10 January 1996
Killing China's Independence
The Channel 4 documentary 'Return to the Dying Rooms' would have been better
entitled 'Return to the Empire', writes Jennie Bristow
The documentary screened on Channel 4 on 8 January concerned the treatment
of babies in Chinese orphanages. Allegations of chid abuse, human rights
abuses and sexual discrimination were thrown at the Chinese from groups
as diverse as Western politicians, human rights campaigners and promoters
of population control. As Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind prepared for
his visit to Beijing, the British media increased their pressure upon him
to provide an open condemnation of the Chinese government.
But did the response to 'Return to the Dying Rooms', emotional as it was,
really indicate a wave of compassion on the part of the British public?
Or did it represent another, more sinister agenda?
Much has been made of the Chinese government's one-child policy. Yet orphanages
such as the Shanghai Children's Welfare Institute, in which children are
abandoned and die as a consequence, are not unique to China. Had the makers
of 'The Dying Rooms' wished they could have found many similar examples
throughout the less developed world. So why was China singled out?
As Hillary Clinton's attack on China's record of human rights abuses at
the fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing last year showed, Western
politicians love an excuse to have a go at the Chinese authorities. In such
a game of who holds the power, Chinese women and Chinese babies become mere
pawns.As for the British viewing public who rushed to make donations to
the 'Dying Rooms Trust', the condemnation of Chinese orphanages shows a
complete lack of understanding about the problems faced by people living
in poor rural communities the world over.
Where poverty exists, harsh decisions are made about who lives and who dies.
Not so long ago it was the case in Britain that many unwanted or unfortunate
children died in care as a result. It is lack of development and resources
that causes poverty and suffering not the personal predilections of orphanage
workers.It is a mistake to believe that children everywhere can be treated
as they are in the West.
It is also a mistake to believe that every orphanage in which children are
neglected should be treated in the same way as one might treat an abusive
Children's home in Islington. The makers of 'Return to the Dying Rooms'
should face up to the fact that what causes this infant suffering is poverty,
not spite, and what needs to be done about is the provision of more resources
not the spilling of crocodile tears.
Jennie Bristow is the coordinator of GenderWatch, a group founded after
the Fourth UN World Conference on Women to monitor the use of the gender
issue in international affairs. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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