December 7, 2019

The Mothers of China's One-Child Policy

“In June, CCTV—China’s state-run television channel—aired a story online about a young mother who picked up a hobby during a prolonged period of postpartum depression that morphed into something bigger. The report detailed how Mao Wan, a 30-year-old mother of two, started knitting after she gave birth to her first child in her husband’s hometown. The craft became a bulwark against her inner despair that lasted until her son was a year old.

When Mao later moved back to Shanghai after having her second child, she kept knitting as a side gig to mothering. She knit so much that she made an art project out of it, covering the entire length of the railing in a public shopping center in a “sweater” of green, red, yellow, and purple with little knitted rabbits hanging off the corners.

The internet embraced Mao’s knitted success story as one of motherly fortitude triumphing over desperate circumstances, all bravely laid bare for public display. It was, in the way of popular internet videos, heartwarming: She knit her depression away. Offline, though, her story offers a more complex narrative, one that is relevant to the current set of questions about how Chinese women are weathering motherhood.

The experience is complicated by the country’s legacy of fertility control, which, for decades, dictated decision-making around reproduction. China’s one-child policy, the countrywide regulation introduced in 1979, is regarded as an unfounded experiment in fertility regulations with treacherous consequences. By government estimates, the policy prevented as many as 400 million births, though that number is disputed by researchers who say it is based on inflated projections and that China’s birthrate would have declined on its own without state intervention.”

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