‘Uterine morality’: feminist eugenics in China

Dispatch from the Reproductive Revolution. Like the coronavirus, eugenics keeps morphing and mutating to adapt to new environments. In China, for instance, the government has been accused of treating women “as the reproductive agents of the state, as instruments of implementation for its eugenic development agenda.”

“The approach’s eugenic undertones are unmistakable,” declared foreign policy expert Leta Hong Fincher last year. “Even as officials urge college-educated, Han Chinese women to marry and get pregnant, they are discouraging, sometimes through coercion, ethnic minorities with high birthrates — particularly Uighurs in the northwestern region of Xinjiang — from having more children.”

But the government is not necessarily imposing its ideas on all Chinese. Its ambitions about breeding better babies have a receptive audience.

Some Chinese women, in fact, are outrageous eugenicists. In a jaw-dropping essay in Sixth Tone, an online magazine about contemporary China, feminist Li Jun describes the internet craze for “uterine morality” or zigong daode. Some women are not willing to accept anything but the best genetic material and deride women with handicapped children or imperfect husbands.

“Uterine morality” seems bizarrely indifferent to the role of men in raising children. They are basically regarded as studs rather than fathers. What kind of man will a gorgeous baby grow into without a strong father in his or her life?

Li Jun says that she first encountered the topic in 2013, but it has grown since then. One poster on social media wrote:

 “The uterus is a holy site of human evolution, not a toxic factory for churning out garbage or petulant kids. Because women bear this huge responsibility, they should establish a system of uterine morals. For instance, births should be ‘neither random nor rampant,’ and (women should) ‘bear and rear better children.’”

Earlier this year a blogger proposed the establishment of a national sperm bank for “good-looking, smart, healthy men” to stop China’s fertility rate from falling. This brought believers in “uterine morality” out of the woodwork. One wrote:

“Women need morals of the womb. … You see women marrying some fugly dude like they’re blind and then popping out a couple of little piggies. If children are going to be that ugly, then their life is basically halfway over.”

Another blogger claimed this “uterine morality” was about the rights of the child:

“Only women with a sense of ‘uterine morality’ truly love their children. They reject ugly, poor, sick, and abusive men, and they would never hurt their own descendants just to satisfy their sexual perversions.”

Li Jun says that supporters of “uterine morality” are a faction in China’s splintered feminist movement. They are less interested in bettering the social and political position of women than in “hypergamy”, marrying upward for social status. “Principles like ‘self-reliance’, ‘self-improvement’, and ‘resistance’ soon lose all meaning, becoming not calls to wake up, but extremist maxims with which they can bludgeon women who they deem insufficiently woke,” she observes.

Be that as it may, the splenetic criticism voiced by these women is astonishingly, unabashedly, grotesquely eugenic. Does it have something to do with the sex imbalance in China’s youth?

According to figures cited in a recent issue of The Economist, there are 30 million more young men than young women in China, a grim result of the nation’s draconian one-child policy and a traditional preference for male children. The gap is expected to grow wider as China’s fertility rate keeps on falling.

This means more lonely men, more bride-trafficking, more prostitution, and more sexual abuse. And, as mates become scarcer, choosier women. There are reports that some Millennials are so desperate to have a girlfriend that they resort to engaging them with services like Hire Me Plz at prices up to US$1,450 a day. Li Jun did not address that aspect of contemporary Chinese feminism.


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