This week, one of China’s Princesses (female children of China’s old Party members, similar to Princelings), Li Xiaolin, revealed that her biggest regret in life was that she didn’t have a second child. This is nothing new. This is a sentiment that many mothers in China have been feeling for decades and is only one of many problems with the One Child Policy. The desire to have children is natural and to be denied that right can be extremely disheartening. Actually, that is putting it lightly. Not being able to have children is a physical and emotional pain that never goes away. It is as if a sword is constantly stabbing your heart. It is an emptiness that can’t be filled. It is something you can’t run away from. Every child you see reminds you of this pain inside that constantly gets worse every single day.
I have great empathy for Li and every woman in the world who feels this ache because I am one of them.
But what has been surprising about her statement isn’t what she said, but the way it has been received by many people. Chinese netizens have bashed Li for sharing her feelings, even calling her a ‘hypocrite.’ She has also been villainized by Western outlets like The Shanghaiist. Some claim that because she is rich and powerful, the pain she feels as a women denied the right to have children is null and void.
I believe these attacks on Li Xiaolin are totally uncalled for and this reasoning that “the rich aren’t allowed to have pain” is completely ludicrous. Is Li rich? Yes. Is Li probably a bit delusional about her own privilege? Possibly. But those things don’t negate the fact that she is a human being. Everyone suffers. Everyone has pain. Everyone has the right to be sad sometimes. In the West we say “money doesn’t bring happiness,” so then why would people criticise and condemn someone who admits to being unhappy inspite of her money?
When I read Li Xiaolin’s words, I don’t see a Princess, or a CEO, or a rich brat; I see a woman in pain. As a feminist, a humanist, as someone who desires to see equality for all people, I don’t care about her economic status. Every person has the basic human right to have as many children as they want. Li’s wealth doesn’t exclude her from being human.
Traditionally in China, women suffered in silence. When Xinran was conducting her interviews with women around China in the 80s and 90s, no one, not men or women, knew what pain women felt. Men thought that women were incapable of deep, meaningful thoughts and feelings. Women kept silent, even to each other, so each thought she was suffering alone. Only since Xinran began writing have women been learning to speak out openly about their feelings. I am greatly disturbed by people who shut down Li Xiaolin’s words simply based on her wealth. It is archaic, patriarchal, and sexist. Li is part of this nationwide shared experience of women being denied their human rights. To marginalize her feelings on this matter is to marginalize the feelings of every woman because they all have the same feeling.
Some claim that Li Xiaolin simply didn’t speak out enough to be worthy of praise. While I don’t believe I am praising her, at least not her specifically, I do believe that all women who speak out on this issue, in any way, should at least be encouraged, not shut down. Also, who gets to judge what is “enough?” Should she have defied her father and had more children anyway? Should she have defected from China and become a writer of scathing editorials denouncing the One Child Policy? Should she hold a press conference and publicly denounce her government? Should she have simply said nothing? People do not have the right to determine how much activism is “enough” for someone else. Who knows how much flack she is now getting from her family for the few words she did say. Who knows what she might say in the future about it if people ask her to elaborate in a calm and reasonable manner. She certainly won’t continue sharing her pain and being part of this national discussion about the One Child Policy if people shut her down when she does.
The One Child Policy is one of the greatest failures of modern China. It has continued to abuse women and oppress them as second-class citizens, has resulted in the loss of millions of children, and it has left an indelible scar on the psyche of a nation that will be felt for generations. Li Xiaolin is an example of how every family in China has been negatively affected by this policy. Suffering from the One Child Policy shouldn’t be a contest to see who has suffered the most or whose suffering is more legitimate than someone else’s. She should not be a sacrificial lamb, burned in the media for being a whiny rich girl, but she should simply be included in a national dialogue that should be working together to end this policy.