During a recent family planning drive, villagers say, officials chased people down the streets and into the fields of a southern province searching for violators of China’s one-child policy.
Men and women were rounded up for forced sterilizations, the villagers reported. Expectant mothers are said to have faced mandatory abortions.
“I know a young woman who was six or seven months pregnant with twins,” said a woman villager interviewed by phone who was only willing to give her surname, Wang. “She did not have a permit to give birth. So she had to have an abortion. It was such a tragedy.”
Over the weekend, the peasants had finally had enough. As many as 3,000 people in several counties of Guangxi province clashed with police, Chinese state media confirmed Wednesday, some burning government buildings and overturning cars to vent their anger. Twenty-eight people were detained, according to the New China News Agency.
The one-child policy was instituted in the late 1970s to curb the world’s most populous country’s runaway birthrate. It limits most urban families to one child and allows rural couples to have two children, if the first is a girl.
In the early years, the restrictions led to many forced sterilizations and late-term abortions. Resisters could lose their homes. Such coercive measures had become much less common in recent years as the country put on a more humane face.
Both the nation’s rich and poor have been finding ways to skirt the rules: the rich because they could afford to and the poor because of a refusal to give up the traditional quest for a son.
In an effort to level the playing field, the government made an example last week of one businessman in eastern China for ignoring the one-child policy by fining him a whopping $77,000.
For those who are poor, fines are enough to ruin a family.
“They are asking me to pay almost $2,000. Where am I going to get that kind of money?” said Liu Shamei, a 29-year-old mother of a 5-year-old boy and 1-year-old girl who said she saw two truckloads of armed police arrive in her village in Shapi Township, Bobai County, to quell the unrest. “They are destroying our families and killing our children. How can we not revolt?”
The rioting makes it clear that local officials are still under pressure to meet birth control quotas. But their motivations to act often are selfish, critics say.
“They want to protect their political futures, and they can make a lot of money while they are at it,” said Li Jinsong, a lawyer who represented a blind activist arrested for exposing excesses in the carrying out of family planning in eastern China. “It is easy for them to abuse their power and act against the best interest of poor peasants.”
Villagers in Bobai County talk of a reign of terror that has forced many into hiding to avoid forced abortions or sterilization.
“A woman working in the sugarcane fields got caught and was told to get her tubes tied, even though her husband had already been sterilized,” said a 50-year-old middle school teacher surnamed Peng. “Another woman I know was six months pregnant. But they forced her to have an abortion because it was her second child and she already had a son. She was so sad she cried for a long time.”
Villagers say almost every family has more than one child. Some who had already paid fines have been asked for more money, they say.
Wang, the woman who told of the aborted twins, said she has two sons, 15 and 7. When her second son was born, she said, she paid a fine of about $50. Last week, officials came back and told her to pay an additional $1,900, she said.
“There’s a family down the street who didn’t have the money to pay,” Wang said. “They took whatever they wanted, even the scallions in the kitchen, and they tossed out the food that was being prepared for the kids.
“We are not happy to burn down the government building. But how could they treat us that way?”
In some cases, officials reportedly have frozen the bank accounts of alleged violators and given them an ultimatum to pay up or have their life savings confiscated.
“I heard a lot of people are taking their money out of the banks,” said Shen Haidong, 16, youngest of four children, “because they are scared that they’d never be able to get it out again.”