The sensitive subject of China’s One-Child Policy and suspect adoptions that resulted from it are explored in Independent Lens’s upcoming film One Child Nation by director-producer Nanfu Wang. At the TV Critics Association press tour, Wang and Brian and Longlan Stuy, the film’s subjects and co-founders of Research China, talked about the policy’s impact on China’s culture and adoption procedures.
China’s One-Child Policy ended in 2015 because it was not economically sustainable, and Nanfu Wang says sociologists studied the issue and the dire circumstances predicted as the reason for the policy were not verified, and it was concluded that the policy was not needed.
Wang explained, “The negative aspects of the policy – one aspect is the gender imbalance – many men can’t find wives. Many Chinese men started trafficking women from bordering countries and brought them in and imprisoned them until they produced a child.” There were effects on the country as a whole as well. Wang continued, “There’s a collective trauma the nation is experiencing, but many people aren’t aware of it. Losing a child is something you cannot forget – it’s something that stays with you for life. For the younger generation growing up under the policy and believing it was great until I became a mom, that’s when we realized how our emotions were controlled by the government propaganda.”
After her mother and brother saw the film at a film festival, her mother was asked what she thought and replied, “I think the film is great – it’s so truthful, but I still believe the policy was necessary.” Wang said it was then that she realized how complex the issue was and how effective propaganda could be.
As Wang spoke about shooting in China, she made clear that she always felt like she was in danger. She described always checking in with her producing partner. “Going back to China to film – if you make anything that’s a social issue, you face the risk of being arrested. When we needed to film something, we imagined the worst case scenario and planned what we would do if I didn’t contact her (her co-producer) in 2 hours, in 4 hours, and she kept track of me with GPS. We had an entire plan made up in case of emergency.”
Speaking to the adoption side of the issue, Brian Stuy talked about how he tried to gather as much information as possible about his adopted daughter. He talked to the woman who found his daughter, but after his wife Longlan talked to the woman, they found out her story was false. Stuy said, “23 & Me and autosomal DNA changed everything – in 2013, we started DNA Connect – an all-volunteer organization that collects DNA and puts it into a data bank so we can reunite families.”
Stuy continued, “We’ve located 61 matches and scores of people have gone back to China and met their birth families.” Stuy says they’ve received hundreds of emails from adoptees who have seen the film and want help reconnecting with their birth families. Stuy said he advises them to get a DNA test immediately so their data bank can try to find a match in their system.
Stuy estimates that there are 86,000 adopted Chinese children living in the U.S. and approximately 110,000 globally. Most came from orphanages that had ethical lapses and did not notify their families where their children were going to end up.
“One Child Nation” airs March 30 on PBS and is also on the short list of Oscar contenders. The filmmakers will find out Monday January 13 if they’re nominated.