Bioethical standards are loose and murky in China, but there are things which do provoke outrage. No, we are not talking about Xinjiang’s Uyghurs. The issue du jour is that a popular model and actress, Zheng Shuang, has been accused by her estranged former partner of abandoning two children whom she commissioned from two surrogate mothers in the United States.
A wave of outrage swept through Chinese social media. As a result, she was immediately dumped by the luxury goods firm Prada as a brand ambassador. Government regulators have blacklisted her. She is being fast-tracked to unpersonhood.
In China’s opaque justice system exemplary punishments are a perennial hazard for celebrities. As the Chinese proverb has it, “To feed the ambition in your heart is like carrying a tiger under your arm.” Ms Zheng, who last month was one of the most popular young screen faces in China, must be having nightmares about going to jail.
Zhang Heng, her former partner, says that he has been stranded in the US for over a year because he “must take care of and protect two young and innocent lives”. Ms Zheng is reportedly listed as the children’s mother on the children’s birth certificates.
Someone helpfully leaked a tape of a conversation. In it, Zheng, Zhang and their parents were discussing what to do with the then-unborn children after the celebrity couple had broken up.
Zheng’s father suggested that they abandon the children at the hospital, while Zhang’s father said it would be illegal. Zheng’s family then suggested giving the children up “for adoption”, while Zheng expressed exasperation that they could not be aborted.
The government is not pleased with these scandalous developments. The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China said: “Surrogacy is banned in China as it uses women’s uteruses as a tool and sells life as a commercial product. As a Chinese citizen, the act of travelling to the US on a legal loophole is not abiding by the law.”
The state broadcaster CCTV also commented that “surrogacy is banned in China because it overlooks life”, and even called it “trampling the bottom line [of human morality]”.
While surrogacy is effectively banned in China, an article last year in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family said that: “Driven by high demands from society, the surrogacy industry has flourished in recent years in China with an estimate of 10,000 resulting children born every year.”
What’s puzzling about this indignation over surrogacy, which is prohibitively expensive, and relatively rare, is that far, far worse crimes against women happen in Tibet and Xinjiang every day and the Chinese media is silent, or worse, praises them. A thoroughly documented report last year by a German demographer spoke of forced sterilisation and abortions to reduce the number of children born to Uyghur women. He did not hesitate to use the word “genocide”.
Surrogacy is human rights abuse as well. It treats women like cattle and commodifies babies. It’s good to see that the Chinese media is calling out a young celebrity for abandoning her two children. But the abuse of thousands of Uyghur women cries out to heaven. Perhaps, though, we in the West shouldn’t get too uppity about Chinese double standards. Our governments are prepared to turn school systems upside down to accommodate a tiny handful of supposedly transgender children while ignoring millions of abortions. Consistency may be overrated.