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Abortion, Infanticide and the "War on Women": A Lesson From China

There has been a great deal of discussion these days about gender selective abortions, which, when done, usually go against girls.  We’ve been presented stories of nations where the ratio of men to women in the population is rising to “unprecedented” proportions because families are doing away with their baby girls through abortion.  And, of course, this practice has reached our shores, where Congressional attempts to stop it have not gotten through (and would probably be overturned by our court system).

This practice, as is so common in our media, is presented as a complete novelty.  But there’s no novelty here.  Let’s consider a country where this practice has been widely called out of late: China.  The practice of eliminating infant girls through infanticide was well established, as this 1882 account describes:

The power of a Chinese father over his children is as full as that possessed by the Roman father, and stops short only with life. The practice of selling children is common, and, though the law makes it a punishable offence should the sale be effected against the will of the children, the prohibition is practically ignored. In the same way a law exists in the statutebook making infanticide a crime, but as a matter of fact it is never acted upon ; and in some parts of the country, more especially in the provinces of Keang-se (Jiangsu) and Fuh-keen (Fujian), this most unnatural offence prevails among the poorer classes to an alarming extent. Not only do the people acknowledge the existence of the practice, but they even go the length of defending it. What, they say, is the good of rearing daughters ; when they are young they are only an expense, and when they reach an age when they might be able to earn a living, they marry and leave us. Periodically the mandarins inveigh against the inhumanity of the offence, and appeal to the better instincts of the people to put a stop to it ; but a stone which stands near a pool outside the city of Fuhchow (Fuzhou), bearing the inscription, “girls may not be drowned here,” testifies with terrible emphasis to the futility of their praiseworthy endeavours. It is only, however, abject poverty which drives parents to this dreadful expedient, and in the more prosperous and wealthy districts the crime is almost unknown. (China, Robert K. Douglas.  London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1882, pp. 91-92)

When American military officer Joseph Stilwell visited the realm of “Christian Warlord” Feng Yu-Hsiang in 1922, he could see the following:

Death was as common as the windblown dust of China, its reminder everywhere in the grave mounds that would wear way over the centuries to be plowed back into the fields, its visible presence in the corpse of a girl baby, victim of infanticide at birth, laid out unburied between the grave mounds for the dogs to eat.  (Stilwell and the American Presence in China 1911-45, p. 99)

Neither the Qing emperors nor Feng had the wish to perpetuate the practice, but it was the custom and it was perpetuated anyway.

Now we have the People’s Republic with its one-child only policy, a new impulse towards eliminating unwanted baby girls.  On paper, we eliminated the infanticide; in reality, we simply shifted the timing backward and the method forward.  The main difference between the elimination of baby girls in the past and in the present is that now we don’t bother waiting until they emerge from the womb.  Now we’ve advanced to the point where we are able to find the gender of the child early on and do the deed more quickly than wait nine months and then make decisions.

And of course, to be complete about it, the Chinese aren’t the only one who have done this for a long time.

There are two things that can be learned here.

The first is that the line between abortion and infanticide isn’t as clean–or even existent–as proponents of the former would like for us to think.

The second is that giving a parent the power to abort or kill a child is a reversion to the pagan past, whether we’re talking about the Chinese or ourselves.  It was Christianity which removed the power of life and death over a child from a parent, placing same power in the hands of God.  To secularise a society is, in reality, to paganise it.

But we like to fancy ourselves as too brilliant for such intellectual legerdemain.

I think it’s worthwhile to repeat this quotation from Lu Xun:

They seem to have secrets which I cannot guess, and once they are angry they will call anyone a bad character…Everything requires careful consideration if one is to understand it.  In ancient times, as I recollect, people often ate human beings, but I am rather hazy about it.  I tried to look this up, but my history has no chronology, and scrawled all over each page are the words: “Virtue and Morality.”   Since I could not sleep anyway, I read intently half the night, until I began to see words between the lines, the whole book being filled with the two words–”Eat people.” (Lu Xun, Diary of a Madman, V)


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