Who Are China's 'Reborn' Children?

Most of the thousands who died in Sichuan's 2008 earthquake were just kids. A new documentary profiles how families permitted to have another child are trying to recover.
beichuanchildbanner.jpgJason Lee/Reuters

The 2008 Sichuan earthquake, which struck just over five years ago, caused the death of almost 70,000 people -- including many thousands of children. Losing a child is an immense tragedy for parents anywhere, but in China the effect is compounded by the one-child policy: the vast majority of the children who died were only children. In response to the earthquake, China's government announced that parents who had lost a child were permitted to conceive another -- so-called "reborn" children. But for many parents, particularly those who lost teenage children, advancing age proves a significant barrier.

In this short documentary, filmmaker (and native of Beichuan, the town most affected in the disaster) Zijian Mu profiles two families who each lost their only child in the quake. Jiang Hongyou and Fu Guangjun, in their early 40s, are finally able to conceive a new child after several attempts. Fang Yonggui and Yang Jianfen, several years older, aren't as lucky. The film documents the latter couple's struggle to adopt a child, while the former pair pour all their energy into raising their new baby girl.

Most stories of the Sichuan earthquake touch upon political and economic implications -- in effect, how Beichuan plays in Beijing. I'm certainly guilty of this myself. But it's important to remember that there are many thousands of families just like the ones profiled in this film; families that, in the span of three horrendous minutes, saw their entire world upended. It is the experience of these kinds of families, replicated all over the country, that provide the clearest lens available into how families in contemporary China cope with unexpected disaster.


A version of this post appears at ChinaFile, an Atlantic partner site.

Matt Schiavenza is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He is a former global-affairs writer for the International Business Times and Atlantic senior associate editor.

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