It is an unfortunate fact of history that most change is born out of great tragedy. It was only after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in 1911 that killed 146 young women were fire safety codes issues that prevented any future factory disasters from ever occurring in America again. It was only after the Titanic sank that new Maritime safety codes were issued and prevented any other ship in the North Atlantic from hitting icebergs again. And it is only after the brutal murder of the unborn baby of Feng Jianmei and pictures of the dead baby circulated on the Internet that Chinese authorities took the unprecedented measure of apologizing for the heinous act and has even begun firing several people involved in the tragedy.
Feng Jianmei was forced to have an abortion in her 7th month of pregnancy. China outlawed late term abortions in 2001 so the procedure never should have happened. Also, Feng is a rural woman whose older child is a girl. She should qualify for an exemption to the One-child policy, but was forced to have an abortion anyway.
Earlier this week I wrote about Cao Ruyi, a Changsha woman, who was facing a similar fate. While forced abortions are still a common practice in China, I was concerned that this case was not true because Cao should be allowed to have a second baby under China’s own exemptions to the One-Child law. But ABC News has actually spoken to Cao and her family and wrote about it in an article on their website. So the question of “if” this is happening is no longer an issue, but the question of “why” is. Both Cao and Feng should qualify for exemptions to the One-child policy, but they are still being abused by the system. However, the Internet is coming to save the day.
It is too late to save Feng’s child, and she most likely will suffer psychological and physical injuries for the rest of her life. But someone in that hospital room took the brave step of taking pictures of the aborted baby and posted them to Weibo (China’s Twitter). The image (which I have been unable to track down) sparked outrage on the Internet and actually got a reaction from the Chinese government. The deputy Mayor of Ankang, Shaanxi visited Feng and her husband in the hospital to apologize and tell them that the officials involved would be suspended. Even China’s own Xinhua News Site (the official source for news in China) has acknowledged the late-term abortion law and the suspension of the government officals in the area.
Many people in China (even foreigners) doubt just how involved the Chinese people are in speaking out against their government and demanding changes. Many people think that speaking out in China is just an exercise in futility that never gets results. But the sad case of Feng Jianmei shows just how much people can do and how much influence they can have on the world. To get an apology and to have these corrupt officials removed is a huge step for China. The more people speak out, the more China loses face, the more pressure there is on China from other countries, the more change will come. It will come slowly, and not drastically, but it will come. Will we see the end of the One-child policy because of this case? Not likely soon. But will we see it carried out with more care and more consistency? Hopefully, yes. The local government in Ankang said that they would “accept supervision from society” (emphasis mine). For maybe the first time, the government is asking for the people to watch it to make sure the laws are followed instead of simply imposed upon the people. By speaking out in this case, the Chinese people have taken a huge step towards making the government accountable for it’s actions. Today is actually a good day for China.
I would like to clarify that “a good day for China” does not mean that the government or city officals are getting some kind of kudos or pat on the back from me for apologising. There is no apology that can make up for what they did. But for the Chinese people (from the person who took the initial picture, to everyone who reposted it on Weibo, and the bloggers and reporters who made the story bigger than China could ignore) who spoke out and spread the story and openly criticized their government for this horrendous act and finally got a (small) response, good for you. Don’t give up.
Also, Beijing Cream has posted a link to the original picture of the aborted baby. I am not reposting it myself because it is extremely graphic. But if you want to see it, you can visit Beijing Cream and follow their link (this link does not lead directly to the picture, but to their article about it).