Abandoned Baby | China


This blog gets frequently linked from reddit, many of whose users think this photo as ‘the worst photo ever’. For this author, that photo was not even the worst photo ever taken on a hapless child dying on the ground.

The photo above, by Jeff Abelin – of whom I found very little — speaks volumes louder. This photo conjures up a world of medieval fairy tales — of Hansel and Gretel — in late twentieth century China; a world where untold millions are sacrificed at the altar of demographic dividend; a world where certain stretches of the Yangtze River are common sites of infanticide by drowning. Life magazine comments on the photo:

“A group of Americans came upon this abandoned boy on a path in Fuyang and took him to a local hospital, where they were told by a staffer, “You should have left it where it was.” A day later, another baby was found [dead] in the same spot, and the day after that, the first child, suffering from pneumonia and a deformed heart, died anonymously.

“This picture and the accompanying story caused an uproar, as human rights activists placed the blame for a plague of abandonment and infanticide squarely on the government’s One Couple, One Child policy. Baby girls were at greater risk than boys, who might one day be of more use in the fields: Some estimates held that more than 1.5 million girls out of the 13 million children born in China each year, were being abandoned. Though the government countered that parents with “feudal ideas” were causing the problem, it eventually relaxed the One Child policy – a little.”

Life was optimistic and included the photo on ‘100 Photographs That Changed The World’. True, draconian forced abortions and imprisonments were replaced by huge fines for violators of One Child policy, but the photo didn’t change much. One Child policy still persists, some seventeen years after the photo was taken in September 1997. Today, China has 25-40 million fewer baby girls due to selective infanticides.

8 thoughts on “Abandoned Baby | China

  1. Interesting picture, though the narrative that goes with it demonstrates the way this topic is engaged with in the west. India has similar issues, both with child abandonment, infanticide, and a growing lack of girls, and it has no one-child policy.

    • i do not know how government officials treat unwanted infants in india, but government-sponsored infanticide was a huge problem in china around the time this photo was taken.

      i don’t know why i should talk about equivalent issues in ALL the countries in the world when i discuss politics and history around a photo taken in one country. should i talk about segregation and racism around the world when i discuss apartheid? no. so yeah, China doesn’t get special treatment.

      • I suppose my response would be that you don’t have to discuss politics of other states, but you do have to consider the textual descriptions you attach to the photo and what bias’ and distortions are inherent within them. The quote you highlight obvious takes it as written that it’s government policies that are driving the issues with abandonment, specifically the one-child policy. Given the examples of states that don’t have such a policy but comparable levels of infanticide, I think it’s a suspect position to take. It takes the issue entirely out of it’s historical context. The last sentence is just objectively wrong. While infanticide, including selective female infanticide is a problem in China, selective abortions because of cheap sonograms are a much larger factor in the ‘lost women’, and is a similar issue, again, in states that don’t have a one child policy. I’m not trying to defend China’s One-Child policy here, which indeed, has resulted in forced abortions and a host of other human rights violations. I’m just pointing out that the issue has complexities related to issues of culture, poverty, spiralling medical costs, China’s industrialization and modernization, etc.

  2. I agree with “ritchiec42” China is denounced in the West for trying to slow overpopulation with policies, yet India never gets called on for its female infanticide

  3. Is terrible that without the importance of nationalism. I wonder if they tried a bolt sex education system and a lot of free contraceptives to avoid that issue. Why the kills? start not having them. I read recently a not direct related issue in Nat Geo about one mother that let starving one child to beg money so she can feed her other sons. All this maybe cold be avoided with government politics. Is evident that the authorities are absent.

  4. The One Child Policy has been in place for around 35 years, yet the infanticide and gendercide have been a problem long before this, although the policy is clearly not to blame it has not helped at all. The few preventative methods that are in place may make it slightly harder to have sex selective abortions it is still very easy for parents to abandon their child. This photo proved it in 1997 and can still be said to be relevant now.

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