China’s controversial one-child policy made the decision to end its policy last November leaving the door open for director Zhao Dayong to express its brutal past history in the film Gui ri zi. As our world population leaps out of control, many people complimented China on its drastic policy to reduce the birthrate which was well over four percent in the 1970s. How was this policy implemented? It certainly caught the attention of human rights activists and this film illustrated it perfectly. It is hard to imagine that, from one day to the next, a group of people had to go from having several children to having only one per family.
The history behind this policy started in the 1950s when Mao Zedong declared that the population should stay at 600 million in order to keep China’s economic growth moving forward. The infant mortality rate was declining and economically China was making this Great Leap Forward. They soon realized that they had to make some changes since the population was increasing too quickly. Laws that banned birth control, contraceptives and abortions were repealed while, at the same time, they mass produced contraceptives in the case of an upcoming population explosion. By 1958 it was sufficient to meet a birth-rate quota of 2.2 percent among Han Chinese couples. Everything seemed to be under control until the late ‘60s and ‘70s. The government decided to implement the one child family policy in 1979. This policy was restricted to the ethnic group of Han Chinese living in urban areas. It is hard to imagine but it is estimated that the population growth rate was reduced by as much as 300 million people over those past twenty years.
In Zhao Dayong’s film, Renwei returns to his hometown set in the countryside. He brings along his girlfriend who is already in her fifth month of pregnancy. Renwei’s uncle is the major of the town and employs Renwei to work in his one-child policy program. He soon releases that his uncle is a zealot when it comes to this policy. In his new job he is soon forced to participate in drastic and horrible measures to control the people. When a pregnant woman is hiding in a house, they set the house on fire. If the family tries to protect the pregnant woman, they are beaten, or lose their jobs or are fined heavily and sometimes sent to prison or work camps as political prisoners. Renwei’s girlfriend wants to leave this horrible place and she sees ghosts that give her a terrible feeling about the future. Renwei doesn’t understand the writings on the wall and his uncle manipulates him to the point where he stands to lose everything.
Zhao Dazong paints a haunting reality of what kind of consequences were at hand during this time. He shows only some examples of the implementation of the one-child policy. It was a shocking realization for the audience, who had never really thought about how this policy was implemented and assumed it was done on a volunteer basis. He said that his film doesn’t even touch the true cruelty of what really happened in the past years. He said that the penalties were unimaginable. The government often risked doing late-term abortions as well as sex selections where the women would often die after the procedures. People would lose their jobs or be sent as political prisoners to labor camps for breaking the law. It also drastically changed the girl-to-boy ratio which has become a major issue for the Chinese population today. That is not to mention that it has had a psychological effect due to having many single children who have acquired a “little emperor” personality complex. When he was asked if he is making a political statement with his film, he answered no but maybe he said that, because they now have a new policy which allows people who themselves only children to have another one. Or he may have also said that because, still to this day, journalists, film makers, artists are not allowed to make any political criticism about their government. He also said that his film is not allowed to be shown inside his country since he did not receive official approval. He hopes that the future will hold a brighter outcome and that the human rights issues will be upheld.
It certainly makes us all think about the future as we see the human population worldwide growing by leaps and bounds with limited resources. How will we find a solution to this problem and how will we implement the policies that we may have to put into place?