We can hardly believe we’re saying this, but the sixth episode of our HBO show is upon us. Time flies when you’re hanging out with child suicide bombers, chatting up gun-toting preachers, and looking for love in China. We feel so old. But, like some old people before us once said, “ever onward.” And so tonight at 11 PM we will thrust our faces and adventures into your living room yet again, provided you have HBO.
Corpse Brides, Forced Abortions, Infanticide, and Child Trafficking: The Modern-Day Consequences of China’s One-Child Policy
Above: Nie Lina arrested for being pregnant (Image: All Girls Allowed)
In China, women are the runt of society’s litter. You probably already know about the one-child policy that has had families actively sidelining the fairer sex for years—a millennias-old preference for sons in Chinese society means that, if couples can only afford one child given the financial penalties for multiple kids, they tend to go for boys rather than girls. Predictions state that there will be between 30 to 40 million fewer women than men in China by 2020, which sounds like it’ll be a pretty lonely year for many in the People’s Republic.
The terrible male-to-female ratio in China has caused people to resort to desperate measures. There has been a rise in child-bride trafficking from both within and outside the country. Other parents have been so intent on their sons getting married that they have resorted to fixing up “ghost marriages,” where female corpses are dug up and reburied next to deceased bachelors so they can have a bride in the afterlife. Which I guess is a consequence you don’t normally have to consider when you’re drawing up social policy.
A couple of weeks ago, it was announced that the organization in charge of the one-child policy—the National Population and National Family Commission—will be merged with the Ministry of Health. This could prompt positive changes to the system, since corrupt family-planning officials will no longer be administering the punishments that have seen families charged up to six times their annual income for spawning multiple offspring. However, there are potential dangers too, most obviously in the fact that officials will be stationed in hospitals and health wards, which could deter women without birth permits (yep, birth permits) from seeking care and proper labor assistance.
Ma Jihong as her family found her, lying in an empty hospital (Image: Ma’s family).
This invasive method of population control—the answer to the legacy of overpopulation left behind by Mao Zedong—has created a long list of horrors that, besides child trafficking, includes infanticide, gendercide, infant abandonment, and forced abortions, all used by families desperate to meet the set child quotas. In 2009 it was reported that Chinese women account for 56 percent of all female suicides in the world. While it’s never easy or even advisable to attempt to pinpoint the cause of suicide, you’ve got to feel like a government that limits women’s access to motherhood and a society that treats them as second-class citizens may have something to do with how high that number is.
In June 2012, a Chinese woman named Feng Jianmei was seven months pregnant. Feng and her husband—both rural farmers—were unable to afford the $6,300 fine for having a second child, so she was carried into a van by policy officials and taken to a hospital. Her eyes were covered while they forced her to sign documents. Five men stood in the room as she was injected with a chemical agent that causes abortions. Feng’s story is not uncommon. The only rarity is that it was widely reported in the international news because a photograph of her and the stillborn baby lying in a hospital bed started flying around the internet (NSFW photo). While the world reacted with outrage, within her county, Feng and her husband Deng Jiyuan were scorned. In their hometown, protesters were led through the streets by the government and hung banners on a bridge that read, “Beat the traitors, drive them from the town.”
China Is Engineering Genius Babies
It’s not exactly news that China is setting itself up as a new global superpower, is it? While Western civilization chokes on its own gluttony like a latter-day Marlon Brando, China continues to buy up American debt and lock away the world’s natural resources. But now, not content to simply laugh and make jerkoff signs as they pass us on the geopolitical highway, they’ve also developed a state-endorsed genetic-engineering project.
At BGI Shenzhen, scientists have collected DNA samples from 2,000 of the world’s smartest people, and are sequencing their entire genomes in an attempt to identify the alleles that determine human intelligence. Apparently they’re not far from finding them, and when they do, embryo screening will allow parents to pick their brightest zygote and bump up every generation’s intelligence by five to 15 IQ points. Within a couple of generations, competing with the Chinese on an intellectual level will be like challenging Lena Dunham to a getting-naked-on-TV contest.
Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist and lecturer at NYU, is one of those 2,000 braniacs who contributed their DNA. I spoke to him about what this creepy-ass program might mean for the future of Chinese kids.
VICE: Hey, Geoffrey. Does China have a history of eugenics?
Geoffrey Miller: As soon as Deng Xiaoping took power in the late 70s he took the whole focus of the Chinese government from trying to manage the economy, to trying to manage the quality and quantity of people. In the 90s they started to do widespread prenatal testing for birth defects with ultrasound, and more recently they’ve spent a lot of money researching human genetics to figure out which genes make people smarter.
What do you know about BGI Shenzhen?
It’s the biggest genetic research center in China and I think the biggest in the world, by a considerable margin. They’re not just doing human genetics; BGI is also doing lots of plant genetics, animal genetics, anything that’s economically relevant or scientifically interesting.
Are you in touch with them?
I just got an email a couple of days ago saying that they’d almost finished doing the sequencing for the BGI Cognitive Genetics Project, the one I gave my genetics to, and that the results would be available soon.
The Strange Beauty of the Chinese Politician Who Threw a Tantrum at the Airport
I know China is trying really hard to reinvent itself, and the people there no longer want to be seen as stiff, reserved stoics, but I feel like they’re not getting much help from their neighbors. No matter how many tiger farms they start, it’s clear they operate within a culture that lacks, say, the beads and brothels seediness of Thailand, the marauding hordes of military man-sharks that have blighted the Korean peninsula for decades, or the sense that Japan is just a country full of bagelheads going nuts inside a gigantic dystopian branch of Dixons.
What I’m trying to say here is that it seems like, by and large, the Chinese are a people who handle their shit quietly, making money and babies and slowly taking over the world in the manner of a band like Biffy Clyro. You might never meet anyone who “gets” them, but they sure are massive.
Which is why this video of a high-ranking Chinese official having a tantrum at Changshui airport is so beguiling. In essence, it’s just a video of a man having a nightmarish experience at the boarding desk (he’d had a long breakfast and missed his first flight, then not heard the call for the second flight, apparently). But watched through the lens of a state-owned CCTV camera, what at first seems like an episode of Fawlty Towers on mute starts to turn into something different, something that all the sites reporting on the story seem to have missed.
It starts to turn into something kind of beautiful.
In China, Tigers Are Farmed Like Chickens
Tigers are some of the biggest victims of the wildlife trade, with the rare cats’ bones coveted for traditional medicine and their coats prized as rugs. In Vietnam, tiger parts are so valuable that they make better bribes than cash. And in China, tiger parts are in such high demand that they are being farmed like chickens.
According to a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency, China’s tiger farms are huge, with thousands of captive tigers being bred for slaughter. That’s possible because China has essentially legalized the tiger trade, which is troubling considering that China is a signatory of the CITES treaty, which bans international trade of tiger parts (along with parts of other animals, like rhinos and elephants) and calls for domestic trade prohibitions.
But far more troubling is the EIA’s conclusion that China’s tiger farms are actually stimulating demand for wild tigers. The report states that there are somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 captive tigers in China, a population that boomed from just a few dozen in the 80s thanks to favorable legal policies as well as funding from China’s State Forestry Administration. (As the Times noted in 2010, China’s largest tiger farm is run by the SFA.) Meanwhile, China’s wild tiger population has plummeted to just a few dozen individuals, down from a high of around 4,000 in the late 1940s.
Is This the Century of Africa’s Rise?
For decades, the dominant African narrative in the media was of famine, war, and disease. Recently, in light of a perceived economic upturn and a relative reduction in famine and disease across most of the continent, the narrative has changed to one of thrusting progress. The Economist and TIME magazine have both published big articles in the last two years called “Africa Rising,” complete with positive economic statistics and photos of children flying rainbow kites in the shape of the African continent.
We have moved from pictures of starving children with flies crawling across their faces to pictures of young men in big cities talking on mobile phones. Of course, neither narrative is correct. No narrative that attempts to take on something so large and diffuse can ever be correct. But there is something about these conveniently totalizing stories that fires the passions of believers and cynics alike. Believers point to fast-growing economies and fragile but intact democracies, non-believers refer to what the Kenyan writer and investigative journalist Parselelo Kantai told me was an “insidious little fiction manufactured by global corporate finance.”
