The artworks were featured in a series of conferences at the Shanghai Expo in 2010. The video content has been licensed for use by Education Services Australia.
Based on 300 interviews Aowen conducted with Chinese women, this exhibition challenges both the Western and Chinese perception of China's controversial One-Child Policy. It offers a unique look at both the positive and the negative impact that the policy has had on the women who were born under it.
Through academic research, case studies and reflections on Aowen's own experience as a single child in China's 'Ideal One Child Family', this exhibition shares the first insights into the effects of the policy on young Chinese women today.
To create further debate around the impact of the policy, the exhibition is accompanied by interview footage and lectures that ran during the show.
Since then Aowen has continued to conduct research with Chinese women on issues related to the One-Child Policy, in order to document the impact of the policy on China's cultural and social development during its economic miracle.
Oil Painting with mix media
Read the latest update on China's One-Child Policy reform from the BBC.
The One-Child Policy only applies to Han Chinese – not those in the 55 other ethnic groups (8.5% of the population).
The following statistics are from the Annual Government Statistics Reports from the People's Republic of China, comparing 1978 to 2009.
Since 1978 the birth rate has declined from 2.9 to 1.5 children per family. In the city it is currently 1.2, while in the countryside (where 80% of the population reside) it is 1.7.
(An Oxford University publication recently stated that a rate of 2.1 would be necessary to maintain population levels – and as such the low birth rate is putting pressure on state labour resources).
In 1978 the marriage rate was 2.1%, and it is 1.1% in 2009. Chinese Huan Qui News suggests that women are delaying their marriages in pursuit of career achievements.
The number of women who did not have a child has increased from 3% in 1978 to 12.5% in 2009.
(Scholars quoted in People's News suggested that this is due to infertility from failed abortions, as women are attempting to ensure that they have a son rather than a daughter).
The current male to female ratio in China is 117:100. By comparison in India – where male children are also preferred to females – the imbalance is just 108:100. In both countries some couples use legal and illegal means to ensure that their child is male, and female foetuses are aborted or sometimes female babies are left exposed to die.
According to an article in the China Daily newspaper, there are 13 million recorded abortions each year – although many more are unrecorded.
The Giver and the Taker - Unmasking the Truth of the One-Child Policy
"Jin Aowen's exhibition marks a milestone event" – Prof. Hans van de Ven, Chair of Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge
"The policy has a much wider impact on society than reported in the media – it has completely shifted the way that women are positioned within the society."
"The policy has created a generation of “Little Empresses” who were born into a world where they were cherished and doted on like no generation before."
Art Space Gallery, Mayfair, London, September 2010
"The One-Child Policy is like a double edged sword: it not only insists on having no more than one child per family, but also implies the idea that every family should have a child to be normal."
"There are a huge number of competing pressures on women in China today– to succeed in their career like a son and to have that one perfect child."
"This exhibition raises awareness on the impacts of the policy on young Chinese women, such as their personalities, experience and expectations."
"In some places childless women face extreme public embarrassment under the policy. They have to submit to the government each year to declare their childlessness and announce their family plans for the following year."
Thanks to the people who contributed their personal experiences of the One-Child policy.
Prof. Susan Greenhalgh - Department of Anthropology, University of California
"Under Mao, who famously declared that "women hold up half the sky," women were widely encouraged to take part in productive labour. Reproduction remained important, of course, but women's roles were relatively balanced. Under the one-child policy introduced under Deng Xiaoping, the pendulum has shifted back to reproduction. Since the late 1970s, women's sacred duty to their families and to the nation has been to produce a child – a single perfect child (or, for some, two perfect children).
"For the current generation of young women, the first born under the one-child policy, this overwhelming state and societal pressure to focus on producing and raising children is confusing because the rapid marketization of recent decades has brought a proliferation of opportunities to contribute to China's economic development in a myriad of ways never before possible. Moreover, young women today are the most highly educated generation of women in Chinese history and thus well equipped to play important roles in China's economic and political life in the 21st Century.
"What role will young women be permitted to play in China's globalization? Will conservative views of women's duties rooted in their "biological nature," combined with state pressure on them to upgrade the quality of China's workforce, require them to devote most of their energies to childrearing? Or will they find creative ways to combine work with mothering and, if so, how will they balance the two? Or will they reject marriage and mothering altogether and devote their energies to work and service? This important exhibition provides some answers to these critical questions."
