Death tolls from the Chinese quake now top 65,000. Hollywood's Sharon Stone wonders aloud whether "karma" explains the tragedy because (she said) the Chinese are "not nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine."
Amnesty International reports hopes are fading that the Beijing Olympics may lead China to reform, warning in an April report: "It is increasingly clear that much of the current wave of repression is occurring not IN SPITE OF the Olympics, but actually BECAUSE OF the Olympics."
But to me the most shocking reminder of how horrifying the Chinese government remains lies latent in this week's headlines: "One-Child Policy Has Exceptions After China Quake," as the Associated Press wrote.
Families with only one child killed in the earthquake "can obtain a certificate to have another child, the Chengdu Population and Family Planning Committee in the capital of hard-hit Sichuan province said."
The government will give you a certificate so you can have another child? How big of them.
Tibetan Buddhists have their friends in Hollywood, and the international human rights community still frowns on torturing political activists. But China's brutal oppression of women's bodies and basic disrespect for human life generates a collective yawn in the Western human rights community.
Throw an AIDS/HIV activist in jail? International outrage, naturally. But who really cares about the right of an ordinary Chinese woman to have her baby?
Chinese population policies spawn an ambivalent (at best) reaction in the West because so many agree with the goal, they tend to downplay or ignore the means.
In China the government owns everything, including women's bodies. Women must apply to their work unit for permission to get pregnant, and whole groups can be punished if one woman gets "illegally" pregnant. The "illegally born" are a serflike caste who can be denied equal access to a whole host of government services necessary for life under communism. "One Extra Birth, Whole Family Sterilized," warns a government propaganda poster (examples of which are collected and translated by the Laogai Research Foundation).
How does this "policy" work? One woman, a Muslim ethnic Uzbek in China named Mahire Omerjan, testified to the Laogai Research Foundation what it was like to "illegally" conceive her second child in the 1990s.
"Those at our company who were in charge of our planned birth knew I was pregnant. ... A few months later, they said, 'You can't have this child. It's not in keeping with the spirit of related documents.' ... 'I'm five months pregnant. We have our religious faith. By our religion, abortion is not permitted. It's a crime," Mahire replied.
The company bureaucrats didn't care.
Mahire pointed to laws permitting ethnic minorities to have more than one birth, pleading for her baby's life: "Many times I spoke with my bosses, requesting permission to have the child."
Alas, policies were violated; action must be taken.
"Finally, my unit decided to take me by force to the hospital for an abortion. I was then six and a half months pregnant."
Company officials tried to get Mahire to see reason: "'If you don't do what we want, we'll suspend your wages, cancel your bonuses, levy a 2,500 RMB penalty on you, suspend all benefits you are enjoying now. And your child will never have a residence permit. He'll be a nobody.'"
This is what a "non-forced abortion" in China looks like.
In the end, three company officials showed up at Mahire's house with a Nissan van and drove her to the hospital. When she saw the needle they were about to insert into her belly, "I told the obstetrician, 'Doctor, don't give me the shot. I want to go home. I want my child!' ... But the two nurses started pressing my arms with all their might. One of the nurses said ferociously, 'Who told you to get pregnant! Who told you not to act according to the planned birth policy!'"
Remember Mahire when you read about other human rights violations in China and when you watch the world's athletes come together in Beijing this spring.