NEW YORK (CNS) — The documentary “One Child Nation” (Amazon) is not, in any Catholic sense, a pro-life film, yet there’s a great deal in it, some of it explicit, to show the horror of not government-sanctioned — but government-mandated — abortions and forced sterilizations.

Nanfu Wang, who co-directed with Jialing Zhang and also narrates, compares the forced abortions in China during the one-child policy from 1979 to 2015 there, as being similar to laws in the United States restricting abortion, since they both deal with “the control of a woman’s body.”


The stated intent in China, however, repeated for all those years in propaganda and occasionally parroted by American journalists, was that the policy, by controlling population size, would increase prosperity.

Instead, it only created a genocide, and more cruelty by the authoritarian state than anything approaching economic opportunities for the masses. If there were bureaucrats who protested, they’re not shown here.

Forced sterilizations for women after they had one child were more common in poor rural areas than large cities, and since the policy preference was for boys, baby girls were at high risk of being killed, abandoned, or shipped off to state-run orphanages. The government rewarded or punished medical teams based on how many children were born in their designated areas.

Wang grew up in a village in in the southern Chinese province of Jiangxi. Now 34 and married with a toddler son, she immigrated to the United States in 2011 and graduated from Ohio University and the film school at New York University.

She declined an interview with Catholic News Service.

Although it won’t tell Catholics much about the horrors of abortion that’s not already known, it should force reflection on how many adopted Chinese infants in the United States came to be — through human trafficking, with organizers selling babies, almost always girls, to orphanages which then fabricated birth records before the babies were adopted by unwitting couples overseas.


A Utah couple, Brian Stuy and Long Lan Stuy, are shown in their work tracing these adoptees.

This cruel era in Chinese history has been covered in recent books, including Mei Fong’s “One Child” (2015) and Kay Ann Johnson’s “China’s Hidden Children” (2016), but the power of the film comes from the impassiveness with which the horrors are recalled.

Wang’s uncle, who still lives in the village, tries to be circumspect.

“It might be cruel,” he says of forced sterilizations. “But policy is policy. What could we do?”

The most chilling recollections are from a former village midwife, Huaru Yuan, who now helps women with infertility problems as a way, she says, to atone.

She claims to have assisted with or conducted 50,000 to 60,000 sterilizations and abortions.

“I counted this out of guilt because I aborted and killed babies,” she says. “Many I induced alive and killed.

My hands trembled doing it. We didn’t make decisions. We only executed orders.”

“I was their executioner,” she says of the late-term abortions she conducted. “I killed those babies, didn’t I?”

Medical teams organized at the county level were known to conduct 20 sterilizations a day. Sometimes, the women “were tied up and dragged to us like pigs,” Yuan recalls.

“I had to put the national interest above my personal feelings,” a family planning worker tells Wang.

The most horrific images are included in Wang’s interview with Peng Wang (no relation), an artist. He was working on a photographic project about garbage when he found his first corpse of an late-term abortion victim in an alley. He continued to find and photograph the tiny corpses he found in dumping grounds, and displays one he preserved in a jar.

It looks to be smiling. “It’s as if he knew it’d be miserable to be alive in China,” he says, “and he was happy to have avoided it.”