Reception Theory, Political Correctivity, and Literary Analysis of Abortion in Literature from The People’s Republic of China

Abstract: This study reviews two literary works on abortion from the People’s Republic of China, the poem “Abortion” by Zhang Zhen and the short story “Explosions” by Mo Yan.

A review of any literary work on abortion in the People’s Republic of China presents researchers with an immediate problem.  Does or should discussing the topic of abortion rely on sociological documentation of abortion as practiced on the mainland, or does another perspective apply?  Can one take strictly a political view towards the matter, or does one need to consider factors usually associated with other literary theories (such as the role of women from a feminist literary viewpoint or the interaction of ideologies from a Marxist perspective—the latter being the literary theory one would almost automatically think would apply when speaking about life in Communist China)?  For purposes of this study, the practices of reception theory seem to be the optimum means by which several literary artifacts will be evaluated, primarily because the theory can afford American researchers and students of literature insights into the interaction or juxtaposition of the ideological confrontation between official, received statements on one of the most controversial matters in the Chinese world (national policies on birth control and reproductive rights when confronted with failed birth control leading to abortion) and the notions held by millions of Chinese whose attitudes and opinions towards compulsory birth control and forced abortion are now becoming evident in the West.

Abortion and Demographic Concerns in the PRC

          The number of annual abortions performed in the People’s Republic is staggering, estimated by John S. Aird at eight million per year between 1971-1985 (111,960,987 total; Slaughter 40) and by other sources to be about thirteen million annual abortions currently (versus twenty million live births; thus, about one-third of all pregnancies per year are aborted) (Canaves).  What is perhaps most curious about the number of abortions performed is that China has neither a history of abortion agitation, nor conflicting official pre-1949 medical commentary on the acceptance of abortion as an ordinary medical practice.  In fact, if the exploration of Jing-Bao Nie into Buddhist and Confucian respect for pre-natal life is accepted, then Chinese history argues against such an openness towards abortion.[1]  Countering claims that abortion in China was implicitly allowed because there was no clear prohibition against it, Nie further argues that

While it is true that the early medical literature rarely if ever explicitly proscribes performing abortion, this should probably not be interpreted as representing a permissive attitude on the part of ancient doctors.  Rather, the silence is likely to indicate that medical abortion was regarded as so obviously unethical that there was no need to include it in lists of professional precepts, just as medical ethics documents whether ancient or modern rarely explicitly state that physicians should not murder or kill.  (78)

          As early as the late 1970s scholars had discussed demographic changes in the PRC and considered the consequences of several official policies designed to curtail population growth, including compulsory birth control and abortion of a second child.  While pointing out that official population figures were difficult to determine (since the PRC had not devoted sufficient resources to determine the extent of population growth after the founding of the nation and because of censorship[2]), in 1982 Aird had commented on the disastrous effects that complete implementation of the one-child policy would have on China.  He writes,

there are some disadvantages to a too-rapid reduction in fertility.  Sudden changes in the size of age cohorts cause similar changes in the demand for age-related goods and services, in the facilities and personnel that provide them, and in the allocation of resources that they require—changes that can result in dislocations and inefficiencies that adversely affect national development.  Both Lin and Liu have indicated that the Chinese family planning authorities do not expect or want to achieve the sudden, universal adoption of the one-child family because they are aware of the problems of a distorted age-sex structure; but family planning propaganda and some of the provincial family planning regulations convey a different impression.  (“Population” 289)[3]

          Contemporary scholars often elaborate the effects of these policies within the larger context of their areas of studies, whether political or social criticism.[4]  Pronouncements from the PRC itself ratify the notion that China is experiencing a dire population situation.  An online posting from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America states that “Some lawmakers and family planning officials support [a law explicitly banning sex-selective abortions] because of the serious imbalance in the ratio of genders in the population.  China has 119 boys born for every 100 girls, much higher than the global ratio of 103 to 107 boys for every 100 girls.”  The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences confirmed this gender imbalance in a January 2010 report, which “indicates the figure has climbed to 120 boys born for every 100 girls as of 2006 and says that, by the end of 2008, there were 38 million more men in China than women born after 1980” (Ertelt).

