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Parade of horrors

Jun 16, 2013 : 23:41 IST
Symbolic: A poster promoting China's one-child policy.
Ma Jian’s latest book, ‘The Dark Road’, gives a gruesome insight into China’s one-child policy. Vani Mahesh describes the author’s attempt to portray Chinese government’s oppression of its people.

China has amazed the world time and again — with their Olympics success, academic excellence, rise to being an economic superpower, and more than all, drastic decline in population growth. Many in India might have wondered if China can control their population, why can’t we?

Ma Jian’s novel The Dark Road puts that thought completely to rest. Ma Jian, after exposing the pathos in the impoverished provinces of China in Red Dust, the horrors of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing Coma, now lays bare China’s cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of its citizens with the single-child policy.

This novel is not for the faint hearted — there is not a moment of reprieve either for the protagonists or for the readers throughout the book. It all begins with a near barbaric crackdown by the family planning squad on Nuwa, a small village in China. Fang, who already has a child, is termed illegally pregnant and is exposed to a treatment worse than that of animals “Four family planning officers stormed in and dragged her (Fang) off to be sterilised. Fang kicked and howled like a sow being towed to the slaughterhouse. Eventually, they managed to tie her hands together and force her into the open back of their truck.”

Fifty more women are dragged in vans with hands and legs tied to be sterilised by the squad. Women, if found pregnant illegally, are terminated mercilessly, irrespective of the stage of pregnancy they are in. These mothers-to-be could live or die but they cannot be pregnant a second time round, without a ‘permit.’

Then who gets this permit? Farmhands, because that is the cheapest labour one can get. Or those who can afford to buy one by palm greasing the officials. And some exceptions like parents with a disabled first born or the Chinese returned from abroad — the ‘permit’ rules are nebulous. The rest of the population must reconcile to having a single child.

But then there are always rebels — the likes of the protagonists Milie and her husband Kongzi — who defy the system to get pregnant a second time round. When Nuwa is swarmed by the family planning officials, Milie, who is almost full-term pregnant, flees the village with Kongzi and their three year old daughter Nannan. The three live a life of being hopeless, homeless and jobless, and constantly flee their temporary homes. Milie worries about the future and the hefty monetary penalty they have to pay if the child is indeed born. However Kongzi, irrationally proud of being a descendent of Confucius, has a hell-bent obsession for the male heir to his lineage.

After days of toil on the road, they settle down on the banks of River Yangtze, alongside many other family planning fugitives. Kongzi manages to buy a boat and they sail most of the time, in an effort to evade the crackdown. But they cannot escape the long and sticky tentacles of law for long — Milie is rudely and ruthlessly caught one morning. The near-brutal assault on her is what tales of horror are made of.

The story revolves not just around the merciless governmental policytowards women, but also the apathetic treatment of women by their men. Milie begs Kongzi — “If this is a girl, let us put an end to this torture. I can’t bear this stress anymore.” But Kongzi duly turns a deaf ear to her pleas. Milie reconciles bitterly “Men control our vaginas; the state controls our wombs.”

Corruption, brutality, forced land acquisitions, children labouring with electronic waste — this book is a novelisation of the many apathies of China. It t is a tale of suffering without a single bright or humorous moment. But the author succeeds in driving home his point powerfully, that China needs to become more human in its political policies and start treating people ethically, and of course, put an end to the one-child policy implemented through brutality.

Forced abortion of late-term pregnancies was banned in China around last year. But it is far from being followed. Just a few days ago, gruesome pictures of an aborted foetus, circulated through the social media network, have left people of China outraged and protesting.

Many questions arise in mind after reading this book — Why hasn’t the UN done anything other than mildly ask China to respect human rights? Why is there no symbolic economic sanction to punish the blatant ill-treatment of people? Maybe there are bigger political issues, but nonetheless, this book throws open China’s many closely-guarded secrets. It opens a window to a world where human beings are treated no better than machinery — where everything can be programmed to perfection, albeit with force.

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