In the wake of an Associated Press-Jamestown Foundation report regarding mass sterilisations, forced abortions and brutal control of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang (see my earlier article), it is necessary to revisit the most brutal episodes of China’s one child policy to understand why and how it can now carry out this demographic genocide in Xinjiang with such ruthless efficiency.
Unlike the plight of the Uyghurs, up until now very little coverage has been given to these hidden episodes of what can only be called crimes against humanity. Apart from the efforts of social and religious conservatives like Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institute and Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, very few objections have come out of the West during the three and half decades of China’s one-child policy. In fact, many applauded and bankrolled the policy, which used the same methods, albeit on a massive scale, against the Han Chinese majority – mass sterilisations, forced abortions and infanticide – as are now being used against the Uyghurs.
Since 2020 marks the 40th anniversary of China’s one-child policy, and since its monstrous effects and the machinery formed for its implementation is now used to exterminate ethnic minorities, it is worth looking at the most brutal periods of China’s population control programme to understand just how perilous the situation of the Uyghurs is today.
1983-General Qian and his blitzkrieg on births
One of the earliest and most ruthless enforcers of the one child policy is General Qian Xinzhong, who first joined the Communist Red Army of China in the 1930s. In 1979, Qian, alongside military rocket scientist Song Jian, became one of the first military advocates for the radical one child policy as a solution to China’s perceived demographic “problems”. Qian had already developed a reputation as an enthusiast for family planning as Minister of Health before the Cultural Revolution (it was very common for generals to serve as ministers during the Mao era), when it was not yet official policy.
As Deng and his “revisionists” gained power, population panic went into overdrive and Qian became one of the most prominent advocates for radical solutions. Two of those, now being employed in Xinjiang, are the forced insertion of IUDs and mass sterilization of women. Qian even came up with a catchy slogan for his brainchild: (Insert IUDs after the firstborn and sterilize after the second one, “一胎上环，二胎绝育”).
The ruthless general was named Chairman of the National Family Planning Commission in May 1982 and served until December 1983 He set the stage for the first wave of atrocities to be carried out under the one child policy, which in 1982 was in its infancy and meeting passive (sometimes aggressive) resistance from the rural areas. Farmers and even family planning cadres in villages complained of rigid rules, unrealistic control targets and the practical need for more children in rural areas.
(A series of articles by Michael Weisskopf, the Washington Post’s “Peking” correspondent in the early 1980s, published in the Post in January 1985, documents the early years of the one child policy.)
Qian’s solution was to bulldoze the resistance with the utmost brutality. He took his ideas for forced sterilisations and abortions nationwide: in the year and half of his tenure as head of the National Family Planning Commission, China saw 14.37 million abortions, 16.4 million female sterilisations, 4.26 million male sterilisations, and 17.76 million women had IUDs inserted. Many if not the vast majority of these procedures were conducted involuntarily on women, especially in the rural areas where resistance to the inhumane birth control policies were the strongest.
How extraordinarily brutal was Qian’s 1983 blitzkrieg on women’s bodies? Well, the number of sterilisations carried out in 1983 was 10 times the number carried out just two years prior in 1981. In the year 1983 alone, a combined number of more than 30 million Chinese women either had to go through a forced abortion or sterilization. At the time, the number of women aged 20-39 (prime fertility age) was 140 million in China. Hence it can be roughly deduced that one out of four fertile Chinese women had their bodies violated in 1983 alone by Qian’s nationwide campaign.
Back then, the processes were highly unhygienic, dangerous and often conducted under coercion, resulting in endless horror stories and human rights abuses. It is also uncannily similar to what is happening now in Xinjiang, where reports of up to a third of women of childbearing age are now targeted for sterilisations, IUD insertions and abortions in Uyghur majority areas of southern Xinjiang.
Qian carried out his campaign militarily. Villages were surrounded by Family Planning officials in uniforms; women were rounded up en masse; peasants who refused to comply had their houses demolished, farm crops confiscated and their relatives illegally imprisoned until they complied (we find the same modus operandi now in Xinjiang). Family Planning officials became the most resented people in much of China, and relations between the government and its people reached an all-time low.
But Qian did get what he wanted: China’s total number of births dropped from 21.26 million in 1982 to 18.99 million in 1983. But his extreme approach earned the ire of moderates within the Communist Party, and after repeated complaints he was removed from office in December 1983, which offered a respite to women and children across China for the next few years.
However, his cruel policies of sterilizing women and forcing abortions on them once they have reached their birth quotas remained in place in many parts of China for decades and is now rearing its ugly head again in Xinjiang.
It is also worth mentioning that the butcher of babies, General Qian, not only did not receive any punishment for the crimes against humanity, but instead he and Indira Gandhi (who led her own brutal campaign of forced sterilisations and abortions on rural Indian women), received the first United Nations Population Award and $12,500 each in 1983, at the height of Qian’s population control campaign. That’s right: the UN openly celebrated the egregious human rights abuses and embraced Qian with open arms because he carried out the dirty work for their agenda and goal of global population control.
1991: Childless Hundred Days
Despite some loosened restrictions such as allowing rural couples to have a second child if the firstborn is a daughter (a change spearheaded by reformist Zhao Ziyang), the brutal mechanisms of forced sterilisations and abortions continued. But in 1991, two local county level party officials cooked up a scheme so cruel that it is rare even by Chinese Communist Party standards.
