On the One-Child Policy of China: Reading Ma Jian’s Novel The Dark Road

Research output: Chapter in book/report/conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Although the one-child policy was ended officially in January 2016, Ma Jian’s The Dark Road (Yin zhi dao, 2012), a dark novel about a peasant family in the name of Confucius’s descendants fleeing from forced abortion and sterilization, is still relevant for our understanding of reproductive rights and justice in China. In the economy of China’s birth control, contraception supports bureaucratic proliferation, disabled children are sold to criminal gangs as beggars in big cities, and baby girls are sent to the Welfare Office for foreign adoption. In relation to the population problem, the writer is also concerned about environmental pollution of the corrosive Yangtze River with the construction of the Three Gorges Dam during the same period. While Chinese sturgeons are doomed to extinction, the young peasant woman in the story, her schoolteacher husband, and their daughter illegally migrate downstream from the rural hinterland in Hunan Province to a Cantonese Special Economic Zone heavily polluted with dioxins, a chemical known to cause infertility. China’s one-child policy, together with its economy and ecology, is critically examined in Ma’s extraordinary descriptions of the shocking violence of birth control practices, especially the excessive cruelty by the birth-planning authorities. The situation is further complicated by the gender issue as the reality represented in The Dark Road is stark.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Handbook of Reproductive Justice and Literature
EditorsBeth Widmaier Capo, Laura Lazzari
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages17
ISBN (Electronic)9783030995300
ISBN (Print)9783030995294, 9783030995324
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2022

User-Defined Keywords

  • Ma Jian
  • The Dark Road
  • One-child policy
  • Forced abortion
  • Reproductive justice


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