China, Baby 59, and national self-deception

The mother deserves space, sympathy and a second-chance. The state deserves scrutiny

Share
Related Topics

You can learn a lot about a country from the lies it tells. Britain - desperate to keep its ‘green and pleasant’ label - tried to deny the presence of brain-rotting BSE in cow populations during the late 1990s. America - blinded by flag-waving ‘freedom’ - pretends to this day that selling a gun to anyone with $150 isn’t in fact a form of bondage, one that keeps the nation in a perpetual state of low anxiety.

You won’t find a more painful example of a country (or parts of it) pulling the wool over its own eyes, however, than a story that emerged this week. China has stopped to follow the fate of Baby 59 – a newborn boy let fall down the toilet by its mother, then rescued mewling from a sewage pipe by passers-by. At first, officials said the case would be treated as attempted murder. That decision appears to have been reversed. The mother, officials now claim, dropped the child “by accident” – and after it recovers the 6lb. 2oz boy will be reunited with its traumatised but essentially innocent parent.

Scepticism is hard to push aside here. To insiders, China’s national lie runs something like this – that authoritarian policies pursued by its Communist government, lashing the dragon economy ever onward, do not bring with them a considerable tonnage of human suffering, alongside the manna of GDP growth.

Say it were true a baby like this one was dropped, and not by accident. History suggests that once the story broke, the authorities’ response would be an immediate muddying of the waters – lest the world assume that a Chinese citizen, who had committed a first illegal act by having a child out of wedlock, was pushed to commit a second through fear of repercussion, with the second being an offence against human conscience.

The one-child-per-family policy was introduced in 1979, to restrain China's already 1bn-plus population. Since then parents have needed permission from the Communist Party to have a baby. In order to get that, they need to provide the state with a marriage certificate. Minus these two things, it becomes very difficult for a child to acquire a resident’s permit, a document needed to attend school. As Sky News’ Lisa Holland put it, these add up to mean “China has very few single mothers”.

We know that Baby 59’s mother was single. She is 22. According to recent reports, the young woman only kept the child because, without the absent father's financial assistance, she could not afford an abortion. Any which way you approach this story – except from the miraculous conclusion – it looks like a travesty. The mother deserves space, sympathy and a second-chance.

The state, on the other hand, deserves scrutiny. It is not the case that China’s authorities ignore baby-dumping: the Ministry of Civil Affairs has established a number of welfare hospitals around the country explicitly to cater for abandoned children. But anybody who remembers The Dying Rooms (1995), a British documentary about China’s overstocked orphanages, will know from what depths the country has to rise: “I did not know human beings could treat children with such cruelty”, said its producer, Kate Blewett. “Some of the orphanages we visited were more like death camps”.

Education, openness and a softer touch are the only things that can help here. Flushing the problem away simply will not.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Key stage 1 and 2 teachers required for the Vale of Glamorgan

£90 - £110 per day + Travel Scheme & Free Training: Randstad Education Cardiff...

Foundation Phase Teacher required

£90 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Exciting opputunities availabl...

Learning Support Assistant

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Learning Support Assistant - Newport

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Prime Minister David Cameron walks on stage to speak at The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference on November 4, 2013  

Does Cameron really believe in 'British Values'?

Temi Ogunye
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz