“Children hang onto your gun arm”: Inside China’s one child policy and what Mei Fong gave up to become a mother
If you want to read one amazing book this year by a business journalist, one awesome book on China, and one powerful book on motherhood, I have good multi-tasking news for you: All you have to read is “One Child: The story of China’s Most Radical Experiment” by Mei Fong.
It’s not an exaggeration to say every conversation you have about business, politics, culture, feminism, even why virtual goods have become such a huge business in China all ties back to the one child policy.
I picked up Fong’s book as part of research for my book. It had a huge impact on me. It not only rebutted the one child policy’s much touted “benefits” like population controls and environmental conservation, but it altered how I thought about the nature of misogyny no matter what the ideology is behind it.
To wit: In the US the spectre for those pushing for the government controlling women’s bodies is they might have abortions in their ninth month. In China, the government did the opposite: It controlled women’s bodies by frequently forcing those kinds of abortions on them. Different ideologies and goals, sure, but two sides of a coin in a world where women have no choice.
Fong also explores something that I’ve been studying for a while: That the one child policy was good for exactly one group of women: Urban born Chinese, who were well-educated and have in general had greater career opportunities than women in the US. In our latest episode of “A Uterus Is a Feature Not a Bug” podcast, I spoke with Fong about her book and her journey and whether or not these women are living some sort of unintended consequences feminist dream.
Fong’s book-- believe it or not-- is also funny. We also talk about her journeys through China’s “bachelor villages” where men grapple with the ramifications of not enough women to go around.
Fong does a beautiful job weaving her own story of motherhood into the thread of “One Child’s” narrative. She struggled to get pregnant while she was living and traveling all over China, reporting for the Wall Street Journal. But ironically, that journey is what helped reinforce to her that she wanted to be a mother. It wasn’t until she gave up that life, and moved to Los Angeles that fertility treatments finally worked for her. Tears were running down my cheeks as I read the Epilogue when she tells the reader she finally became a mother.
We talk in this podcast about what happened after the book, how her twins have impacted her life. She acknowledges that things have changed since the days when she was a badass, Pulitzer Prize winning, Journal correspondent. “Children hang on your gun arm,” she says. But it was that stepping back from the day-to-day that enabled her to write this book, a culmination of decades of reporting.
There’s one piece of unfinished business for Fong on this topic: Getting the book translated and distributed in China. As of now, Chinese men and women can’t read her reporting about the single biggest social experiment that has shaped their lives. Even Hong Kong-based publishers won’t touch it. She’s doing a GoFundMe campaign to fund the translation and distribution herself, as much to get her book into the market, as to encourage other authors not to give up when their work is censored. You should go support it now. Any amount makes a difference.
Yeah, Mei Fong is just kind of a badass.