Silence Surrounding Abortion in the PRC

          What is perhaps the most striking feature of abortion in the PRC is the silence attending it at the popular level.  In virtually every other nation abortion as a political issue rouses intense passions; demonstrations on both sides of the issue and legislative efforts to address abortion matters are standard events in other nations.  One could think that, because the PRC has pronounced on the matter, all dissent is effectively silenced because the people themselves agree with the national pronouncements completely without qualms or nuances expressed whatsoever.  Such an absolutist view toward popular support of a national policy is, of course, as facile as it is ridiculous.  Many scholars have tried to address the reasons why popular attitudes towards the abortion policy of the PRC seemingly signify only support from citizens.[5]

          There are, however, emerging voices of dissent towards the national policies on reproductive matters, and their presence is significant given the new liberty of thought finding its expression in literary matters, which is a relatively recent phenomenon in the PRC.  Mo Yan, China’s most famous author known to the West, asserts this renaissance of liberated thought about controversial issues in his discussion of how China moved from having writers produce politically-correct work to a literature in tune with their own sensibilities:

As the 1970s wound down, our Chairman Mao died, and the situation in China began to change, including its literary output.  But the changes were both feeble and slow.  Forbidden topics ran the gamut from love stories to tales of Party blunders; but the yearning for freedom was not to be denied.  Writers wracked their brains to find ways, however roundabout, to break the taboos.  This period saw the rise of so-called scar literature, personal accounts of the horrors of the Cultural Revolution.  My own career didn’t really start until the early 1980s, when Chinese literature had already undergone significant changes.  Few forbidden topics remained, and many Western writers were introduced into the country, creating a frenzy of Chinese imitations. (Shifu, xv)

          Wondering why the Chinese are silent about abortion specifically, Nie quoted a fellow researcher who said that “The fact that people don’t speak out doesn’t mean they have nothing to say” (7).  Nie further asserts that

creative writers enjoy greater freedom of speech in China today than scholars in the humanities and social sciences, and literary works often constitute the best window into the concerns and opinions of ordinary people on many social issues.  While a medical humanities scholar may fail to find an outlet for an article that argues that abortion is ethically wrong, a fiction writer may sometimes be able to express a similar opinion without falling afoul of the authorities.  (29-30)

In fact, the apparent Chinese silence on abortion seems to negotiate two principles—first that “guarding one’s tongue is a basic survival strategy in an authoritarian regime” (35) and, second, that “the bitter pain of abortion for many Chinese [is] a pain that goes beyond what words can describe”  (36).  The latter is eminently challenging for writers.  Critics, however, may have an easier time.  As deconstructionists have demonstrated, the meaning of what appears to be absent itself is commentary and can be excavated; it thus remains the task of the critic to determine what is being said about abortion in the literary works available.

          Finally, of all the literary theories that could help to make certain Chinese works more meaningful to Western readers, especially on the controversial topic of abortion, reception theory will seem the most obvious as the works themselves are reviewed below.  The dissent against abortion is the most challenging for literary critics to evaluate, embedded as it is in works which still struggle to stay within the cultural and mostly political norms attendant on literary production within the PRC.  Formalist and feminist concerns in the literature can be developed, historical themes abound (certainly, reaction against the excesses of the Cultural Revolution is still considered a viable topic for Chinese writers), and one can revel as a deconstructionist would in the word-play of certain Chinese poets.  However, one aspect of literary concern that needs to be developed is the interaction and juxtaposition of official pronouncements on abortion in the PRC and writers’ responses to those pronouncements.

The Poem “Abortion” (1986) by Zhen Zhang

          Poetry in the PRC may be on the forefront of a revolutionary trend that Western scholars are commenting on with greater frequency, and the trend apparently began post-Cultural Revolution.  John A. Crespi’s work in the area of Mao-era poetry is especially perceptive.  Commenting on developments of modern poetry in the PRC, Crespi writes that:

