Gendercide: China’s shameful massacre of unborn girls means there will soon be 30m more men than women
By Peter Hitchens
In the cruel old China, baby girls were often left to die in the gutters. In the cruel modern China, they are aborted by the tens of millions, using all the latest technology.
There is an ugly new word for this mass slaughter: gendercide.
Thanks to a state policy which has limited many families to one child since 1979, combined with an ancient and ruthless prejudice in favour of sons, the world’s new superpower is beginning the century of its supremacy with an alarming surplus of males.
A Danzhou classroom where the boys far outnumber girls
By the year 2020, there will be 30 million more men than women of marriageable age in this giant empire, so large and so different (its current population is 1,336,410,000) that it often feels more like a separate planet than just another country. Nothing like this has ever happened to any civilisation before.
Eugenics has always been a problem, in China, however, the program has created a significant burden on society.
The nearest we can come to it is the sad shortage of men after the First World War in Britain, France, Russia and Germany, and the many women denied the chance of family life and motherhood as a result.
It is possible that the effects of that imbalance are still with us, in the shape of the radical feminist movement which found ready recruits among the husbandless teachers and other professionals of the Twenties and Thirties.
But men without women are altogether more troublesome than women without men, especially when they are young.
All kinds of speculation is now seething about what might happen; a war to cull the surplus males, a rise in crime, a huge expansion in the prostitution that is already a major industry in every Chinese city, a rise in homosexuality.
Girl talk: Peter Hitchens in a suburb of Kunming which is a hot-spot for child abductions in China
Three things are for sure. It cannot now be prevented, and it is already beginning to be obvious in the schools. It is also stimulating a miserable trade in stolen children.
The Chinese state, never having intended this result and increasingly alarmed by it, is now using all its huge propaganda resources to try to stop the slaughter of unborn girls.
But it will be hard to fight against the cold hard prejudice in favour of sons and against daughters, rooted in a prehistoric belief that sons will care for their aged parents while daughters will cost money in dowries, and desert to the families into which they marry.
These problems were starkly obvious when I visited the country districts around the medium-sized city of Danzhou, among the rubber and sugar plantations of sub-tropical Hainan Island.
I visited several state comprehensive schools, primary and secondary, in Danzhou and in the nearby countryside.
These were not official visits, nothing had been prearranged, and European foreigners are so rare in this part of China that the children (and often their friendly teachers too) were enthralled to see that the Europeans they call ‘long-noses‘ really do live up to the name.
But as the children stared and chattered and giggled – and pulled at their own little noses to make fun of my enormous one – I quietly counted them, while my colleague Richard photographed them.
And in every cheerful classroom there was a slightly sinister shortage of girls, as if we had wandered into some sort of science fiction fantasy.
We had come to this region because of rumours that it has the most startling ratio of boys to girls in the country. One academic source has suggested there could be a ratio of 168 males for every 100 girls in Danzhou.
Something is clearly out of kilter. In one class of ten-year-olds, only 20 out of 80 were girls. In another classroom, it was 25 out of 63.
It is possible that some girls were being kept away from school because their parents did not think it worth sending them, but even so, the inequality was enormous and perplexing.
What made it more disturbing was the way teachers accepted there was a mismatch, but refused to talk about how this could have come about. One school principal simply would not discuss the matter. There was a strong sense that I was breaking a taboo by asking.
In a village primary school outside Danzhou, so remote that the staff live behind the school building in a dormitory and keep their own chickens, the gap was not quite so obvious.
But an unusually talkative teacher reckoned that in this small place there was a 60-40 ratio of boys to girls. He laughed and said: ‘The state is always taking measures to try to persuade people to have daughters. But the people have their own countermeasures.’
Safety first: A market worker in Kunming keeps her baby close to her at all times
All over this district, the evidence of government concern is on display. A 20-yard-long propaganda poster in one tiny hamlet dwells sternly and very frankly on the problem, declaring: ‘Our current family planning policy is this, “Pay attention to the issue of gender imbalance.”‘
It quotes a recent national census showing a growing imbalance and predicts: ‘In 2040 there will be 300million men and 250 million women under 40. At least 30million men will have difficulty getting married.
This will cause “elements of instability” and hinder economic growth. The harm caused by this imbalance could include disintegration of families, high divorce rates, “sex offences” and distortion of the birth rate.’
The poster, astonishingly candid in a country where critical journalism and dissent are still suppressed with all the force of the state, is sadly lame when it comes to suggesting what to do.
