The Deep Politics of Freedom

By Gillespie, Nick | Reason, December 2007 | Go to article overview

The Deep Politics of Freedom


Gillespie, Nick, Reason


IN "THANK Deng Xiaoping for Little Girls" (page 40), Senior Editor Jacob Sullum details the adventure he and his wife undertook when they adopted their second daughter, Mei, from a Chinese orphanage in 2004. In doing so, they've given Mei a life that she never would have had in her native country. Yes, China is on the rise and things there are getting better by the minute for most individuals, but Mei will benefit incalculably from having two loving parents (and an older sister) and from being raised in a developed country that reveres our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Yet Sullum's story is not a celebration of unexpected opportunities. It is a disturbing expose of how China's restrictive one-child policy has created a population of unwanted girls in a monstrously misguided attempt to increase national wealth. Implemented in 1979, rules governing family size, when combined with longstanding cultural preferences, have led to a serious gender imbalance in contemporary China and the heavy use of abortion as a way of selecting the sex of children. Although many Chinese flout the official rules by taking in foundlings, orphanages are overstuffed with abandoned daughters. Incredibly, the government is bent on making adoption more difficult.

This is a story about the deep politics of freedom, about what happens, as Sullum notes, when the government tries to "dictate the most basic and intimate of life's decisions." It leads not only to outrage but to the sort of haunting paradox that no parent should ever have to contemplate.

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