The idea of Africa’s rise comes from a straightforward interpretation of high growth rates and increased foreign investment in parts of the continent. As The Economist’s piece pointed out, “over the past decade, six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African.” According to McKinsey & Company, real GDP in Africa grew twice as fast in the 00s as it did in the 80s and 90s. Suddenly everyone has a mobile phone and that mobile phone has great reception.
Renaissance Capital’s Charles Robertson, author of The Fastest Billion, drew my attention to annual growth rates of “around six percent across sub-Sahara since 2000. Some say rapid growth is inevitable from a low base. This is nonsense. People got poorer in sub-Saharan Africa from 1980 to 2000.” Recent growth in Africa and rapid increases in Asia-Africa trade and investment have taken place against a backdrop of global austerity. As people struggle desperately in southern Europe, gas and oil resources are enriching a new generation in Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia and even—if proposed exploration occurs this year—Somalia and Somaliland.
The problem, though, is that most of this wealth is extractive. There is, as Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, told me, a “lack of value added on the African side.” “The energy companies are seeing massive domestic demand from Asia and they are capitalizing on that,” he said.
Parselelo Kantai put it more bluntly: “What is happening on the continent economically is a new era of massive resource extraction, catalyzed mostly by Chinese domestic demands. And because it is almost exclusively extraction without on-site value addition, it’s a process where the continent’s elites, the Chinese and Westerners, are the only people who benefit. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be called by its real name: the Second Scramble for Africa.”
What both Smith and Kantai are referring to is a system in which an elite minority, often not from Africa, benefit extraordinarily from the natural resources the continent has and the world needs. The outsiders may not wear pith helmets and long for a proper cup of tea any more, but it’s colonial business as usual.
Understanding China’s Leadership Transition
While the US licks its psychic wounds after an ugly 2012 election and settles back into its usual partisan squabbling (Oh, Hi John Boehner), the real most important country in the world has begun a governmental transition of its own. It’s called the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, and it started Thursday. There won’t be much popular voting going on, but unlike America, the leadership that will emerge from the process will feature a different set of characters than it started with.
The Congress is political theater—emphasis on the theater. The action takes place inside the main auditorium of Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. All the important casting decisions were made months in advance. Party members in the lead roles will deliver lengthy soliloquies. And everyone is heavily discouraged from going off-script.
Practically, Xi Jinping will soon replace Hu Jintao as leader of the Communist Party of China and President of People’s Republic. The Politburo will induct new members, and a bunch of other shit will happen.
As exciting as it seems that the world’s most populated country and soon-to-be leading economic force is changing leaders, the proceedings themselves are pretty boring. But against the backdrop of corruption, murder, and suppression, this Congress comes at a critical and complicated point in the country’s history.
SETTING THE STAGE
It’s been a rough year for the Communist Party.
First, one of the civil rights activists they were illegally keeping under house arrest managed to escape and fled to the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, where he and his family were eventually granted asylum. This guy must be ninja Houdini, right? Actually, he’s a blind, self-taught lawyer named Chen Guangcheng.
Second, one of their most senior members, Bo Xilai, the former party chief of Chongqing and one of the elite 25 who make up the Politburo, was found to have conspired with his wife to murder a British national.
What’s worse, the story only broke because Bo’s insanely corrupt vice-mayor and police chief, Wang Lijun, decided to stop protecting his even more insanely corrupt boss.
On February 6th, Wang, fearing for his life, ran to the US consulate in neighboring Sichuan province with evidence that Bo and his wife, Gu Kailai, had conspired to murder a British businessman named Neil Heywood, who may or may not have been a spy. You can’t make this shit up.
In this episode of Foreign Correspondents, Hong Kong State Radio reporter Ben Leung heads to the Conservative Political Action Conference convention in Denver to see what’s what. China has a one-party system, so he’s always been bewildered by the pageantry of our elections. Watch as he attempts to wrap his head around one of America’s silliest, and most important, traditions.