Stanley Interrante is an author and freelance journalist who frequently writes on social issues.
America has long been a mecca for refugees worldwide, and Los Angeles has now become the new Ellis Island of the nation. Most seek economic opportunity, but some Chinese refugees are expressing a unique reason for fleeing their homeland. They wish to escape forced abortion and draconian population control measures.
I recently had the unique opportunity to interview two such refugees, Mr. Lin Hua Pon and Mr. Yuang Fe. Both are in the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and are being housed in San Pedro, California.
Among a boat load of about 150 from mainland China, they and others fled on July 28, 1992 and were eventually taken into custody by the USINS on September 12th of this year. The men survived in the cramped hull of a modified fishing boat with minimal food or water to sustain them. Sanitary conditions were deplorable. They were later transferred to a second but smaller boat which eventually sank, but not before they were luckily rescued by a passing Panamanian ship and taken to the Port of Los Angeles.
Both Lin Hua Pon and Yuang Fe fled from Fukien Province and have relatives within the United States. Through the use of money sent by U.S. relatives, and high interest-rate money lenders in China, such a trip cost each of them and their families between $25,000 and $30,000.
In China both worked as fishermen. Each aspired to what they described as the Chinese policy of two children. Having had her first child in 1986, the wife of Lin became pregnant with their second in the later part of 1990. Knowing that they had been following the law and known policies of his province and village, he looked forward to the joyful event. But the unexpected would soon happen.
Without warning, effective May 1, 1991, the government decreed no more children in his village were to be born to families already having one child. Women already pregnant prior to that date were not exempted. The village quota sanctioned by the local authorities had been met. His wife was ordered to have an abortion, even though she was in her eighth month. To refuse would result in a forced abortion and a crippling fine.
Lin protested loudly and fought the authorities. Regardless of the circumstances, a killing solution was forcibly injected into his wife’s womb, and he was slapped with a heavy fine in October of 1991. His near-born child was born dead and his wife could not legally become pregnant again for four more years.
Mr. Yuang Fe already had two children. Married in 1986, he had his first child in 1987 and the second in 1989. Under such circumstances, many women in China are forced to have their tubes tied or cut. Due to illness, this was not required of his wife. However, Yuang was ordered to undergo a vasectomy. Not only did he protest loudly, but he would not physically submit to the surgery. As a result he was thrown into jail. On the feast of the Chinese New Year, he made his escape and fled to relatives in a neighboring province.
In addition to being jailed, Yuang had been fined 10,000 yen, a lot of money for a fisherman. He also refused to pay the fine, which would have rendered him poverty stricken. After his escape, local authorities destroyed his home and all of his property. His wife is presently in hiding.
Both Lin and Yuang acknowledged that the government authorities on mainline China exercise tight control over who can have children. Government officials or those with political connections, can have many children without any repercussions. But for the average couple, even one child is not permitted unless official permission to conceive is obtained, along with the required permit or certificate.
Marriages are strictly controlled by law. In order to legally marry, men must be 23 years of age and women 22. If discovered, any couples who would even attempt to live together without being legally married would be forcibly separated and severely punished.
In addition to forced abortions, both Lin and Yuang confirmed that forced sterilizations were a common government practice and widely followed. Yuang pointed to his own experience in being ordered to have a vasectomy as an example.
One may wonder how government authorities throughout the country are able to know if and when each woman becomes pregnant, even for the first time. Both Lin and Yuang agreed that this was no problem.
Like livestock on a farm, each province and village conducts regular personal inspections. Usually every three months, such inspections are carried out, often unannounced. In spite of this, according to Yuang Fe, it would look very bad if one’s wife was not physically present at the time. This could result in accusations that one’s wife was pregnant and she was hiding. At their whim, community leaders could take action against the couple, and complaints against such communal actions are greatly frowned upon.
With respect to such inspections, it’s a common practice in China, especially in urban and factory settings, to have women routinely x-rayed in order to confirm that their IUD’s or other such devices are still in place and not removed.
In the People’s Republic of China, one cannot lawfully give birth without a permit. All such permits are strictly controlled by quotas, and all pregnancies must be delayed based upon such quotas.
If, as Lin explained, only 10 permits are given out for a village that year, that’s it. If any other women conceive without such a permit, they are ordered to have abortions.
According to Mr. Lin, it was common knowledge that at their local district hospital on any given day, it was not unusual for at least 100 babies to be forcibly aborted and dumped into the local river for disposal.
One of the factors that both refugees complained about the most was the fact that policies are always in flux and changes are implemented almost immediately, with no warning. If a two-child limit in a given area is changed to a one-child limit, it does not matter that your preborn child is to be born tomorrow, or even one hour from now. If required by a policy change, an abortion can be ordered on the spot. There is never a feeling of personal security that one is or will be considered in compliance with these policies.
To thwart such forced abortion, pregnant women often flee from their locality or physically hideout until their births. In many cases, due to ever-present informants, a return to their village may expose them and their child and make them liable to punitive measures, such as stiff fines. Thus at any given time, many women are in a state of transit, or in hiding.
Both Lin and Yuang were asked about the methodology employed in these forced abortions. From their personal knowledge, the preferred method used was that of an injection, using a long needle, inserted directly into the pregnant woman’s uterus. As in the case of Lin’s wife, after the forced injection the woman usually undergoes tremendous pains for 3 to 4 hours. After about 24 hours or so the woman will give birth to a dead baby.
