Protection of Conscience Project
Protection of Conscience Project
Service, not Servitude

Service, not Servitude

Chinese health care workers and the 'one-child' policy

China (1983-1999)

Sean Murphy*


Since at least1991, Australia has been faced with Chinese women who apply for refugee status because of China's 'one-child policy.' 1 These women fear that they will be forcibly aborted, sterilized and discriminated against if they are repatriated. Australian authorities were unsympathetic to these claims, and one Chinese woman, 8 1/2 months pregnant when deported from Australia, was forced to have an abortion upon her return to China.2

Senate committee hearings were conducted into the matter. One of the witnesses, who identifed herself by the pseudonym "Dr. Wong", was heard by the committee in February, 1995, and July, 1999. The following extracts provide some information about the operation of the 'one-child policy' and the coercion of health care workers.

Australian Senate Committee
Legal & Constitutional
6 February, 1995(3)

(Dr. Wong) In the hospital, you can see the women suffer and have pain for this one-child policy. It is only for this one-child policy that they came to the hospital; like they are coming to jail. They kill her baby, and they make her suffer. They make your heart break. This happens every day in China - every day. You can see the bodies of the babies - like a mountain of rubbish. Every day you see babies who want to try to get breath and who want to live. They did not die at first. They want to live. You saw miles of blood go out, and the mother crying. Every day mothers saw dead babies. The mothers catch the bare babies and cry.

Australian Senate Committee
Legal & Constitutional 351-360

Monday, 26 July, 1999

Dr. Wong: . . . I was a gynaecologist and obstetrician, and I worked in a Chinese public hospital for six years - from 1983 to 1989. . .

CHAIR: Without identifying exactly where you come from, can you tell us where you come from? Are you from a large or a small city or a rural area? The reason for asking the question is that I have been tld that the one-child policy is not enforced equally throughout the whole of the country.

Dr. Wong: Yes. In different cities there is a difference. The one-child policy is done in a different way. My city has three million people. My workplace is connected just by boat with the countryside, so my patients are less from the countryside than from the city. Als the provinces are different. In the centre of China in some places in the poor provinces, it is more crude. They force more. In Shanghai and Guangdong near the east coast, it is much more gentle, but they are much cleverer, because sometimes they promise you something you can have. But in the countryside, there is no offer. They just do it. It is very hard. . .

Senator Harradine: Dr. Wong, you trained and got your medical degree. What made you go into gynaecology? You did study gynaecology, didn't you?

Dr. Wong: Yes. When the one-child policy was established in 1979 we needed a lot of specialist gynaecologists and obstetricians to support that policy. During this time, many universities had special subjects in gynaecology and obstetrics for training doctors to use in the hospitals and to deal with abortion and family planning issues. When I picked up this job I did not realise this would be the main job for us. I saw the job of a doctor delivering babies as nice. At 18 years old you do not know anything. I thought it was nice to pick up doctor job. After the training had finished you practised in the hospital as a student and then you know what is going on. This time was a very heaving time for the one-child policy.

Senator Harradine: What age were you when you gained your degree?

Dr. Wong: I was 22 or 23.

Senator Harradine: After gaining that degree, with whom did you work? Which institution did you work at? Did you work in a hospital first?

Dr. Wong: I worked in a hospital. I also visited the countryside as a city doctor. I did not visit twice. As young doctors, my workmates had half a year in the countryside and half a year in the city. They did a lot more than me.

Senator Harradine: Do you have any idea of the number of abortions you performed?

Dr. Wong: For less than three months it was an everyday job. Over three months, every week I would do something like 10 in my shift. I am not talking about other doctors because there were three shifts.

Senator Harradine: How long did that to on for?

Dr. Wong: Six years.

Senator Harradine: Six years?

Dr. Wong: Yes, the hospitals had a special department for family planning.

Senator Harradine: Were forced sterilisations, the insertion of the intra-uterine devices and the like part of the practice as well?

Dr. Wong: Yes, less a practice - this is compulsory. They have to do it. If the couple have two children - does not matter, girl or boy - one of them has to be sterilised, otherwise you cannot get medicare assistance or education assistance and accommodation too. If there is one child, mostly they like you using IUD because they are easy. The pill is not easy - sometimes you forget - and the condom is not easy too. With the IUD nobody can take it out except the doctor; that is a good idea for that. . .

Senator Harradine: The medical profession- people working as doctors, nurses and so on - would be concerned about the program. Would any of them, for example, give false certificates just to protect a woman?

Dr. Wong: No, it is difficult. You can do something, but the policy has a little bit of flexibility. You cannot do it really if it is a second child. The government already has it on the policy list. If you do something against the government, you will be punished for that.

Senator Harradine: I think I read two years ago that the vice-president of a hospital in one of the cities in the province of Henan was actually executed because he had provided a false certificate.

Dr. Wong: Yes.

Senator Harradine: Is it that serious?

Dr. Wong: It is this serious. If you go against the government's one-child policy, you get the death penalty. It is similar to the tax on money from the government. You can get the death penalty, too. . .

Senator Cooney: When you say it is a policy, is it written out as a law? Is there a law that says you are only allowed one child?

Dr. Wong: Yes. That law is not public. Inside China you cannot see the real paper. Western people cannot see it. Only we can see the paper but we do not keep it on us. This is the policy. China has not got a real law. Everything comes to you by policy.

Senator Cooney: That policy is directed from Beijing - from the central government, is it?

Dr. Wong: The major issue is directed from Beijing but, when it comes to different states, everybody puts their own things on it. A different city or a different workplace will put its own things on it. The Chinese law is a man's law. It is not really like country law. They put things themselves. . .

Senator Cooney: Do they take into account if you have religious or moral beliefs? Does that not count?

Dr. Wong: No.

Senator Cooney: There is no conscientious objection?

Dr. Wong: No. They do not think that you are a human being. They do not think you have got a brain. If you have got a brain, they wash your brain.

Senator Cooney: What would happen to a doctor or a hospital which refused to carry out the policy?

Dr. Wong: If you refuse, you would go to jail.

Senator Cooney: You would go to jail.

Dr. Wong: Yes. If you refuse, you must have a good reason. Nobody can explain a good reason.

Senator Harradine: I see. How long would you go to jail for?

Dr. Wong: It depends on how you are against the government. . . 4


1. Tankard Reist, Melinda, "Asylum for a second child". The Age, December, 1992.

2. Tankard Reist, Melinda, "A Crisis of Compassion". The Human Life Review, Fall, 1999, Vol. XXV No. 4, Appendix E, P. 83-85

3. Quoted in Tankard Reist, ibid

4. Xiao Ying Wong told a reporter that "she felt it was impossible to leave her job. It was futile to complain and she felt great pressure to continue, being viewed as a competent specialist. She feared authority (her brother had been in trouble with the authorities years before) and she did not want to face the punishment, financial loss and criticism of expressing her distress. Doctors who interfered with the population control plan were condemned as counter-revolutionaries. . .When Xiao Ying cried out one day in the hospital, 'Only God can take a life!' she was told not to bring her religion to work. She lacked the contacts and influence to obtain a job elsewhere and, because most hospitals were desperate for abortion doctors, her situation was unlikely to change at another hospital." Tankard Reist, Melinda, "The face of a murderer?", On Being, August, 1995.