‘As much as I thought I was a freedom fighter trying to bring freedom and save lives,” testified Chai Ling at a recent Capitol Hill hearing, “I did not realize how much I was turned into the same sinful being as Chinese leaders like Deng Xiaoping and others who are enforcing the one-child policy today.”
This jarring admission by a woman who was a student leader in the Tiananmen Square democracy protests of 1989 was made before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on human rights, in a hearing marking the 31st anniversary of China’s one-child policy. The hearing, chaired by Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), was meant to inspire action on the China Democracy Promotion Act of 2011, which, if passed, will allow the president of the United States to deny visas to officials involved in enforcing that affront to human dignity.
During the course of her testimony, Chai was revealing about details of her life. She recounts these even more extensively in her new memoir, A Heart for Freedom
, recalling the abortion she had as a college sophomore: “After my father registered me, I was taken into an operating room, where a middle-aged woman was waiting. She wasn’t mean, just matter-of-fact, as if accustomed to this kind of operation. The room was cold. With no anesthesia, she inserted a long tube into my body, and I felt the pain of cutting and heard the sucking sound of a vacuum. I was in agony, but I couldn’t move or cry out. Next to me, an empty bottle began to fill with pinkish white foam. I felt the blood drain from my face, and my heart was in shock. As I felt I was about to faint, I heard a woman’s harsh voice.”
She recalls the woman asking, “Are you okay? If you can’t do it, I will leave and come back later.”
“‘Oh, please don’t leave,’ I begged. ‘Just finish it.’ I could not imagine having to go through this procedure again. Clearly not pleased, she looked at my face carefully and then continued for what seemed like a century before the noise came to an end.”
Chai would later become pregnant again, by the same boyfriend. “I blamed Qing, but inside I was angrier with myself for allowing it to happen. I wrote a letter to Qing’s family and told them. His father came to Beijing, and we were all embarrassed and upset. There was no discussion of any options — unlike America, there were no options.” Under the one-child policy, unmarried couples were not allowed to have children. In addition, a pregnant girl and her boyfriend would be expelled from the university and sent home, where they would suffer social disgrace and be assigned to meager jobs. That would be their future. All the years of study, preparation, hope, and dreams would be gone. Qing’s father was well aware of the consequences. “He took me to a nearby hospital,” she writes, “and this time I was given anesthesia before the abortion.”
That Chai was herself a victim of the one-child policy didn’t dawn on her until November 2009, when she sat through another congressional hearing. In that hearing, a woman named Wujian talked about her forced abortion under the one-child policy. She spoke graphically about family-planning officials’ treatment of her and her family.
“I was not prepared for her testimony,” Chai writes in her book. “I felt the pain and helplessness of Tiananmen when the tanks moved in on us. I felt the pain and helplessness of that horrible afternoon on the operating table when they performed the abortion on me without anesthesia.” She felt a “deep-rooted sadness” for a baby she had later aborted after she had left China, after she had married, having been so accustomed to abortion as the routine option.
As she stated in her testimony, Chai’s story highlights the “tragic equation for millions of unmarried women, especially those too young to wed: No marriage certificate, no birth permit. No birth permit, no baby.”
But it also points to something much broader than China’s brutal population-control policy. Chai Ling did not fully realize what she was protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, China’s tyranny having oppressed her — body, mind, and soul — in such deep and abiding ways. As she said on Capitol Hill this September, “We are here to report and mourn the loss of 400-plus million lives taken in China since 1980 under China’s one-child policy. But I never realized until I was writing my memoir that three of those babies are mine.”