Last week the 2012 Nobel Prize in literature was announced in Stockholm, Sweden. The winner is Guan Moye, a Chinese author who uses the pen name “Mo Yan.” Yan’s winning novel is “Wa,” which he published in 2009. Since the book is written in Mandarin and translated into French but not yet into English, I suspect that few of us have read it.
When the book is translated, however, I hope that many of us will read it. The book is a reflection on China’s one-child policy—a law that forbids most Chinese couples to raise more than one child in their family.
“Wa” tells the story of a rural Chinese obstetrician who oversees a family planning unit of the regional government. The doctor is responsible for performing more than 2,000 abortions, for forcing women to undergo sterilization procedures, and for overseeing a covert group charged with discovering illegal pregnancies.
The book’s title is a sad pun. “Wa” is a Mandarin word that can mean “frog” or “baby.” The book’s doctor is tormented by croaking frogs, which take the place of the crying children silenced in the womb.
“Wa” is a novel, but it is rooted in a tragic reality. The one-child policy came into effect in 1978, as an effort to curb China’s growing population and urban crowding. Ninety-eight percent of all Chinese families are governed by the fertility controls: nearly 90 percent are ordinarily permitted only one child, and 10 percent are permitted two children. Only 2 percent of all Chinese families are free to welcome children according to God’s plan, rather than the government’s.
Since 1978, China’s one-child policy has led to literally millions of forced abortions and sterilizations. Because many Chinese families prefer to have sons, girls are aborted at a disproportionate rate: by 2020 there will be 30 million more Chinese men than woman. Amnesty International has pointed out that the one- child policy, when not leading to forced abortion, directly contributes to a rise in infanticide in rural China.
In 2010, Mo Yan discussed the impact of the one-child policy on his own family. Because of his stature in the Chinese military, Yan did not fear forced abortions or sterilization for his family. However, he recalls: “When I was serving in the army, I was promoted to the rank of officer. There was another officer in the army who lost his rank … because he had a second child. I was afraid I would receive the same punishment, so I chose not to have another child. If it were not for my own selfish ambition, I would have let my wife have a second or even a third baby. I used a very high-sounding rationale to convince her we needed to abort the baby: we had to follow the party’s policy and nation’s policy. This has become an eternal scar in the deepest part of my heart. … It became a big shadow in my heart.”
Evident in Mo Yan’s words is that his conscience is awake. Furthermore, his writing shows that when a government says that an evil is a good, there are consequences for those who accept the lie. Evil always has consequences that only God can remove when one repents.
More than a million children die each year through surgical and chemical abortion here in the United States of America. Denver itself is host to one of the largest abortion facilities in the country. American law largely rejects a protection for the fundamental right to life. Our government requires businesses and institutions to fund the use of abortifacient drugs.
Of course, America doesn’t mandate restrictions on family size, or impose sterilization on couples. But, increasingly, we are defined by our contraceptive mentality.
Like Mo Yan, many of us use “high-sounding” rationale to justify abortion. In cases of grave inconvenience or poverty or rape or incest, too many argue that abortion is justified. But our high-sounding rationale can never justify abortion—the killing of children before they are born. And a contraceptive mentality fosters the idea that children are inconveniences to be eradicated—and that responsible people will eradicate them. This is the lie of the one-child policy—and it is a lie that Americans increasingly believe.
“Wa” is a reminder that real tyrannies, performing unspeakable acts, still exist in our world. But it is also the story of the unspeakable violence that follows a rejection of basic human rights. Blessed John Paul II often pointed out that when the right to life is rejected, no other human right can be protected—no facet of human dignity will be respected. “Wa” is not only a lesson about violence in China; it is a lesson for us.