[O]fficially sanctioned Mao-era poetry recitation, while unique in terms of the pressures placed on performers to measure up to extreme ideological standards of the times, represents just one episode in a continuing history of poetry recitation as a cultural practice.  Even as the theorists and practitioners of recitation invoked a quite modern idea of pure revolutionary passion, the concept of expression informing that invocation derived from China’s earliest poetic theory.  Moreover, examining official poetry recitation also gives the lie to the myth of a uniquely monolithic revolutionary culture, especially when one considers reciters’ own reception of these poems.  Instead of the transparency and assured purity of intent that one generally experiences when reading the era’s officially sanctioned poems in written form, reciters’ accounts of giving concrete voice to the poetry intimate a sense of self-doubt spurred by formidable ideological dilemmas—dilemmas that eventually even appear in print on the pages of poetry recitation primers. (166-7)

It is especially interesting that any deviation from the accepted script of government-acknowledged poetic production occurred in the vocal production of such poetry—vocal delivery perhaps being a freer mode than print, which could more readily affect an artist’s career.

          While many poems discuss abortion,[6] the poem “Abortion” by Zhen Zhang is a representative example of Chinese authors who begin to broach the topic as a way of responding to official PRC positions.[7]  Although some critics may find the subject challenging to identify,[8] the poem has marked similarities with other post-abortion syndrome poems with which Western readers are familiar, such as Gwendolyn Brooks’ “The Mother” or Lucille Clifton’s “the lost baby poem.”  One item in the critical commentary about the poet is repeated consistently: mysteriousness.  The “self” that Zhang writes “is spontaneous, capricious, sometimes mysterious,” one critic states.  She “remains very much herself as a woman in her creation of mysterious urban worlds” and is credited with “a type of metropolitan women’s writing in which the self remains mysteriously private” (Tao 23).

          This mysteriousness could obscure the resistance implied in the poem by one key term: “I looked long into my uterus at your unwarranted being” (132).  That the child should have been called “unwarranted” and not “unwanted” or “undesired” suggests a deeper conflict at work in an otherwise straightforward poem manifesting the trauma of post-abortion syndrome.  Moreover, what is absent from the poem is especially telling.  Nowhere can an allusion be found to the abortion as having been essential to the survival of the nation, an idea found in other texts which suggest abortion as the “remedial measure” [9] meant to guard against excessive population growth.  Instead, the narrator speaks of how the unborn child’s “brothers and sisters will all be informed / that you are the oldest son” (132), a damning claim that the one-child policy does not apply in her case.

The Short Story “Explosions” (1985) by Mo Yan

          While many short stories could be discussed in this study,[10] “Explosions” by Mo Yan is perhaps the clearest literary work on abortion to be considered which responds to official PRC positions.  The narrative concerns a man in the Chinese armed forces whose wife is illicitly pregnant with a second child.  Against the wishes of his father and his wife, the husband forces her to abort the child.  This simple reduction of a fifty-page short story ignores several elements that illustrate the conflict between official pronouncements on the forced abortion policy and implementation of that policy and its effects on ordinary Chinese.

          The story is notable for containing three “official” references to abortion as a population control measure.  While the first and second references are announced early in the story and then halfway through the narrative,[11] the third reference invites more commentary.  In the abortion clinic’s waiting room, the narrator reaches in a drawer for a book that a nurse had consulted and recounts:

In my tense gropings, my hand bumps into Obstetrics; Obstetrics bumps into my hand.  I can’t wait to open it.  It smells of iodine and hand cream.  Nurse An has made red and blue marks to highlight the black lines of text and has scribbled notes in the white margins.  The obstetrics expert writes: Knowledgeable people world-wide have expressed grave concern over the rapid growth of population.  The accelerated pace of population growth has already seriously destabilized the planet.  Humanity is heading for a devastating outcome: a population explosion ….  Nurse An notes: How I envy you, Liu Xiaoqing!  The obstetrics expert writes: Induced abortion is an effective measure in the thorough implementation of birth control policy.  We must rid the masses of women of their horror of it.  At the same time we must recognize that abortion is not minor surgery.  Neither the one performing it nor the one undergoing it should take abortion lightly.  Nurse An notes: Zorro is a great guy.  Anna is a fine girl.  I’ve got to …  (51-2; ellipses in original)

          This passage contains several elements worthy of attention vis-à-vis literary responses to the PRC policies regarding forced abortion.  The first item which is immediately noticeable is the use of the palindrome in the first sentence, a literary figure of speech that had not been used heretofore in the story and which is thus obvious on first reading.  The suddenness alerts the reader that the passage is significant.  The Western reader may not realize the importance of the use of the title of the obstetrics book; in the United States publication by the United States Government Printing Office is restricted to official federal documents, whereas all publication in the PRC is controlled by the state.[12]  Instead of identifying the source for the “information” which follows as the government of the PRC, the author chose to represent the government by the title of a volume officially sanctioned by the government.  Thus, the use of synecdoche becomes especially important as a safe, politically-correct instrument of reaction to the PRC policies.

