is Ming Ming's second abortion. She arrived at the Sichuan Province
Mother-Child Clinic in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan, at 8 am.
After squirming through the crowd of girls surrounding the nurses
and making her appointment, she sat down with 13 other young women
on the small green plastic chairs outside of the operating room.
antechamber consists of cold concrete, hard plastic, one dying plant
in the corner, several doors leading into crowded nurse's offices
and one big sliding glass door in front of which a pile of small
shoes waits to be sifted through by groggy and stiff young women
staggering out of the operating room.
through an open iron gate sit the men, talking loud into their cell
phones, reading the paper, chatting about business good naturedly
or just staring off into space. Every few minutes one of them lights
up a smoke.
Ming glimpses the extremely pointy and thin heels that are very
popular these days with young Chinese women along with dirty white
sneakers most likely belonging to a student. There is also a pair
of dusty, clunky black heels and her own brown loafers.
boyfriend waits with her for a few minutes in the antechamber, but
after receiving a few inquisitive stares from the other women waiting
for their appointment, he scuttles through the gate and waits with
the other men.
was hoping for the best hospital in Chengdu.
time, she paid 660 RMB and went through an assembly line process
in which she was put to sleep, operated on and then allowed to lie
in bed for a few minutes before being forced out to make room for
the next girl. The whole process took less than thirty minutes.
time, she chose a hospital near her home, a well-known mother-child
clinic. When she became pregnant, she chose this hospital for her
check-ups. Ming Ming's boyfriend accompanied her on the first few
visits and was impressed by the kindness of the staff and the clean,
of mothers and their children lined the wooden walls of each separate
room, the waiting room was within arm's reach of most of the patient's
rooms, so her boyfriend could talk with Ming Ming while she was
behind the curtain with the doctor. Posters advertising lamaze training
interested him and he wrote down the number.
almost decided to keep the baby, but the accidental pregnancy brought
with it too many financial and emotional burdens for the young couple,
so Ming Ming made another appointment, this time not in the pregnancy
ward, but across the parking lot, where the abortions take place.
abortion clinic is older, dirtier, colder and much more crowded
than the newer pregnancy ward.
remember looking at the fathers-to-be and their nice clothes and
expensive cell phones," says her boyfriend Ma. "I think
everybody noticed we didn't belong. Our parents weren't there and
I was the youngest man in the ward."
the abortion clinic's waiting room, Ming Ming and Ma fit right in:
young, "repeat offenders" with no family around to support
Population Control = Safe Sex?
has faced a lot of flak over its family planning policies, specifically
the one-child policy initiated by Deng Xiao Ping meant to curtail
population growth – the type of growth explosion Mao hoped for in
the 1950s and 1960s, the type of explosion that could lead to crucial
food, water, employment and space shortages as Vaclav Smil discussed
in his book, China's
to official Chinese estimates, the one-child policy cut China's
population growth by 330 million people. But that success has been
ignored by much of the international community due to draconian
state-sponsored measures to enforce the policy, including state
permits for child-births, forced abortions and sterilizations and
hefty fines for offenders.
reality of the situation in China, especially in the mid to late
1980s, is much different from the reality US President George Bush
and the New Religious Right held up to support cutting UN Population
Fund (UNFPA) aid by $34 million last year.
Ming has a sister and a brother, both younger. Ming Ming's
mother refused to have an abortion and instead paid a fine of 10,000RMB
($1,200) for her second child and 10,000 for her third child.
native Xiao Li, studying in Chongqing and waiting for her third
abortion, also has a younger brother, for which her parents paid
a fine of 5,000RMB.
sterilizations and forced abortions – mostly carried out in the
countryside where peasants can't afford the fines – are a thing
of the past in the cities. The policy was never made national law
and was subject to local conditions. Which meant the one-child policy
was enforced to a degree the populace could tolerate, and not much
more. Many families in the countryside have more than one child
and minority groups were never subject to the policy.
cost as little as 500 RMB these days, even less in the countryside,
so state-sponsored enforcement of abortion is not as necessary now
as it was 15 years ago when the Chinese middle class was virtually
Ming and Xiao Li are both students. Their boyfriends are students.
