A man in Luizhou posted an ad in a maternity hospital bathroom proposing to swap the baby boy his wife was soon to have for a baby girl. This story caught my eye. The law of large numbers says there are going to be some people doing some strange things in China, but I think this strangeness also speaks to some broader social issues here.
The man already had a son and was keen to have a daughter too. His wife’s second pregnancy ended in an abortion when the family learned, by ultra-sound, that she was carrying a boy. When her third pregnancy was also a boy, the family thought they’d try swapsies instead.
The media focuses on the man who wrote the ad in the hospital bathroom, but it seems his wife was comfortable with the proposal too.
A reporter saw the man’s ad and, feigning interest and the impending birth of a little girl, gave him a call. The man proposed that the pregnant mothers give birth in the same hospital to make the swap easy, and that they never speak again once the transaction was done.
The man’s scheming came to an end once the reporter contacted Police, who issued him with a warning. It isn’t clear what law he might have been breaking (nor whether that’s actually the basis on which the Police do there thing in China).
I’m conflicted about this. On one hand I’m struggling to see the harm of what the man was proposing. Indeed, this way both babies may end up with families who want and love them. It’s a funny kind of cross-surrogacy.
But there’s something intuitively troublesome about the commoditisation of children this arrangement implies. I’m also not wild about the idea that parents will necessarily have a fundamentally different experience raising boys and girls, which the man’s desire to ‘collect the set’ implies.
The sex of kids is a big deal in China. Under the One Child Policy, rural Chinese families are entitled to have a second child if their first is a girl. In other circumstances abortion (or infanticide) is used so the family gets the sex, normally male, they want. This phenomenon is pronounced that there’s a documented over-representation of males in younger generations. There are tens of millions more male offspring than there should be, demographically speaking.
While I try and resolve my thoughts about the baby swap I will say this: for a government to socially engineer the number of kids that parents have, and to at least tacitly endorse practises that see the sex of those kids engineered too, it seems hypocritical to say this man from Luizhou can’t do the same.