          Moreover, the “obstetrics expert” is significantly anonymous, in contrast to the interpolation, twice, of a clearly identified human being, Nurse An, whose commentary after each of the expert opinions has nothing to do whatsoever with the official statements.  Whether Mo intended Nurse An’s comments as a comical interlude cannot be ascertained, but the effect on the reader is certainly comic relief interjected into an otherwise serious situation.  The anonymous obstetrics author him- or herself even proclaims in a stand-alone sentence that “Neither the one performing it [abortion] nor the one undergoing it should take abortion lightly.”  One wonders whether the admonition to maintain sobriety in the performance of abortion extends to the literary performance as well, which, in this case, has obviously been abrogated by not one, but two instances of humor.

          Finally, the absence of quotation marks throughout the story (which does not impede determining who is speaking) does have an ancillary effect in this passage.  The ostensibly objective claim by the obstetrics expert about a “population explosion” (bolstered by an ambiguous source called “knowledgeable people world-wide”) is as unsubstantiated as the claim that “Induced abortion is an effective measure in the thorough implementation of birth control policy.”  The lack of an identifiable source of these bold claims reduces them to mere slogans, a linguistic artifact with which many Communist Chinese are familiar.  Nurse An’s claims, in contrast, are much more personal and subjective.  The reader would tend to believe the nurse’s claims for several reasons: they are “revolutionary,” having been written in the margins of a politically-correct medical textbook; they are personalized, containing the high human emotions of envy and love; lastly, they are inviting in the sense that a reader, if female, could identify either with Liu Xiaoqing, a popular film star, or, if male, with Zorro, a swashbuckling hero.  Who could identify with the impersonal claims of an official textbook when one is offered identifiable humans?

          Perhaps the reticence to target official PRC material and sources indicates that the liberty of thought which Chinese authors strive for is still emergent.  Even Mo, who asserted so forcefully in a 2001 anthology of his short stories that contemporary Chinese writers aim “to break the taboos” of the Mao era, finds it difficult to challenge state orthodoxy directly.  In “Abandoned Child,” a short story written in the mid-1980s which concerns infanticide more than abortion, the narrator, who saves a newborn girl abandoned in a field, relates a near apology for government ineptitude:

The period after Liberation, owing to improvements in living standards and hygiene, saw a significant drop in the occurrences of abandoned children.  But the numbers began to rise again in the 1980s when the situation grew very complicated.  First, there were no boys at all.  On the surface, it appeared that some parents were forced into acts of inhumanity by rigid family planning restrictions.  But upon closer examination, I realized that the traditional preference for boys over girls was the real culprit.  I knew I couldn’t be overly critical of parents in this new era, and I also knew that if I were a peasant, I might well be one of those fathers who abandoned his child.  (Shifu, 172)

Three matters in this passage are worthy of attention.  First, “infanticide,” the deliberate abandonment of a newborn child with the intent to have the child die, is euphemistically called an “act of inhumanity.”  Second, the revolutionary fervor of the Mao era seems to have held everything in place, for it was “after Liberation” that “living standards and hygiene” improved; however, it is significant that “the situation grew very complicated” a decade safely removed from the Mao era (“in the 1980s”).  Finally, responsibility for the intended infanticide rests neither with the government nor provincial family planning cadres notorious for overzealousness in forcing abortion on peasants; the “real culprits” are not even the parents, but the “traditional preference for boys over girls.”[13]

