ONE CHILD NATION – movie review

Amazon Studios
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Nanfu Wang, Jialing Zhang
Screened at: Dolby 24, NYC, 7/25/19
Opens: August 9, 2019

One Child Nation Movie Poster

It’s not only reactionary states like Alabama that want to control women’s bodies by restricting their reproductive rights. The oppression was far worse in China for thirty five years, ending only a couple of years ago when the government in Beijing aborted the law. “One Child Nation” deals with the Chinese policy of allowing only one child per family, reasoning that the country would be more prosperous and peaceful as a result of cutting back on overpopulation. But there was nothing peaceful about the way they enforced the edict. Not satisfied with splashing billboards with happy trios of mom, dad and child and using kitsch propaganda shows on TV trying to impress the folks to do their patriotic duty, the village elders, acting like Nazis looking for hidden Jews during the 1940s caught families hiding their second child, fined the mom and dad beyond the family budget, and for good measure took away the product of disobedience.

But wait, its worse. A lot worse. The hapless baby would be trafficked over to orphanages which would pretend that the little ones had no parents and would do international commerce in recruiting families interested in adoption and charging them, $10,000, $20,000 and up per child. This would explain why some of our fellow Americans have adopted Chinese babies in their homes who when grown up would never realize that they had siblings in China.

But wait once again! To ensure that women in China would obey the restrictive reproductive laws, they would force pregnant women who already had one child to have the fetus aborted. For good measure, the women would be sterilized. As cited in the most prescient comment in this documentary, it may be ironic that American states restrict abortion while China coerces the procedure, but in the end, both China and particular American states are controlling women’s bodies. This is what makes Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang’s colorfully photographed movie of special interest to an American audience.

Exceptions were made to such an extent that up to half of the Chinese families were given permission to transcend the one-child rules. The exceptions would be mainly for rural people and those whose first-borns are girls, but even there, prospective parents would have to allow five years’ separation between the two. Yes, boys are still valued over girls. Some personal discussion humanizes the film as we hear director Wang’s interviews with her own kin. Her name Nanfu = man + pillar, indicating her parents’ wish for a boy. In Wang’s own community, a midwife boasts that she performed 50,000 abortions and sterilizations, the whole idea motivated as members of this profession would be rewarded if their village had a low birth rate.

The one-child policy which went into effect in 1979 and continued until 2015 has changed, but Chinese are still not free. The current propaganda films call for two children per family, though Wang and Zhang do not look into how this new ideology is enforced. The rationale is that more young people are needed in the work force and can later serve to take care of the older folks. Whether China desires cannon fodder for the next war is also not covered.

One heroic American couple, Brian Stuy and Long Lan Stuy who have three adopted Chinese daughters discuss their organization, Research China, designed to help parents locate the children removed from their care and women in general to seek their sisters who are now abroad. The organization urges involved Chinese to spit into a cup, using their DNA to search for the lost youngsters. Sometimes a Chinese woman would find that her sister was in the U.S. and would text her but would be fearful to ask for the exact location figuring that this would prompt an “unfriending,” as the Chinese-American would fear being Shanghaied.

This is not only a valuable documentary, one that would have been censored had it been finished in China rather than in the U.S., but is particularly heartbreaking for those Americans who had already adopted Chinese kids only to find out that they may have mommies and daddies in the People’s Republic.

85 minutes. © 2019 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+