'Abuses' Under Population Policies

As the Olympic torch makes its way north to Beijing, authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong boost security around the home of a jailed family planning activist.
2008-07-12
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CHINA, Beijing : Vehicles drive past a 2008 Beijing Olympic Games countdown clock in Beijing on July 14, 2008.
Photo: AFP
HONG KONG—As the Olympic torch heads towards the eastern Chinese province of Shandong en route to Beijing, authorities have stepped up security around the home of an activist who blew the whistle on abuses of China's “one-child” family planning policy.

The wife of Chen Guangcheng, jailed for four years last year after his meticulous documentation of abuses by family planning officials throughout the 1980s and 90s, said the number of security personnel had doubled since the end of June.

“There are more people than before,” said Yuan Weijing, who has herself been held under house arrest for three years with the couple’s young daughter.

“Now there are a total of about 40 people working two shifts. They are all people I haven’t seen before. There are also a bunch of strangers who have been sent to watch the main street in the village.”

Yuan said she thought the increased security was linked to the planned Olympic torch relay through Shandong later this month.

“I think they have sent more people here now because it’s something to do with the Olympics...The Olympic torch relay will make its way across Shandong province from July 20-31. It is going through Yantai, Qingdao, Linyi, Qufu, Tai’an, and Jinan,” Yuan said.

“I think there is increased security in our village because of the torch relay.”

Tough targets


Official media reported that all leave was canceled for police in the province from July 5-Sept. 25 in Shandong to boost security during the Olympic Games.

Chen Guangcheng’s work blew wide apart a culture of secrecy and impunity among Chinese officials about the dark side of China’s population control policies, which could make or break a political career.

Wang Youli, head of the branch committee at the Chengguan No. 3 Village near Shandong’s Rizhao city, said local officials had a tough time meeting population targets imposed by Beijing.

“They wouldn’t care what measures they took. They care only about the result,” Wang said. “So they would use any measures short of killing someone.”

“Every year there would be a review. If they found a woman had gotten pregnant outside of the policy guidelines, then they would insist she had an abortion,” he said.

“It wouldn’t matter how good their work was in other areas, if there was a problem in the area of family planning, they would be done for.”

Mother's death

View the interactive mapOne former resident of Chengguan No. 3 Village spent years trying to lodge a complaint about the way her family was treated after they had too many children.

The woman, Chen Hong, has said local officials were reponsible for her mother’s death following a forced sterlization operation in 1992, and accused them of falsifying documents which they said were "orders from higher up" to evict them from their newly built home.

Chen said her mother was in poor health and had been advised against having the sterilization operation by doctors, as her village officials required. In the absence of any contraceptive advice, she had a third child, in contravention of family planning rules.

“They told us that we would have to do the operation even if she wasn’t pronounced medically fit to do so, or we could find 2,000 yuan ‘to smooth things over,’" Chen said.

“We don’t have any money in our family...So my mother went and had the operation, and after the surgery she became weaker and weaker. In the spring of 1993, my mother died. The summer hadn’t come yet, I remember.”

Chen Hong’s mother, Ding Lilan, died at age 44 leaving behind three small children. The youngest daughter was about three. Chen says that the family’s attempts to lodge an official complaint about Ding’s death resulted in further harassment and mistreatment from officials in her village, including having the family home demolished.

“In the summer of 1992 we were told to leave our home. Apparently there was going to be some kind of big conference. Officials from the demolitions office and the housing office came.”

The family moved out without any formal compensation agreement in place. A year later, they were living in a tent.

“We had no choice. We couldn’t stay indefinitely in someone else's house. That tent used to leak. When it rained, we could hear the drumming and pattering noises of the water dripping through the roof.”

The family built another home on a plot allocated to them with their own labor, only to be told by officials that it didn't comply with local construction rules. They were unable to continue living there.

Charge denied


Li Chengqin was head of the Chengguan No.3 village near Shandong’s Rizhao city when the family became homeless. He rejected Chen’s claims that her mother’s death was caused by the sterilization surgery imposed on her by officials.

“Ding Lilan’s death had nothing to do with the sterilization surgery. There was a long time between her surgery and her death, and she might have died of a heart attack,” Li said.

He also defended the decision to outlaw the family’s newly built home. “If you are going to build a house you must have the agreement of neighbors. If they don’t agree then you can’t make it too wide or too tall...”

But asked if the orders came from a higher level of government, as stated at the time, or if they were generated by the village committee, he said: “They were generated by the village committee. And she was in breach of them.”

He said the fact that Chen Hong’s lawsuit had been rejected by the court showed that her demands were unreasonable.

But Chen’s lawyer Li Zhaoyi said the Intermediate People’s Court in the district hadn’t rejected the case; its decision was simply ignored.

“I remember that in that year the Intermediate Court decided that it was all right for her to build the house on the condition that they didn’t allow water to leak through into the neighbor’s house.”

Current village branch committee head Wang Youli acknowledged, however, that local enforcement of China’s family planning policy was often harsh.

“It’s likely that the village committee broke some rules,” he said. “And they couldn’t be sued for it because the courts wouldn’t touch it. As soon as they saw that it was a family planning-related case the government departments wouldn’t accept it.”

Original reporting in Mandarin by Bai Fan and Zhang Min. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.