Future Research and Questions

          What is striking is that, unlike American literature, no full-length novel or film devoted to the issue of abortion is available for study—“available” in that either it has not been written, has been written but is censored and will need to wait for a more open political environment, or will not be written because mainland Chinese do not yet see abortion as a literary topic worth their consideration.[14]  Similarly, no full-length drama has been discovered that can merit study as an example of abortion discussed in that genre.  The dearth of abortion narratives may change, however, when Chinese women find their “voice” to express their feelings and thoughts about their abortions.  Western readers are familiar with the empowerment that women experienced during the twentieth century feminist movement when women could speak freely about their marriages, their employment, and—most importantly—their sexual dissatisfaction and past abortions.  Although it was skewered to philosophies which disrespected life, voicing such concerns led to important developments for American women.  Thus, Mosher’s A Mother’s Ordeal could qualify as a narrative on the forced abortion policy within the feminist tradition.  Similarly, the Chinese women who either aborted or performed abortions who responded to Nie’s sociological surveys may become freer to express their feelings and thoughts on abortion in longer literary works—such thoughts and feelings still trapped behind the phrase “so bitter that no words can describe it” (135).[15]

          While many questions remain and must be relegated to future research, two can be offered here in closing.  First, where is the samizdat, the underground literature, from Chinese women on the first life issue of abortion?  Exploring such literature may help all of us to appreciate these women’s experiences and to share in their suffering.  Second, how will the West respond to narratives depicting the Chinese forced-abortion situation?  One hopes that, besides responding to the extremely poignant situations of women living in the harshest of totalitarian regimes, Western critics and readers will act to alleviate their suffering.

Works Cited

Aird, John S. Slaughter of the Innocents: Coercive Birth Control in China.

          Washington, DC: AEI P, 1990.

—. “Population Studies and Population Policy in China.” Population and

          Development Review 8.2 (June 1982): 267-97.

Brooks, Gwendolyn. “The Mother.” Literature for Composition:         Essays,

          Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 5th ed. Eds. Sylvan Barnet, Morton

          Berman, William Burto, William E. Cain, and Marcia Stubbs. New

          York: Longman, 2000. 430.

Canaves, Sky. “China’s 13 Million Annual Abortions Flagged as a Cause of

          Concern.” China Real Time Report; The Wall Street Journal. 30 July

          2009. <


China Since Tiananmen: Political, Economic, and Social Conflicts. Ed.

          Lawrence R. Sullivan. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1995.

Clifton, Lucille. “the lost baby poem.” Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir,

          1969‑1980. Brockport, NY: BOA Editions, 1987. 60‑1.

Crespi, John A. Voices in Revolution: Poetry and the Auditory Imagination

          in Modern China. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 2009.

Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America. “Abortion law amendment to be abolished.” 6 June 2006. 5 Feb. 2010 <>.

Ertelt, Steven. “Report: China’s One-Child, Pro-Abortion Policy Creating

          Nation of Bachelors.” 11 Jan. 2010. 5 Feb. 2010


Feeley, Jennifer L. “Re: Abortion and related topics in Chinese literature.”

          Email to the author. 7 Jan. 2010.

Hong, Ling. “Fever.” Red Is Not the Only Color: Contemporary Chinese

          Fiction on Love and Sex Between Women, Collected Stories. Asian

          Voices. Ed. Patricia Sieber. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield,

          2001. 149-51.

Ku, Hok Bun. Moral Politics in a South Chinese Village: Responsibility,

          Reciprocity, and Resistance. Asian Voices. Lanham, MD: Rowman &

          Littlefield, 2003.

Mo, Yan. Explosions and Other Stories. Ed. and trans. Janice Wickeri.

          Hong Kong: Chinese U of Hong Kong, 1991.

—. Red Sorghum: A Novel of China [A Family Saga]. Trans. Howard

          Goldblatt. New York: Viking, 1993. Trans. of Hung kao liang chia

          tsu. Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Publishing House, 1987.

—. Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh. Trans. Howard Goldblatt. New

          York: Arcade, 2001.

Mosher, Steven W. A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s

          One-Child Policy. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1993.

Nie, Jing-Bao. Behind the Silence: Chinese Voices on Abortion. Asian

          Voices. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.

Sieber, Patricia, ed. Asian Voices.” Red Is Not the Only Color:

          Contemporary Chinese Fiction on Love and Sex Between Women,

          Collected Stories. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

Tang, Min. “I Am Not a Cat.” Running Wild: New Chinese Writers. Eds.

          David Der-Wei Wang and Jeanne Tai. Trans. Amy Dooling. New

          York: Columbia U P, 1994. 158-67.

