Made in China Series: One Child

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.


The Artworks

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."

Exhibition 2010

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."

"Women who produce one child are given healthy bonuses in state-sponsored benefit schemes."

One Child Policy Interviews

Thanks to the people who contributed their personal experiences of the One-Child policy.

Academic Contributors

Prof. Susan Greenhalgh - Department of Anthropology, University of California

Susan Greenhalgh"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."

Hans Van De VenProf. 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.

Vanessa Fong"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)

Maria JaschokDr 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.

Harriet Evans"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."