From 1979 until 2015 China controlled its population through its notorious one-child policy. The name, in more than one way, is a misnomer. In theory, a one-child policy simply limits the number of children a family can have to one. But the reality of the policy was far more devastating. Not only were women given forced abortions, but they were often sterilized against their will, while children were taken from families and sold to orphanages. It is this deeply troubling and incredibly complex reality that Nanfu Wang’s Sundance Grand Jury Prize Winner “One Child Nation” sets out to explore.
Wang, like so many millions of Chinese in her generation, grew up under the shadows of the one-child policy. Propaganda and cultural indoctrination kept her from questioning the policy or its fallout until, after years of living in New York, Wang had her first child. The birth of her son, Wang explains in voiceover, got her thinking about the policy, which had been so ingrained into Chinese society as to be almost invisible—a harsh law that was unquestionably enforced but that nonetheless went unquestioned.