By then, the reformist Zhao Ziyang, who allowed “two-child” experiments in certain counties and provinces, had been removed and detained following the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement. His relatively liberal approach to family planning was subsequently also condemned, and everywhere in China the one-child policy population targets became a competition for local administrators to show off who is the most hardline enforcer ( this is similar to Xinjiang, which had relatively liberal birth policies for Uyghur people until the 21st century reversal).
Most Chinese provinces had by then imposed annual birth rate targets and birth quotas all the way down to the county level. Any local officials who did not meet these targets would be penalized in a “veto” system, which meant any other achievements would not count if family planning targets were not met.
The pressure drove some to desperate measures. In 1991, when two county officials in the northern province of Shandong (Guan County(冠县) and Shen County (莘县)) were shamed for not meeting their targets, they came up with a plan to ban all births, including legal first births, for 100 days.
In May the Guan official, County Party Chief Zeng Zhaoqi (曾昭起), ordered the atrocity now known in China as the “Childless Hundred Days” (百日无孩). From May 1, 1991 until August 10, zero babies would be born Guan County.
Women who had already obtained their “birth permits” for their firstborns were shocked to learn that their “legal” babies would now have to be aborted. Family planning officials were ordered to scour every town and village for pregnant women and drag them to abort their babies regardless of whether or not the pregnancies were within the allowed quota. Not a single human being was allowed to be born under their watch.
Zeng erected giant tents outside hospitals in Guan County to accommodate the large influx of women captured by family planning officials and ordered abortions to be done in the tents as hospitals quickly filled up. Nearby counties took the “abortion overflow”. Only a tiny minority of pregnant women managed to flee Guan County in time to give birth. Their relatives were often imprisoned to punish these disobedient women, and their family homes were demolished.
In order to ensure maximum ruthlessness, Zeng and his Shen County counterpart Bai Zhigang paid the family planning officials bonuses and recruited officials from other parts of the province to enforce the massacre. Babies, thousands of them, who were born alive during late-term abortions or natural births were strangled or lethally injected to ensure zero live births. Pits and ditches were dug for dead fetuses to be dumped there, and stray dogs devoured the fetuses. The few village Party officials who resisted the orders were sacked on the spot.
Slogans such as “ If you wanna hang yourself, we shall give you the rope” ( a reference to pregnant women threatening to commit suicide over the forced abortions) , and “ Rather be childless than let the Party worry” were painted across the walls of Guan and Shen counties.
The policy was known to the locals as “the Slaughtering of the Baby Sheep”, since 1991 was the year of the Sheep and babies born that year were so rare, especially between the months of May and August. Years later, a noticeable void in school admissions was detected in the two counties with a combined population of 1.6 million, as babies simply were not born during that period.
In 2013, Phoenix TV (a Hong Kong television station recently sanctioned by the United States as it is deemed a propaganda station of China) interviewed Zhang Erli, a senior National Family Planning Commission official, who admitted to the existence of such a campaign back in 1991 in those two Shandong counties. He however simply shrugged it off saying the two counties were a bit “too rough” in their implementation.
Official details of this campaign remain largely concealed from the public, but details have emerged over the years through online reports, witnesses and first person accounts of the unimaginable events. Estimates vary but it is reasonable to assume 20,000 babies were aborted or murdered (infanticide) in the two counties during those 100 days in 1991.
Zeng Zhaoqi, the mastermind of the brutal murder of thousands of babies, never got punished for his hideous crimes. Instead he was rewarded for meeting the targets and continued to climb up the ladder over the years. Just like General Qian Xinzhong, Zeng earned praise instead of punishment. In a grim irony, Zeng the great butcher of children, retired as Shandong Province’s Chief Commissioner for “Caring for the Next Generation Committee”, a committee established to protect children’s rights and focus on their education. He is also alive and well today.
What can the world learn from modern China’s darkest tales of 1983 and 1991? It should realise that the population control in Xinjiang in 2020 is merely the extension, not the culmination, of a four decade long mass experiment and that there is nothing surprising about the scale or the brutality of the experiment. It is merely a well-oiled population control machine which has already perfected itself in its brutality and efficiency over hundreds of millions of aborted fetuses. Xinjiang is not even the peak of this heartless birth control policy; Guan County with its “zero child policy” in 1991 is.
The other lesson is perhaps how the West has generally turned a blind eye to China’s ruthless campaigns and said very little about the atrocities. It was even supported by Westerners who themselves drank the population panic Kool-Aid.
International organisations such as the UN/UNFPA awarded murderers like Qian Xinzhong and Indira Gandhi prize money. Qian even got invited to deliver a speech at the prize giving ceremony promoting his ideas towards family planning. Others like the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the International Planned Parenthood Foundation actively assisted the family planning campaign in China by generously financing the State Family Planning Commission and family planning facilities across China. . Therefore, now that the genocidal policy in Xinjiang’s has come to light, one should not expect the West to do anything concrete to punish China for this. Clearly, many in the West have no moral authority or credibility to do it either.
Do not be shocked or pretend to be shocked about what is happening in Xinjiang. It has been carried out for decades and the world did nothing to stop it. If China can sacrifice the births of its own ethnic Han majority children for “economic development”, why should anyone be surprised that it is now castrating and exterminating its ethnic minorities for the sake of “stability and harmony”?
It is safe to say that the Uyghur men and women are on their own, at the mercy of the population control machine, just like their Han Chinese counterparts not so long ago.