In her recently published book, award-winning journalist Mei Fong unveils the truth about China’s notorious one-child policy. Her honest writing not only narrates the policy’s history, but also how people’s lives in China visibly prove the consequences of its implementation.
- China recently changed their one-child policy to a two-child one. Do you believe it is too late to fix the negative effects of the one-child policy?
Broadly speaking, the one-child policy has resulted in very unbalanced population which is too male and has too many old people relative to young people. But there are indications that over time, the gender imbalance may slowly correct itself as changes in attitude result in daughters being as valued as sons.
- You said that a misconception was that the one-child policy was responsible for China’s economic growth. How would you go about educating other people about the policy?
Certainly reducing population growth has helped with resource allocation—better schooling, healthcare, access to public transportation. No question. But we need to de-link the association that the one-child policy played a significant part in the country’s thirty-plus years of double-digit GDP growth. The latter had more to do with the Chinese Communist Party lifting barriers from a previously socialist-planned economy and letting private entrepreneurship, foreign investment flourish.
- The children in single-child homes in China face pressures from their parents to live up to certain expectations, such as becoming a lawyer or doctor. What would be your piece of advice for them?
My advice is, find out what you’re good at. Do it until you’re good enough to support yourself. Try and make a difference. That’s a better recipe for happiness, if not riches.
- In China, respect for one’s parents is held highly. What is your definition of filial respect?
Honoring your parents, giving back to them in love and care what they gave to you.
- In the book, you stated that “with the urgent gender imbalance, women are certainly more valuable, but not necessarily more valued.” What can be done to counteract this hostile attitude towards females?
Gender parity, and by that I mean equal treatment in terms of law and social norms.
- Traditional and modern values often clash in China’s culture. Is there any way that they both can reach a compromise?
One of the wonders of Chinese culture is how flexible and pragmatic it can be. It’s one reason why so many Chinese immigrants can adapt so successfully overseas. In Malaysia, for example, where I grew up, the early 19th century Chinese immigrants were mostly a merchant class who came to trade, and mostly male. They intermarried with local women and created a hybrid group, called Peranakans, who dress more like Malays, eat more like Chinese, and have their own argot.
- Are there any lessons that America or other countries can learn from China’s one-child policy?
That there are unexpected, and sometimes painful consequences when trying to regulate women’s reproductive rights.
- You stated at the end of the prologue that you wanted to answer the question, “Why do we have children?” What is your answer to this?
I think our reasons have evolved—at the base level there is biological urge to reproduce, which is in all living things. Then there are all the cultural underpinnings: fulfilling family obligations. But over time and as society evolves some of these reasons become less valid: if you’re lucky enough to live in a country with a strong social safety net, for example, there’s less economic imperative.
- How has your family reacted to your novel, especially your analysis on how males were regarded as more important than females even in your own family?
Not much dispute there… we’re all in agreement that was how things used to be.
- How has becoming a mother affected your stance on the one-child policy?
I think my stance on the one-child policy would have been the same regardless, but certainly being a mother makes me more sympathetic and knowledgeable to the lengths that parents go through to get a child, whether it be through fertility treatments or adoption.