Tao, Naikan. “Introduction: The Changing Self.” Eight Contemporary

          Chinese Poets. Eds. Naikan Tao and Tony Prince. U of Sydney East

          Asian Stud. 17. Sydney: Wild Peony, 2006.

Voicing Concerns: Contemporary Chinese Critical Inquiry. Asian Voices.

          Ed. Gloria Davies. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

Xiu Xiu [The Sent Down Girl]. Dir. Joan Chen. Perf. Lu Lu, and Lopsang.

          1998. Videodisc. Paramount, 2004.

Zhang, Zhen. “Abortion.” Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese

          Poetry. Ed. Tony Barnstone. Hanover, NH: U P of New England,

          1993. 131-2.

[1]           See especially chapters three, four, and seven wherein Nie evaluates the positions of the major religions toward abortion and respect for pre-natal life in imperial and Republican eras.

[2]           Writing in 1982, Aird states:

The main reason so few national population data appear in Chinese sources, however, is central censorship.  No national population figures can be made public without prior authorization by the State Council.  Even officials of the SSB [State Statistical Bureau] cannot use such figures in their articles and speeches until they have been cleared.  This policy has been in effect since the earliest years of the PRC.  It was applied more stringently between the collapse of the Leap Forward in 1959 and the fall of the “gang of four” in 1976, but it has never been relaxed entirely.  To this day, the full results of the 1953 census have not been made public.  The very brief census communiqué issued upon the completion of the work in November 1954 gave only the national total, breakdown by sex, ethnic group, rural and urban residence, and province, and a few details about age composition and the extent of errors in enumeration.  (“Population” 271)

            Government censorship of scholarly activity is well-known, but the following example by Aird vis-à-vis the issues of concern in this paper illustrates its disastrous effects:

After the start of the Leap Forward in spring 1958, Mao reaffirmed his earlier views that a large population was an asset for China’s national development, adding that poverty was beneficial for China because it made people more revolutionary and inclined toward change.

            For the next four years birth control work languished.  Other spokesmen echoed Mao’s sentiments, and all but one of the Chinese scholars who had stressed the importance of controlling human fertility were silenced.  The economist Ma Yinchu, who had argued the urgent need for control of population growth on grounds very similar to those now used to justify the same policy, courageously refused to abandon his convictions, despite some 200 attacks on him in 1958 alone, and continued to defend his position until 1960, when he was obliged to surrender his post as president of Beijing University and was refused further access to the public print.  (“Population” 283)

[3]           See also his endnote 78: “A recent study has shown that the sudden adoption of the one-child family throughout China could seriously distort China’s age-sex structure by the year 2000 and even more so by 2050 and cause wide swings in dependency ratios” (“Population” 296).

[4]           See, for example, the following anthologies and monograph: Gloria Davies, ed., Voicing Concerns: Contemporary Chinese Critical Inquiry (2001), Hok Bun Ku’s Moral Politics in a South Chinese Village: Responsibility, Reciprocity, and Resistance (2003), and Lawrence R. Sullivan, ed., China Since Tiananmen: Political, Economic, and Social Conflicts (1995).

[5]           The West has experienced one voice of opposition relatively recently; Stephen W. Mosher’s seminal 1993 work A Mother’s Ordeal: One Woman’s Fight Against China’s One-Child Policy brought to the attention of the West the emotional horrors of the forced-abortion policy in a riveting narrative mixed with sociological documentation.  Mosher’s work qualifies as a “first voice” of opposition against the policy.

[6]           The author thanks Andrea Lingenfelter for various suggestions for this study, including ‘Unborn Child” by Zhai Yongming and Yin Lichuan’s poetry.

[7]           The author thanks Jennifer L. Feeley, assistant professor of Chinese Literature at the University of Iowa, for suggesting this work.

[8]           See, for example, Tao, who may simply have used inappropriate diction when describing the poem as an example of “the conflict between the mother and the unborn child [and] the guilt of infanticide” (22)—“infanticide” used instead of “abortion.”

[9]           Abortion is euphemistically called a “remedial measure” by family planning operatives (Aird, “Population” 285; Nie 44).

