The answer, of course, is that China’s birth-control policies have always been less about births, and more about control. Those who drafted the one-child policy were cynically more concerned with the preservation of power than helping lift people out of poverty. That’s why China’s leaders long resisted calls to end the policy, even though economists had persistently warned that it was shrinking China’s workforce, diminishing productivity, and storing up a future problem in pension shortfalls. The alternative would’ve meant giving up a powerful tool for social control (as well as one that reliably generated at least $3 billion annually in fines for violations, by Beijing’s own admission).
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I know this because I covered China’s economic miracle as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, and spent years researching and writing an award-winning book examining the costs and consequences of the world’s most radical social experiment, which began in 1980 and tapered in 2016, when Beijing increased the number of children a family could have to two. In my quest to understand how the state policed the womb, I heard many chilling stories: I spoke with women forced to have abortions as late in their pregnancy as seven months; officials who described how they cornered and chased pregnant women like prey, and mothers who recounted heartbreaking acts of abandonment and infanticide. The bulk of these stories, though not all, involved the country’s majority Han population, who were subject to more stringent restrictions than China’s ethnic minorities, including its Uighur population.
Now the scales have tipped. What’s happening in Xinjiang is astonishing. According to Zenz, two counties in the province targeted the sterilization of 14 and 34 percent of women of childbearing age, respectively, in a single year. Per capita, that represents more sterilizations than China performed in the past two decades. Uighur women who had been held in internment camps have recounted being given injections that altered or halted their menstrual cycles. Several media outlets have also reported that Uighur women were forcibly fitted with contraceptive devices. In 2018, a stunning 80 percent of all newly placed IUDs in China were fitted in Xinjiang, even though the region makes up only 1.8 percent of the country’s population, according to Zenz’s findings, which are based on an analysis of official Chinese documents.
Genocide is an ugly word—but it should be applied to what’s happening in Xinjiang, which has been the target of more and more repressive policies following deadly riots in the region in 2009. Since then, Beijing has been on a campaign to eradicate Uighur culture, forcing an estimated 1 million Uighur Muslims into “reeducation” internment camps, razing mosques, subjecting residents to Orwellian-style surveillance, and separating Uighur children from their parents.