The Dark Legacy of China’s One-Child Policy

On the podcast: The filmmaker Nanfu Wang tells the harrowing story of her own family’s one-child ordeal.

By , the executive editor for podcasts at Foreign Policy.
The movie poster for "One Child Nation."
The movie poster for "One Child Nation."
The movie poster for "One Child Nation." Amazon Studios

In 1979, China imposed the most drastic population control law the world had ever seen: a mandate that each family was entitled to just one child. Over the next three and a half decades, implementation of the law was draconian: Forced sterilizations, forced abortions, and children removed from families were all common practice.

China officially ended the policy at the end of 2015 and undertook a radical shift, moving to incentivize having more than one child and to penalize those who don’t. That’s because the one-child policy so dramatically changed the demographics of China that the country is now dangerously aging. The number of men of child-bearing age far outstrips the number of women, and the birthrate remains low.

The filmmaker Nanfu Wang explores the impact of the one-child policy in a new documentary, One Child Nation. Wang grew up in rural China. She began pondering the impact of the policy when she became a mother herself. In parts of the film, she turns the camera on her own family and hears harrowing stories. Wang is our guest this week on First Person.

In 1979, China imposed the most drastic population control law the world had ever seen: a mandate that each family was entitled to just one child. Over the next three and a half decades, implementation of the law was draconian: Forced sterilizations, forced abortions, and children removed from families were all common practice.

China officially ended the policy at the end of 2015 and undertook a radical shift, moving to incentivize having more than one child and to penalize those who don’t. That’s because the one-child policy so dramatically changed the demographics of China that the country is now dangerously aging. The number of men of child-bearing age far outstrips the number of women, and the birthrate remains low.

The filmmaker Nanfu Wang explores the impact of the one-child policy in a new documentary, One Child Nation. Wang grew up in rural China. She began pondering the impact of the policy when she became a mother herself. In parts of the film, she turns the camera on her own family and hears harrowing stories. Wang is our guest this week on First Person.

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