[10]          The short story “Fever” by Hong Ling could be included were it not for two factors: first, the author is Taiwanese and thus necessarily beyond the scope of this study, which focuses on authors in the PRC; second, the genre of the short story is essentially fantastic, which, although not incompatible as a vehicle of resistance to PRC policies on compulsory birth control and abortion, could obscure the level of resistance.  Criticism of the story could enhance the obscurity, reaching the bathetic, which, however wonderful as an exercise in verbal gymnastics, offers no elucidation of the story’s narrative beyond the penultimate sentence of the following passage:

Hong’s fiction often revels in a tongue-in-cheek exultation over the sheer inventiveness of it all.  Yet while Hong’s stories may celebrate the disappearance of the real, they also register a profound terror over the implosion of all categories of perception.  In their insistent examination of impending states of annihilation. Hong’s literary explorations, including “Fever,” bespeak a profound sense of cultural displacement and alienation, which is, as some would have it, symptomatic of the postmodern predicament of having had to renounce all grand narratives without being able to resign oneself to the piecemeal state of being that such renunciation seems to entail.  Despite its apocalyptic sensibility, Hong’s story “Fever” also brings to life a strange new creature, a Chinese feminist vampire.  The story vividly illustrates the spirited promiscuity of cultural categories in a globalized world.  (Sieber 189)

[11]          The first reference occurs when, questioned by his father regarding why his wife must abort, the narrator refers to official orthodoxy: “Think I wouldn’t like to have a son?  But I already have a daughter; I’ve already been issued a one-child certificate.  As a government cadre, I have to take the lead in responding to the nation’s call.  How can I avoid it?” (3).  The rhetorical question is unanswered.  The second reference is even smaller in terms of words.  Trying to reason with his wife, the narrator says, “Just think, there are a billion people in China.  If everyone has two children, what’s going to happen to China?”  This rhetorical question, too, is unanswered.

[12]          One work of Mo Yan’s not used in this study suffered state censorship, but the work was published as originally intended, thanks in part that a Western (Taiwanese) publisher existed to print it.  The note by Howard Goldblatt, the translator of Red Sorghum, states,

At the request of the author, this translation is based upon the Taipei Hongfan Book Co. 1988 Chinese edition, which restores cuts made in the Mainland Chinese edition, published in 1987 by the People’s Liberation Army Publishing House in Beijing.  Some deletions have been made, with the author’s approval, and minor inconsistencies, particularly in dates and ages, have been corrected.  (copyright page)

[13]          Mo ends this section of the story, an enumeration of “four general categories” of “abandoned children” (170) with a statement that seems to apologize for any challenge to the political orthodoxy of the preceding paragraphs: “No matter how much this concept tarnishes the image of the People’s Republic, it is an objective reality, one that will be difficult to eradicate in the short term.  Existing in a filthy village with foul air all around, even a diamond-studded sword will rust” (172).

[14]          The film Xiu Xiu [The Sent Down Girl] (1998) could be included in this paper as an example of directorial response to the abortion policy of the PRC but has been excluded for several reasons.  First, the abortion episode purely illustrates a reaction to an undesired pregnancy resulting from multiple sex partners, not a pregnancy resulting either from failed contraception or a target of the PRC’s one-child policy.  Second, the abortion episode, although depicted as an obviously negative choice on the part of the mother, speaks more about the changed character of the young woman send from the city to the steppes during the Cultural Revolution than it says anything as a statement against PRC policies.  Finally, the abortion episode is altogether much too brief and does not amplify the failed relationship between the aborted mother and the man who platonically loves her.  The author thanks colleagues on the University Faculty for Life listserv for recommending this and other film titles.

            According to Feeley, Frog, is about a woman whose job is to enforce the one-child policy.  It was recently released in Chinese and is not yet translated into English.”

[15]          The short story “I Am Not a Cat” by Tang Min,  originally published in 1990, may be one of many such narratives, reading not so much as a fictional account as much as a diary entry.  The narrator uses first-person pronouns as she relates the miscarriage that her cat suffers and her own abortion at a provincial clinic.  The story openly speaks of the “One Child Per Family policy” (159).  The narrative concerning the abortion itself is similar to other accounts with which Western readers may be more familiar.  This short story, then, may be one of many forthcoming explorations of abortion experiences that Chinese women may come to write.

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