By combining the personal with the political, Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang's "One Child Nation" delves into the generational effects of China's one-child policy. The documentary won the top honor of Grand Jury Prize in the U.S. Documentary category at Sundance Film Festival.
Opening with Wang’s personal journey of giving birth to her first child, the documentary takes us to Wang’s hometown in China and explores the underreported realities of China’s one policy. And Wang dug up a lot. Through interviews with her closest family members and village officials, we learn about the cruelties of the policy, the ruthlessness of its implementation and the devastating effects it had on many individuals, especially women and children. Mandatory sterilization, forced abortion, harassment from officials, heavy fines and demolition of properties were all measures used to ensure that each household in every corner of the country obeys the one-child policy. The result was that the sight of abandoned female babies at the market became a familiar everyday reality to every shopper and passer-by. A few lucky ones survived. Most died a slow, excruciating death before they were able to enjoy the world.
The film is both narrative and investigative. After discovering some tragedies that had happened to her own family as a result of the one-child policy, Wang connected with Research-China, an initiative started by an American couple to research the history behind the policy and Chinese adopted children. They too have three adopted daughters from China. Researchers revealed the shocking fact of Chinese government’s involvement in domestic human trafficking chains. They also identified a pair of separated twins and contemplated the ethical and moral complications of Chinese children adoption.
Wang and Zhang masterfully weave different interviews, investigations and narratives together to tell a powerful story for which they risked their lives gathering footage. In the Q&A session, Wang named a few strict safety precautions she needed to take to avoid government surveillance while filming in China. In additional to using masterful storytelling, the film did not lose its artistic ambitions, as Wang strived for professionalism and innovations in her shots.
I was born under the one-child policy in China too. My parents, like most of the people depicted in the film, were influenced by the government propaganda to firmly believe that the policy is right and necessary, despite the sacrifices it necessitates. They accepted it willingly, and I grew up used to the fact that most of my friends were only children, just like me. My mother always says that she would have wanted two children if it were not for the policy. I do not mind being an only child, but I wonder how my life was surreptitiously impacted by the bigger picture and what it could have been without the one-child policy.