As Yuang was quick to point out, not all women live, because the dead baby will not always come out. After one or two days of pain, and if the baby has not yet been expelled, the woman will be cut open and the dead baby removed. Sanitary conditions being often marginal at best, women often die from infections and other complications.
Such deaths are higher in more rural areas because, as Mr. Lin explained, forced abortions are conducted in makeshift clinics with frequently ill-trained medical technicians, in addition to unsanitary conditions. Their first and primary goal, explained Lin, “is to comply with the quota by disposing of the babies as quick as possible.”
I inquired as to whether many of their other countrymen were seeking to flee China because of these policies. They affirmed that more are seeking to do so as these policies touch more and more families.
Mr. Lin expressed the importance of children, since, among other things, they represent security in retirement and old age. In China, he stated, unless you work you do not eat. There is no social security or government programs. One’s children represent one’s future.
As to the preferred destination for such fugitives, both Lin and Yuang stated that the United States is not the only, or even preferred, destination. The key lies with having sponsors, so the countries to flee to are wherever relatives are located.
Finally, I asked both detainees if they had considered what would happen if they were not permitted to remain in the United States. They put forth the position that if they were not permitted to stay here and were returned to China, they may be forced to serve 5 years in prison, in addition to paying a fine. But they expressed the desire to stay in the United States and to somehow bring their families here to join them.
Subsequent to my interview with Lin Hua Pon and Yuang Fe, I had the opportunity to discuss this issue with Mr. Steven Mosher, probably the most knowledgeable person on this subject in the United States. Mr. Mosher is presently the head of the Claremont Institute in Claremont, California. He was the first social scientist from the U.S. to have spent a full year at a Chinese commune (doing research from September, 1979 through 1980) soon after U.S./Chinese normalization. He was a first-hand witness of China’s one-child policy which began during this period of time.
“I found the government arresting and forcibly aborting women up to the very point of giving birth,” stated Mosher. The policy began in Quangdun Province, when it was decreed that the population could not grow more than one percent. “They had to go out and abort women already pregnant.”
Mr. Mosher stated that the enforcement mechanisms in China were quite brutal but efficient. His answers confirmed those of Lin and Yuang. He pointed out, for example, that in the cities, routine inspections of women are conducted every 3 months. Many Chinese women have metal IUD’s in them and are simply paraded in front of X-ray machines to assure that they are still in place. Other women are put on birth control pills.
In factories throughout China, the names of all female employees are posted on the bulletin boards, along with the method of birth control that each uses. Each month they’re expected to place a check mark by their name when their period begins. A late period results in a pregnancy exam being ordered.
Discussing the value of offspring to Chinese couples, Mr. Mosher described what he termed “childbirth on the run.” Again his knowledge and experience confirmed the statements of Lin and Yuang.
How do women fight the policy of forced abortion? “What they did is what they called ‘childbirth on the run.’ When they were discovered to be pregnant, they would leave, take a change of clothes and whatever cash they had and hide out in a neighboring village or town until the baby was born. Then they would come back with the baby in arms.”
Mosher stated that all methods of abortion are used in China, but he confirmed the popularity of shots, either saline injections or other injections into the uterus. The baby usually dies, and the drug induces contractions to expel the dead baby.
From his knowledge and personal experience Mr. Mosher explained circumstances and situations that in a most poignant manner, illustrate the brutality of the methods used by the Chinese. This has to do with women almost at the point of giving birth.
He explained how the authorities would wait till the woman went into labor, and as the child’s head was crowning or emerging from the womb, a killing drug would be injected through the soft spot into the child’s brain.
He noted a strong statistical correlation between the increasing rates of death among women 20 to 30 years of age, and the Chinese population policies. “Death rates among women of childbearing age are up…The rate started to go up in the late 1970s when the abortion campaign first got underway. They’re quite high today.”
Mosher left no doubt as to the tight controls exercised by the communists on mainland China with respect to conception and childbirth. “There’s a quota system. You have to have permission to conceive a child in China. If you don’t have permission it’s considered an illegal and over-quota child, and you’re scheduled for an abortion, even if it’s your first child. You are not automatically entitled to one child in China. You must apply for a conception certificate.”
I asked Mosher about the role of various organizations in assisting the Chinese authorities with carrying out these policies. He mentioned the International Planned Parenthood Federation and the United Nations Population Fund as being two major contributors to China’s draconian population control measures.
Even within groups in the United States, Communist China has strong support. Mosher stated that the two past presidents of the National Organization of Women, Molly Yard and Eleanor Smeal, have publicly stated their support for China’s policies.
In closing, Mr. Mosher expressed some concern regarding future U.S. government policies, especially with the incoming Clinton Administration. He pointed to the Kemp-Kasten Amendment passed in Congress in 1985 which prohibited U.S. dollars from going to any agency which managed or participated in any program of forced abortion or forced sterilization. The amendment also specifically prevented U.S. dollars from going to the U.N. agencies which are heavily involved in aiding these programs.
“I am very much afraid that one of the first things the new administration will do is reverse the Reagan-Bush population policy barring population control assistance to the People’s Republic of China through the U.N.; that American dollars will be funneled through the U.N. to pay for the forced abortions and sterilizations of Chinese women. I don’t think the American people want their money being spent that way.”