Xiao Li had her first abortion at 16, with her first long time boyfriend.
Ming Ming's boyfriend Ma works various odd jobs and borrowed 500RMB
to help pay for the abortion. Xiao Li's boyfriend refused to pay,
so she borrowed money from her uncle – telling him it was for school.
amount is so small, that neither girl is worried about paying the
money back. Xiao Li is headed to Shenzhen to work in 4 months and
Ming Ming has a office job at an English School.
the cut in funding for the UNFPA hinders that organization's efforts
to nip the problem in the bud: lack of sexual education in China,
which translates into rampant unsafe sex.
this year, China's State Family Planning Commission revealed that
Chinese men buy approximately three condoms per year and 30 to 40
percent of these condoms are defective. Combine this with a widespread
perception amongst the populace that AIDS and other STDs come from
foreign countries and/or foreigners, that abortion is a quick and
relatively cheap solution to pregnancy and many Chinese women find
themselves waiting in stuffy, crowded rooms for their turn to "go
under the knife" or receive a shot of antibiotics.
private shops selling "Adult Products" abound on the streets
of Chinese cities and towns, selling (presumably defect) condoms
as well as other paraphnelia. Small "clinics" specializing
in the treatment of STD's are also growing in number. Many of these
clinics are outfitted with the latest antibiotics and equipment
– various forms of tetracycline can be given to patients intravenously
while they sip herbal teas and are admonished to stay away from
alcohol and, especially in Sichuan, hot peppers.
are a variety of reasons why girls like Xiao Li and Ming Ming do
not use condoms. China is opening up very quickly and perceptions
are changing very fast, but for a girl to buy contraceptives of
any sort – be it pills, or a shot or condoms – will still send the
rather prolific Chinese rumor mill spinning away, resulting in a
loss of face, presumed or actual.
Durex condoms at the local Ito Yokado, a Japanese department store,
sell for 30RMB for a package of 12 condoms. Conversely, a package
of locally produced, rather untrustworthy Jizzbons sell for 5RMB
a package of 10.
abortions are cheap and there is no shortage of hospitals that can
do the surgery. Ming Ming was back to work a day after her abortion.
Xiao Li went back to Chongqing and resumed studies two days later
– after a few tears and a little blood and pain, life resumes. Perhaps
Chinese women have become accustomed to the process.
are no reliable statistics on the number of women who have multiple
abortions, but Dr. Zhang Li Rong of the Sichuan Mother-Child Clinic
says the abortion clinic performs 15 abortions on average every
day between the hours of 8 am and 12 pm.
men, although continuously being exhorted by the state to pull their
share, still refuse to buy condoms. A lack of sexual education and
tradition are the largest factors preventing the men from pulling
bar-goer in Chongqing who frequents the brothels often, is married
and has a girlfriend scoffs at the use of condoms.
is no feeling," he says. "Besides, Chinese girls are very
clean and I can always make them get an abortion."
sentiments will result in an explosion in cases of chlamydia and
HIV , according to a report in the March 12 edition of the Journal
of the American Medical Association. Roughly 10 percent of Chinese
men visit prostitutes, states the study.
are starting to catch on.
brothels across Chengdu, prostitutes are now using disinfectant
pads as well as condoms with almost every customer. But the
misconception that pads can kill AIDS and other STDs still hampers
the development of a safe-sex culture.
prostitute in Chengdu mentioned that certain customers she has "a
good feeling" about may eschew the use of a condom while declaring
in the same breath that all foreigners must use condoms, as she
is afraid of AIDS.
matters of disease don't concern Ming Ming or Xiao Li that much.
They both have steady, reliable partners. Ming Ming has almost completely
forgotten her ordeal at the clinic, which left her eyes glazed and
her knees wobbly. She is still bleeding a little, two weeks after
the operation and her stomach hurts.
she laughs and her bright eyes flash as she and her boyfriend discuss
the use of condoms in the future. They both swear that they will
be much more careful.
if I get pregnant again, I am going to keep the baby," she
declares. Ma just looks at her and shrugs.
ran in South China Morning Post on May 31, 2003)
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