Prof. Hans van de Ven - Chair of Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; professor of Modern Chinese History, University of Cambridge
"The One Child Policy was born from a 1970s political panic engineered by pseudo-scientific projections from in vogue cybernetic modellers. In the wake of the disastrous Cultural Revolution, the policy justified as necessary for China to become modern and wealthy provided the Chinese Communist Party with an entirely new way of imposing itself on the Chinese population...The policy has shaped perception of women of their own bodies, political authority, and the state is undoubted, but yet remains fully unexplored. This is why the Jin Aowen's exhibition marks a milestone event."
Dr. Vanessa L. Fong - Harvard's Graduate School of Education – a leading researcher on the impact of the One-Child Policy on the first single-child generation.
"Urban daughters have benefited from the demographic pattern produced by China's one-child policy. In the system of patri-lineal kinship that has long characterized most of Chinese society, parents had little incentive to invest in their daughters. Singleton daughters, however, enjoy unprecedented parental support because they do not have to compete with brothers for parental investment. Low fertility enabled mothers to get paid work and thus, gain the ability to demonstrate their filiality by providing their own parents with financial support. Because their mothers have already proven that daughters can provide their parents with old age support, and because singletons have no brothers for their parents to favor, daughters have more power than ever before to defy disadvantageous gender norms while using equivocal ones to their own advantage." (China's One-Child Policy and the Empowerment of Urban Daughters)
Dr Maria Jaschok - Director of International Gender Studies Centre, University of Oxford
"As burning an issue as the varied implications of the One Child Policy may be in certain parts of China, this is not universally so. In the remote and under-resourced borderland areas where many of China's minority populations reside, there has always been allowance for more children."'Women's Empowerment in Muslim Contexts' (DFID funded research, 2006-10)
Dr. Judith Banister - Director of Global Demographics at The Conference Board and an influential author on China's population, employment and labour
"Tight government control of childbearing in China has had both positive and negative effects on women and girls. Positive effects: Women are living longer lives, yet are allowed to have only one or two children, which frees up most of their adult lives for further education, careers, full-time work, and other social, political, community, and family pursuits. Negative effects: The compulsory one-child is very intrusive for women. Women's bodies are not their own. Even though China has had a Communist government for over 60 years, the country's traditional system of near-universal marriage and childbearing remains fully intact. Families continue to put intense pressure on their sons and their daughters to marry and have one child or more than one. Today, nearly 100% of young women in China do marry, and almost all China's women bear one or more children."
Harriet Evans - Professor of Chinese Cultural Studies and Director of the Contemporary China Centre, University of Westminster.
"Singleton urban daughters have greatly benefited from the extra resources and attention their parents have been able to give them, contributing to changed expectations of girls' educational and professional attainment and filial responsibilities, with radical implications for family, interpersonal and gendered relationships. Alongside the increasing individualization of Chinese society, the separation of reproduction from sexuality implicit in birth control policy has also contributed to giving young women access to decisions that their mothers could not have dreamt of, including not marrying, not having children, cohabiting with boyfriends and having same-sex relationships. Yet gendered expectations of young women to be modern versions of 'good wives and virtuous mothers' are still prevalent, and even if many young urban women do not see themselves in this mold, the pressures on them to marry and bring up children continue to carry with them normative gender and family values complicating their choices. Many young rural women have also benefited from the birth limitations imposed by the state. However, in rural areas where patrilineal structures of marriage and inheritance still dominate, economic and cultural pressures to bear children, and particularly sons, remain heavy. Women's bodies are not now targeted as they were during the coercive high-tide of the policy during the mid-1980s, but rural women continue to bear the brunt of the policy. It is women who have to sustain family pressures and repeated births—sometimes including sex-selective abortions—before producing a son, who have to withstand social prejudice for their failure to reproduce the male line, and who develop ways of evading the authorities' attention for having had over-quota numbers of children. Though research still has to be done to find out how many of the young women who migrate to the cities for work do so, in part, to escape future child-bearing and domestic pressures, the availability of marriageable rural men—one result of the gendered imbalances produced by the one-child policy—is often not lure enough to make them return. Across urban and rural areas, and in the flow of local and global forces transforming China, the one-child policy contributes to new and often liberating choices while bringing with it confusion and conflict."