It calls for ‘action to care for girls’ and then sets out four vague and wordy slogans which can be summed up as ‘girls are good’. And so they keep saying.
As we travelled around the countryside, it was interesting to see that the traditional Chinese rural propaganda – charmingly naive tiled pictures calling for one-child families, until recently an inescapable feature of the country’s rural landscape, often on every corner and at any crossroads – had recently disappeared, or been covered up.
The message remains but it has been altered, although some old slogans, such as ‘fewer births, better births’, remain.
There are also financial inducements, important to parents who have traditionally seen a big family as the only promise of security in old age.
‘You are only a girl. You are spilt water’: This cold, dismissive expression is universally used about unwanted daughters – and to their faces
In one model village, a neat concrete communist idea of what rural life should be like, with its own clinic and school, there is a poster advertising benefits of £8 per month and easier access to good schools for parents who stick to one child, as well as large compensation payments by Chinese standards (around £5,000) if an only child dies.
But a painted slogan also discourages the abortion of unborn girls that everyone knows is going on despite laws which – in theory – ban the use of scans to check the sex of the child, and punish selective abortions.
They show idealised young families: a single daughter accompanies her parents, her arms affectionately outstretched amid fields of flowers. And they carry such slogans as ‘Caring for girls is caring for the future of our nation!’ or ‘Times have changed! Boys and girls are the same!’ and ‘Boys and girls are both treasures’.
In a scruffy roadside cafe next to one of these giant placards a farmer from a rubber plantation muttered mutinously: ‘That’s all very well, but they’re not the same really, and you want to be sure what it is before you have it, if you only have one child.’
In fact, in country districts couples whose first child is a daughter are usually permitted a second chance. However, they take elaborate steps to make sure that the second child is a boy.
But this is not just a rural problem, and it is already having some very nasty side-effects on China’s urban poor. From Hainan I travelled north-west to Kunming, an outwardly civilised university city of six million people, 6,000ft up on a high plateau.
There I asked a Chinese friend (let us call her Yuan Quan) to visit some abortion clinics for me, to see what was going on in them.
These legal clinics are openly advertised in the narrow, poor and dirty streets of Kunming’s inner city, where grubby children play under the watchful eyes of their mothers (we shall see why they are watchful in a moment).
There is also a police presence, but it far too often takes the form of a strange black plastic Robocop figure, which can be used like an old-fashioned British police box to call for help.
One of the many posters for medical services advertised what it called a ‘dream abortion – totally painless’, which made me wonder what the considerably cheaper non-dream versions must be like.
A propaganda billboard in Dangzhou
Failed Utopia: A poster advocates the one-child family in Danzhou
Yuan Quan slipped into a busy down-market establishment in a grim and basic part of town, with a flourishing market for stolen bicycles just outside, and the police looking the other way.
She asked the abortionist if he ever aborted boys. He gaped. ‘Are you mad?‘ he almost shouted, ‘Nobody aborts boys unless they are deformed. Girls are what we abort.’
This cheap and squalid storefront business offers abortions from around £10. Scans, which reveal a baby’s sex, cost a fiver. True, this is a rough neighbourhood, but similar businesses flourish in more respectable districts as well.
They usually start from £20, while supposedly painless procedures can go up to about £200.
The authorities, who have no moral objection to abortion itself, have been known to force women to have abortions in their ninth month of pregnancy to keep to the one-child policy.
They cannot really complain about the huge numbers of legal, commercial abortionists. Nor can they do much to ban the cheap portable scanning machines which detect the sex of the baby and condemn so many unborn girls to death.
Once you know more about China’s attitude to girls, it is surprising that so many survive. Yuan Quan told me of her own experience: ‘When I was a little girl my grandparents doted on me, and gave me generous presents. I was their first and only grandchild. But when my aunt had a son, it all stopped.
‘The presents got much smaller and the fuss died away. My male cousin got all the attention. There was no pretence about it. They would always have much preferred a boy, and now they had one.
‘They said to me, “You are only a girl. You are spilt water.”‘ This cold, dismissive expression is universally used about unwanted daughters – and to their faces.
These were educated, urban people. Imagine, then, how much coarser and more brutal the attitude is in the villages or among the sweatshops where the poor and uneducated gather.
Only a century ago, historians recorded that such sayings as ‘There is no thief like a family with five daughters’ and ‘Daughters are goods which lose you money’ were common among Chinese peasants.
Parents in those disease threatened times would often dress little boys as girls in the hope of deceiving the angel of death as it passed over their village.
All this has survived into the 21st Century, and is now combined with a government which puts frightening pressure on every couple to keep to just one child.
