Female infanticide in China
The People's Republic of China and its predecessors have a history of female infanticide spanning 2000 years. Worldwide, the practice of infanticide has been practiced since antiquity for the purpose of population control. It is an unsanctioned method of family planning that has been condoned for centuries in the area until recent times. The phenomenon is also referred to as female gendercide; however, the word gendercide can be used for both sexes.
The practice of female infanticide was far from wholly condoned in China. Buddhists wrote that the killing of young girls would bring bad karma, conversely those who saved a young girl's life either through intervening or through presents of money or food would earn good karma leading to a prosperous life, as well as long life and success for their sons. However, the Buddhist belief in reincarnation meant that the death of an infant was not final as the child would be reborn, and this belief eased guilty feelings over female infanticide.
The Confucian attitude towards female infanticide was conflicted. By valuing age over youth, Confucian filial piety lessened the value of children, whilst the Confucian belief of Ren led Confucian intellectuals to support the idea that female infanticide was wrong and that the practice would upset the balance between yin and yang.
When Christian missionaries arrived in China in the late sixteenth century, they witnessed newborns being thrown into rivers or onto rubbish piles. In the seventeenth century Matteo Ricci documented that the practice occurred in several of China's provinces and said that the primary reason for the practice was poverty. The practice continued into the 19th century and declined precipitously during the Communist era, but has reemerged as an issue since the introduction of the one-child policy in the early 1980s. The census of 1990 showed an overall male-to-female sex ratio of 1.066, while a normal sex ratio for all ages should be less than 1.02.
During the 19th century the practice was widespread. Readings from Qing texts show a prevalence of the term ni nü (to drown girls), and drowning was the most common method used to kill female children. Other methods used were suffocation and starvation.[a] Exposure to the elements was another method: the child would be placed in a basket which was then placed in a tree. Buddhist nunneries created "baby towers" for people to leave a child. In 1845 in the province of Jiangxi, a missionary wrote that these children survived for up to two days while exposed to the elements, and that those passing by, would ignore the screaming child. Missionary David Abeel reported in 1844 that between one third and one fourth of all female children were killed at birth or soon after.
In 1878 French Jesuit missionary, Gabriel Palatre, collated documents from 13 provinces and the Annales de la Sainte-Enfance (Annals of the Holy Childhood), also found evidence of infanticide in Shanxi and Sichuan. According to the information collated by Palatre the practice was more widespread in the southeastern provinces and the Lower Yangzi River region.
In 1930, Rou Shi, a noted member of the May Fourth Movement, wrote the short story A Slave-Mother. In it he portrayed the extreme poverty in rural communities that was a direct cause of female infanticide.
A white paper published by the Chinese government in 1980 stated that the practice of female infanticide was a "feudalistic evil".[b] The state officially considers the practice a carryover from feudal times, not a result of the state's one-child policy. According to Jing-Bao Nie, it would be "inconceivable" to believe there is no link between the state's family planning policies and female infanticide.
On 25 September 1980 in an "open letter", the Politburo of the Communist Party of China requested that members of the party, and those in the Communist youth league, lead by example and have only one child. From the beginning of the one-child policy, there were concerns that it would lead to an imbalance in the sex ratio. Early in the 1980s, senior officials became increasingly concerned with reports of abandonment and female infanticide by parents desperate for a son. In 1984, the government attempted to address the issue by adjusting the one-child policy to allow couples whose first child is a girl to have a second child.
Many Chinese couples desire to have sons because they traditionally carry on the family name and provide support and security to their aging parents later in life. On the contrary, a daughter is expected to leave her parents upon marriage to join and care for her husband’s family. In rural households, which as of 2014 constitute almost half the Chinese population, males are additionally valuable for performing agricultural work and manual labor.
A 2005 intercensus survey demonstrated pronounced differences in sex ratio across provinces, ranging from 1.04 in Tibet to 1.43 Jiangxi. Banister (2004), in her literature review on China’s shortage of girls, suggested that there has been a resurgence in the prevalence of female infanticide following the introduction of the one-child policy. On the other hand, many researchers have argued that female infanticide is rare in China today, especially since the government has outlawed the practice. Zeng and colleagues (1993), for example, contended that at least half of the nation’s gender imbalance arises from the underreporting of female births.
