Recently, Xinran, the Chinese-English journalist and author of Messages from an Unknown Chinese Mother: the lives of women in contemporary China, visited Australia to talk about her new book. It is a collection of real life stories told by Chinese women forced to abandon their babies for social, political and historical reasons. You can hear an affecting interview with her here on ABC’s The World Today in a piece titled ‘Hidden Brutality of China’s one-child policy’.
Xinran’s documenting and speaking about the true life suffering of uncountable numbers of Chinese women brought to mind the real life sufferings of two Chinese women whose experiences were seared into my mind in the 1990s. I don’t want what happened to them to be forgotten or overlooked.
In 1995 a lawyer friend introduced a Chinese woman to me. She had failed in her original attempt to get asylum in Australia and was appealing. My friend, who worked for the Refugee Advice and Casework Service in Melbourne, was trying to stop her deportation.
I called her ‘Dr Wong’ in the pieces I went on to write about her, including in The Age (‘China’s children of the damned’, March 31, 1995) and here.
Dr Wong was a Chinese gynaecologist forced to carry out abortions almost up to birth, against her will, at a hospital in Jiangsu province.
She told me about how heavily pregnant women were brought to her kicking and screaming. They were tied by their hands and feet to the table for the abortion. Dr Wong estimated she performed at least 10,000 abortions in her seven years at the hospital. She was forced to kill almost full-term babies in the womb by lethal injection and put babies who survived abortion into rubbish bins to die. She showed me photos. I still have them. They are unbearable to look at. Fully formed babies in kidney dishes, covered with blood.
Dr Wong won her appeal on religious freedom grounds. A Christian, my friend successfully argued that being forced to perform abortions was a violation of her religious freedom. She was granted asylum.
On February 6, 1995, Dr Wong testified before a Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee (fearing reprisal, she would not use her real name and the hearing was closed). Part of her testimony appears here:
In the hospital, you can see the women suffer and have pain for this one-child policy. It is only for this one-child policy that they came to the hospital; like they are coming to jail. They kill her baby, and they make her suffer. They make your heart break. This happens every day in China – every day. You can see the bodies of the babies – like a mountain of rubbish. Every day you see babies who want to try to get breath and who want to live. They did not die at first. They want to live. You saw miles of blood go out, and the mother crying. Every day mothers saw dead babies. The mothers catch the bare babies and cry.
We stayed in touch for a few years. While settled in Melbourne, she was not at peace. She was tormented by what she had done and hated herself. Despite her faith, she could not find forgiveness. She said to me:
Every year at Christmas time we have a show for the birth of Jesus. When I saw the baby (who was playing the part of) Jesus, I think: “I kill this baby”…I don’t think I’m really Christian. I think I’m opposite to a Christian because I do so many bad things. I didn’t try and do something for Chinese women. I’m not a very brave woman, I’m weak. In my heart I know Christian always brave, the Christian dies for God, for human rights, for life, for the right things. These things I cannot do, so I am not a Christian. I am evil. I think if I say I am a Christian, no one believe me.
The last time I saw her she was contemplating plastic surgery to change her face. She could not look at herself in the mirror.
Only four years after this, Australia witnessed the shocking case of Zhu Quing Ping, deported from Australia after begging to be allowed to stay to deliver her “unauthorised” baby, due in 10 days.
“We have no obligation”, said then Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock about Zhu Quing Ping, on 60 Minutes, June 6, 1999 (though it was the then acting Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, now Australia’s ambassador to Italy, who authorised the deportation).
Zhu Quing Ping had arrived by boat in 1994 and sought asylum. During three years detention at the Port Hedland detention centre in WA, she gave birth to a daughter. Requests to be allowed to marry the child’s father were refused. Ms Zhu conceived a second baby in November 1996. All avenues of appeal were exhausted. The pregnancy was dismissed by a departmental official as irrelevant in a claim for refugee status. The department took advice that the risk of abortion was “low”.
Ms Zhu pleaded not to be returned, at least not until her baby was safely delivered: her only request was to go home with a live baby. “The manager said I couldn’t. He said you must go back to China, all the procedures have been arranged. [He said] You won’t be persecuted when you return to China,” she said in a video interview.
The manager was wrong. Ms Zhu’s baby was returned to a State-sanctioned death sentence.
Seven days after deportation she was subjected to an injection through her abdomen to destroy the baby’s nervous system. Labour was induced, and the baby delivered. Some reports said the baby had been born alive and was strangled.
A video interview, the written order by family planning authorities to security officers to apprehend the woman on arrival, a medical certificate (“On July 21, 1997 the second pregnancy eight months plus has been induced to be terminated in our hospital”) and the bill for the abortion were smuggled out of China and exposed at a Senate committee hearing by (then) Senator Brian Harradine. I have this material.
A 60 Minutes team tracked Ms Zhu down and compiled a harrowing piece about her experience (aired June 6, 1999). She wept inconsolably as she spoke of the death of her almost-born son.
They forced me into a car and took me to the hospital. I told the doctors I am already more than eight months pregnant. I was begging them to wait for my husband to come and help me but they said no and they gave me the injection anyway and I went into labour. After the baby was born I couldn’t get out of bed. I asked the nurse what sex the baby was and she said he was a boy. A baby boy. The boy weighed three and a half kilos. When I heard this I just burst out crying and I cried so hard I actually passed out.
Concerned for her wellbeing, the journalists took her to the Australian consulate in Guangzhou, seeking protection for her and her three-year- old daughter Joycie. Efforts by refugee advocates and Senator Brian Harradine to secure Ms Zhu a visa by which she could leave China and by which Australia could make amends, failed. Attempts to bring her here to give evidence to two inquiries failed. So fearful was she of being forced to leave the consulate’s protection, she tried to harm herself, according to Australian Susan Murphy, who cared for her for almost two weeks.
It emerged that other pregnant Chinese women had been deported as well and were mostly likely aborted on arrival.
China perpetuates violence against women through the most barbaric fertility control plan in the world. Its policy has resulted in forced sterilisation, forced abortion, forced fitting of IUDs, female foeticide and infanticide and prenatal sex selection. A Chinese woman’s right to bodily integrity and her freedom of conscience are forfeited daily.
The Nuremberg Trials defined forcing a pregnant woman to submit to the killing of her unborn child as a crime against humanity.
The outcry has to be louder.