China’s civilisation might be 3,000 years old, but it is very different from ours, as we shall learn in more detail over the coming decades.
In Kunming I saw another of China’s harsh faces. You may have seen pictures of children in cages, or tethered to posts, and gasped at the cruelty. But you did not know the half of it.
Their seemingly brutal parents are in fact trying to prevent their children from being stolen.
Boys are kidnapped by families who want a male heir and do not care where they get him. Girls are taken to be brought up as child brides for cherished, spoiled boys, who will not have to worry about the increasing shortage of girls.
This danger is one that China’s censored state prefers not to talk about. When I arranged a meeting with the parents of four abducted children in Kunming, I was advised to speak only to the fathers.
Danzhou on Hainan Island is the epicentre of China’s gender imbalance problem
The mothers, I was warned, would become too emotional and might draw attention to our meeting. And that had to be avoided in case the parents were prevented by the authorities from attending.
They feared that our meeting might even be raided by the police, and were deeply nervous the whole time I spoke to them, in the private room of a back-street tea-house.
Chinese local authorities fight hard to keep news of their failures out of the foreign Press.
They even chase after citizens who go to Peking to complain about their treatment, or to petition for help. Parents who had put up posters begging for news of their stolen children were shocked to find that officials immediately snatched them from walls.
On June 1 last year, International Children’s Day, dozens of Kunming parents held up posters in a central square, advertising their missing children. City officials told them to take down the posters and disperse because they were ‘defacing the city with unsightly material’.
Here are the stories of the parents who talked to me. Xiong Fu Ping, (like all the men I spoke to, he is 36) lost his son Xiong Ting-Lei when the boy was 16 months old: ‘One minute he was playing outside our house and the next he was gone.’
Neighbours said a woman had driven the child away in her car. Xiong Fu Ping has already spent nearly half the family’s income, which is just £80 a month, on posters and advertisements for the missing boy.
Li Fa Ming lost his two-and-a-halfyearold little girl Xiang Xiang (the name means ‘One I long for’). Her mother was looking after their sick son when Xiang went out to buy an ice-lolly a few yards away. She did not come back.
Li Fa Ming said: ‘The police never contacted us after we reported it. Now it is very hard to get hold of them.
We roamed the city, putting up posters, took out advertisements, followed rumours, travelled to cities 1,000 miles away when we heard stories of people selling abducted children, but we found nothing, and were sometimes beaten up because the people we were dealing with were criminal types.
‘I had a son and a daughter: what we call “a dragon and a phoenix”, the ideal, perfect thing. Now that family is broken and there is nothing you can do to bring it back.’
The police were alerted only 20 minutes after the child disappeared while playing outside, but no clue was ever found. They, too, have been following rumours, getting nowhere.
Pan Ding De actually has six children, an amazing breach of the rules which he has got away with by living ‘off the grid’ and constantly moving from one city to another: a ruse used by many who want traditional big families.
His 20-month-old son Zhi vanished last September. The police have advised the family not to advertise their loss, in case they attract the attention of confidence trickster.
All those I spoke to are miserable and demoralised, afraid that their children are being used for criminal purposes. Li Fa Ming said: ‘The meaning has gone from our lives, I have one child remaining, he is 18 months old, and I will tell him when he grows up that he must never stop searching for his sister. I will never stop. The feeling of losing a child like this is beyond words.
‘The police, of course, say they are looking, but they have seen so many of these cases they are numb. This is the worst city in China for such abductions. When it comes to keeping the lid on this, the government wants peace and quiet. We are just going to have to keep doing this to get attention.’
But he quickly adds – and the others all anxiously join in, fearful of offending the authorities who rule their lives: ‘I am sure the police are trying their best.’
I am not so sure myself. Although there has been one recent case of a child being recovered by the Kunming police, China’s criminal gangs are powerful, and the police are often weak and sometimes corrupt. Clans and whole villages can and do combine to shield child-thieves from the law because of the strong and ancient prejudices in favour of continuing the male line.
What lingers in the mind, in the midst of this surging economic and political titan with its dozens of vast, ultra-modern cities, its advanced plans to land men on the Moon, its utopian schemes to control population and its unstoppable power over the rest of the world, is the inconsolable misery of the bereft parents, the pinched squalor of the places where they must try to live a happy life, the jaunty wickedness of the cheap abortion clinics and the classrooms full of the ghosts of all those girls who were never born.
Whatever we have been used to and thought of as normal is coming to an end.
In the meantime, don’t ask Vice President Biden to care.