According to the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCAF), the demographic shortfall of female babies who have died for gender related issues is in the same range as the 191 million estimated dead accounting for all conflicts in the twentieth century. In 2012 the documentary It's a Girl: The Three Deadliest Words in the World was released. It focused on female infanticide in India and China.
As a result of female infanticide and sex-selective abortion combined, there are an estimated 30–40 million more men than women in China today. This female deficit is expected to generate a wide range of adverse social, political, and economic consequences.
- "As soon as the little girls are born, they are plunged into the water in order to drown them or force is applied to their bodies in order to suffocate them or they are strangled with human hands. And something even more deplorable is that there are servants who place the girl in the chamber pot or in the basin used for the birth, which is still filled with water and blood and, shut away there, they die miserably. And what is even more monstrous is that if the mother is not cruel enough to take the life of her daughter, then her father-in-law, mother-in-law, or husband agitates her by their words to kill the girl."
- "Infanticide through drowning and abandoning female babies is an evil custom left over from feudal times."
- Mungello 2012, p. 144.
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- Mungello 2012, p. 145.
- Mungello 2012, pp. 146–147.
- Milner 2000, pp. 238-239.
- Mungello 2012, p. 148.
- Coale & Banister 1994, pp. 459–479.
- White 2006, p. 200.
- Milner 2000, pp. 239-240.
- Mungello 2008, p. 17.
- Mungello 2008, p. 9.
- Lee 1981, p. 164.
- Mungello 2008, p. 10.
- Abeel 1844.
- Harrison 2008, p. 77.
- Mungello 2008, p. 13.
- Johnson 1985, p. 29.
- Nie 2005, p. 50.
- Chan, C. L. W., Yip, P. S. F., Ng, E. H. Y., Ho, P. C., Chan, C. H. Y., & Au, J. S. K. (2002). Gender selection in China: It’s meanings and implications. Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics, 19(9), 426-430.
- National Bureau of Statistics of China. (2014). Total population by urban and rural residence and birth rate, death rate, natural growth rate by region [Data set]. Retrieved from http://www.stats.gov.cn/tjsj/ndsj/2014/indexeh.htm.
- Parrot, Andrea (2006). Forsaken females : the global brutalization of women. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 53. ISBN 978-0742545793.
- Zhu, W. X., Lu, L., & Hesketh, T. (2009). China’s excess males, sex selective abortion, and one child policy: Analysis of data from 2005 national intercensus survey. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 338(7700)
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- Zeng, Y., Tu, P., Gu, B., Xu, Y., Li, B., & Li, Y. (1993). Causes and implications of the recent increase in the reported sex ratio at birth in China. Population and Development Review, 19(2), 283-302.
- Female infanticide. (n.d.). BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/abortion/medical/infanticide_1.shtml.
- Winkler 2005, p. 7.
- DeLugan 2013, pp. 649–650.
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- DeLugan, Robin Maria (2013). "Exposing Gendercide in India and China (Davis, Brown, and Denier's It's a Girl—the Three Deadliest Words in the World)". Current Anthropology. University of Chicago Press. 54 (5): 649–650. doi:10.1086/672365. JSTOR 10.1086/672365.
- Harrison, Henrietta (2008). "A penny for the little Chinese: The French Holy Childhood Association in China, 1843–1951". American Historical Review. 113 (1): 72–92. doi:10.1086/ahr.113.1.72.
- Johnson, Kay Ann (1985). Women, the Family, and Peasant Revolution in China. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0226401898.
- Lee, Bernice J. (1981). "Female Infanticide in China". Historical Reflections / Réflexions Historiques. 8 (3): 163–177. JSTOR 41298766.
- Milner, Larry S, (2000). Hardness of Heart/hardness of Life: The Stain of Human Infanticide. University Press of America. ISBN 978-0761815785.
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- Mungello, D. E. (2008). Drowning Girls in China: Female Infanticide in China since 1650. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0742555310.
- White, Tyrene (2006). China's Longest Campaign: Birth Planning in the People's Republic, 1949–2005. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-0801444050.
- Winkler, Theodor H. (2005). "Slaughtering Eve The Hidden Gendercide". Women in an Insecure World (PDF). Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces.