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Mothers

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Huijing XU 2013

In the Chinese village Ma, almost all of its women of child-bearing age are either sterilised or made to wear a birth control ring after having their first child. The one-child policy put into place 30 years ago has meant a series of legal repercussions, including penalties for extra children and what can only be described as «birth control policing».
Xu Huijing returns to his village to tailgate the government officials whose current job is playing cat-and-mouse with a woman who refuses to go through the sterilisation surgery.


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Running Time: 68 min.
Subject(s): Asian Studies, Family, Gender, Health, Human Rights, Law and Justice, Society, Women
Language(s): Chinese
Subtitles: English
Director(s):
Producer(s): Ben TSIANG
Editor(s): LIAO Ching-Sung, XUsee all »

Press

  • Mind-boggling
    Variety
  • Incredibly brave documentary...critical and original
    DocGeeks
  • Most astonishing film... Huijing XU registers all the complexity and controversy of China's one-child-policy.
    Next Projection - MoMA Documentary Fortnight Review

Festival & Awards

  • CPH:DOX - 2013
  • IDFA
  • Chicago Film Festival - 2013
  • Sheffield Doc/Fest
  • Sydney Film Festival
  • Dokfest Muenchen
  • Chinese Documentary Festival Hong Kong
    second prize
  • Yunnan Multi Culture Visual Festival
  • Jeonju International Film Festival

additional materials

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  • From the Director

    From the Director

    I was born in a small village in Northern China in 1984. I was the second child in my family, despite the one-child policy. My mom said according to policy, I shouldn’t have been born. Villagers have told me stories about running away from officials who were trying to sterilize them. There were also stories about being fined– some to the point where they lose all their belongings. These stories seem comical at times and heartbreaking at others. Through their laughter and tears one can sense the hardship.

    30 years ago, the Party stated in “Regarding China’s Population Growth”, a public letter: China may have a different population management system 30 years later. But today, family planning continues. I am nearly 30; it is time for me to think about marriage and having children. As cost of living increases, so does the burden of having children in rural areas in China. But with an increasing aging population, families must also think about taking care of the elderly. It is too difficult for one child to take care of both parents and grandparents. However, having more children means being fined. Mothers in villages cannot but wonder, will they ever see a change in the family planning policy? Will sterilization ever end? When will the turning point for China’s population control arrive?

  • Synopsis

    Synopsis

    ZHANG Qing-mei is a well-known psychic, who worships the “Goddess of Child-giving.” She is also the family planning chief of her village, located in Shanxi Province, China. In the village, there have been sterilization workshops for woman, once a year, for the past some years. However, this year, there will be two workshops, and a quota of14 woman must be sterilized. The problem is there are not that many women to sterilize. If the village officials are unable to meet this quota, they will be voted off the committee. Therefore, the officials have decided to implement a program: sterilize all the women who have been avoiding sterilization. Now, Rong-rong, an elementary school teacher, has found herself to be the primary target on their list.

    Family planning had been an important part of the village committee’s work, and the sterilization program can make or break an officials’ career. If officials fail to sterilize women, job loss is inevitable. Therefore, failure is not an option. The village committee secretary wanted to ensure the success of the sterilization program by enlisting the ever-persuasive ZHANG Guo-hong to assist ZHANG Qing-mei. ZHANG Guo-hong, former local thug, has made a pretty good life for himself, and now wants some reputation to go along with the fortune. The sterilization program might just be the way to prove his worth, and Rong-rong just happens to be his point of entry.

    Rong-rong is a mother of two, and the thorn in the village officials’ thigh when it comes to the sterilization program. Three years after giving birth to her second child, the village officials have yet to successfully get Rong-rong sterilized. This was either because they could not catch her, or because she would always coincidentally have her period during the sterilization workshops and they could not perform the procedure. After investigating, ZHANG Guo-hong learned that Rong-rong has been taking Chinese herbs to induce period around the time of the sterilization workshop. ZHANG decides to ambush Rong-rong so she does not take the herbs.

    Family planning chief ZHANG Qing-mei is not enthusiastic about her work; she is happy being the village psychic, which is worrisome for the village officials. As a woman, she had first hand experience at the brunt of family planning. After putting her daughter-in-law in the sterilization program, they have now stopped talking. Also because of her role as a family planner, she has more foes than friends in the village. ZHANG Qing-mei no longer sees the need for one-child policy. In a capitalist society with rising commodity cost, coupled with the burden of taking care of aging parents, villagers would automatically understand the importance of birth control. The method in sterilizing women is an outdated policy. However, ZHANG Qing-mei’s apathy towards sterilization does not holdback ZHANG Guo-hong from achieving his goal. Ultimately, he captures Rong-rong, and she is forced to go through the sterilization procedure. Later Rong-rong laments, “I don’t want to be a woman in my next life.”

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