As the government celebrated 70 years in power, the Last Week Tonight host looked at the policys history and long-term effects
As the Chinese government celebrated 70 years in power with massive celebrations, John Oliver examined the countrys now extinct one-child policy on Last Week Tonight. A long look at the policy, which mandated only one child per family between 1980 to 2015, illustrates how the Communist party wielded and maintained power, said Oliver, with long-term effects confronting China today.
Oliver first went back to the beginning: in the years leading up to 1980, overpopulation was a global fear, and the Communist party saw population growth control as an economic opportunity to secure power. So who to solve this issue? Just take a minute and think, who would be the absolute worst choice to craft a proscriptive nationwide policy on reproduction and do keep in mind, Jared Kushner is not Chinese, said Oliver.
The policy was developed by male military scientists who, according to Mei Fong, author of One Child, thought female fertility could be shifted up and down, like a switch.
Yeah, shes absolutely right: family planning isnt rocket science, said Oliver. And thats exactly why rocket scientists should not do it. Its the same reason we dont let OBGYNs launch babies into space and land them on the moon: experts should stay in their lane.
The policy was a national directive from the Community party but enforced on the local level; there might be exceptions for second children in rural areas, but the general message was to have only one child, as conveyed through propaganda such as have fewer children, but raise the quality, which is just not how children work, said Oliver. Children, and I say this as a loving parent, are not high-quality individuals. Their artwork is derivative and their stories meandering.
The one-child policy was also enforced by a sprawling bureaucracy, with millions of local-level employees who would issue fines multiple times that of a households annual income to those with second children.
Even if the parents could afford the fine, some chose never to let their kids ever forget it, said Oliver. In the film Chinas Stolen Children, for example, a father says: Why did we name our child 20,000 yuan? Because thats how much we were fined to have him.
Yeah, they named their kid 20,000 yuan so everyone would have to know what they had to go through to have him, said Oliver. Its the equivalent of naming your child Jason-last-minute-epidural-and-a-whole-lot-of-shitting-on-the-table Rabinowitz.
There were also far more brutal enforcement methods; Oliver played a clip of one woman tearfully recalling her forced abortion at nine months. Thats obviously horrifying, said Oliver, and I know that there are some who like to hold up China as a blanket argument against abortion in general, so just let me be clear on this: it is very easy to be both pro-choice and anti-forced abortion, in the same way that you can be pro-drinking fountain and anti-waterboarding. The important thing really is whos in control of the fucking process.
Moving to the present, for a government that made it a point to micro-manage their citizens lives, China did surprisingly little to prepare for the long-term consequences of this policy, Oliver said. For example: an entire generation of only children. And also an entire generation of ghost second children 6.5 million with no official citizenship status because they were born outside family planning rules, according to a New York Times report from 2015.
Theres also a huge gender disparity 34 million more men than women, meaning millions of men who want a wife will never have one, said Oliver. This has led to some unintended consequences, such as the success of a company that sells life-size mannequins of female bodies. For the record, buying a life-size sex doll does not stop you from being alone, said Oliver.
In 2015, China ended the one child policy by instituting a two child policy, with similar propaganda and enforcement methods of fines and forced abortions. The policy enforcement does suggest that the Chinese government still hasnt learned the fundamental lesson here, said Oliver. People are not machines whose reproductive systems can be turned on or off at will.
The image of the sex dolls factory full-size mannequins hanging on a clothing rack to peruse at will is pretty on the nose, if you think about it, said Oliver. A factory churning out headless silicone women because rocket scientists nearly 40 years ago didnt care enough about what their policies might do to real ones.
So as Chinas Communist party celebrates 70 years in power this week, he concluded, it seems worth remembering a massive way they used that power. And if theyre running low on pandas Id argue that sex dolls might actually be a more appropriate tribute.