Mei Fong’s vivid and thoroughly researched book tells the story of the consequences of China’s decision to restrict its population size. Her story begins with her taking a stifling ride on a packed train to Sichuan in 2008 with a group of peasant farmers returning home to find out if their only children have been killed in the terrible earthquake that hit the province that year. She also ventures to remote villages where local officials are charged by the central government with maintaining the one-child policy, leading to cases of forced abortions. One such case in 2012, where a woman named Feng Jianmei was held down and injected forcibly with an abortifacient, even caused a scandal within China and a declaration by the national authorities that they would review the operation of the policy.
Fong also takes us inside the decisions that led to the formation of the policy. In the late 1970s, the Chinese government decided that demographics was in fact rocket science and set a group of cyberneticists and engineers to ponder the problem. They decided that China’s ideal population size was 700 million and set out a linear model to show how it could be achieved by restricting births.