In the fall of 1983 when my mother was 29, she received news from her superiors at her shoe factory in Yun, a county in Henan Province, that every female worker who had already had one child would be required to undergo sterilization. The Chinese Communist Party had introduced the one-child policy a few years earlier in 1979, but this was the first time my mother had heard about the policy. And it was the first time it was implemented in her hometown.
The instructions had come through the local All-China Women’s Federation, a party organization that is charged with overseeing women’s issues and family planning. Soon after the announcement, the county government dispatched ten doctors, specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, and set up a temporary medical clinic inside a nearby motel. As the local branch secretary of the federation and a production director at the shoe factory, my mother was charged with disseminating propaganda about the procedure, identifying which women would receive it, escorting them to the clinic, and arranging for their postoperative care. After the surgery, these women typically spent three days at the motel before being sent home to rest for a month of paid leave.
Some women were even forced to abort their first child so that local governments could meet the stringent birth quotas for each county or municipality. In Yun, it seemed that factories and other places of employment often helped to enforce the quota, although my mother was never certain. She simply followed her superiors’ instructions. My mother had a close friend who was forced to abort her eight-month fetus even though it was her first pregnancy because her factory had already reached its birth quota, which also meant it could not allow any more “pregnancy registrations.” My mother, by then a local director for the All-China Women’s Federation, had little power to break the rules. She accompanied her friend to the abortion clinic. It had been a boy.
Because having a second (or