of children under the local family-planning policy. According to that regulation, which exists in a similar form in most rural areas, women with a son are not allowed to bear more children, whereas mothers whose first child is handicapped or a girl are allowed to have a second baby.
Many women refused to undergo the procedures. Others hid, often in family members' homes. The crackdown intensified. Relatives of women who resisted sterilization or abortion were detained and forced to pay for "study sessions" in which they had to admit their "wrong thinking," says Teng Biao, an instructor at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, who visited Linyi last month to investigate the coercive campaign. In the Linyi county of Yinan alone, at least 7,000 people were forced to undergo sterilization between March and July, according to lawyers who spoke with local family-planning officials. Several villagers, the lawyers allege, were beaten to death while under detention for trying to help family members avoid sterilization.
Officials in Linyi deny that anything improper has happened. "All these things are either exaggerated, distorted or not based on facts," says an official surnamed Yao (he wouldn't give his full name) at the Linyi municipal family-planning commission. But national-level cadres concede that something has gone terribly wrong. "We have heard about the situation in Shandong, and it's totally against national law," a member of the State Family Planning Commission's secretariat in Beijing told TIME. "We are investigating the situation now." A public statement from the commission said that central and provincial authorities have cautioned Linyi officials to follow national regulations, vowing to punish lawbreakers.
The plight of Linyi's women was publicized by a most unlikely man. Chen Guangcheng was blinded at a young age in Linyi and learned massage in Beijing, one of the few subjects those without sight in China are allowed to study. But Chen was fascinated by law and while in Beijing sat in on several university law courses. Returning to Linyi, he became a legal activist, advising peasants on land and tax disputes. In March, a stream of distraught peasants complained to him of forced sterilizations and the detentions of family members. Chen, 34, had heard about the campaign; many people in his village, he told TIME, had been imprisoned at one time or another for defying the sterilization order. But he had no idea the campaign was so widespread. After discussing the issue with lawyer friends in Beijing, Chen decided to file a class action against Linyi officials for contravening national family-planning law. Chinese journalists traveled to Shandong to chronicle his mission but were not allowed to publish articles about him in the domestic press.
By mid-August, Chen was under house arrest for his activities. Seven people, he and his wife say, were stationed outside his home to watch him. But Chen felt he had to escape to Beijing to continue with the lawsuit. On the evening of Aug. 25, while police snoozed outside, he sneaked out in the dark. Hearing someone follow him, Chen threw handfuls of gravel in different directions to confuse his pursuer. "The night gives me an advantage," says Chen. "I can navigate better than people with sight can." With a relative as a guide, Chen fled into fields of tall corn and walked for miles before meeting a friend who drove him to safety. But when Chen reached Beijing, four officials who had come from Linyi hassled him at the railway station. When he met again with TIME last week in Beijing, Chen's hands were shaking. Three hours after the interview, Linyi officials hustled him into a vehicle and took off. Chen is again under house arrest in Linyi.
Whistle-blowers in China often face retribution for publicizing official malfeasance. "I know I'm at risk, but I cannot give up, because people are depending on me," said Chen shortly before he was detained. Yet even if Chen is released from house arrest and his lawsuit succeeds, it will do little to change the fate of women like Hu Bingmei. When family-planning officials came to fetch her in May for a forced sterilization, Hu escaped with her two daughters to her parents' home in another village. Several days later, seven officials showed up, she says, grabbed her younger child and shoved the girl into a car. Afraid that her daughter would be abducted, Hu jumped into the vehicle with them. The car drove to the local family-planning clinic, where, Hu says, nurses threw her onto an operating table. "Other people were fine after their operations, but it hurt me so much, I could barely stand up," says Hu, 33. Two weeks later, doctors operated again and promised things would heal better. But even today, Hu doubles over in pain after just a few steps. "They told me they were doing this for my own good," says Hu. "But they have ruined my life."