"It was like fighting a war. Death is inevitable."
Tackling China's highly publicized and undeniably controversial one-child policy, Nanfu Wang and Lynn Zhang's One Child Nation is a shocking revelation that educates, informs, and horrifies as you see first hand the effects of such a mass social experiment.
A new mother herself, Wang ventured back to China to interview friends and family about the policy and its lasting impact on generations of citizens. What she uncovered was mind-numbing as she came face to face with a group of people who held nothing back in regards to their memories surrounding that time.
For many, the details that occurred in response to the policy will be too much. I had a difficult time watching parts of the film, including a long-held shot of a landfill where babies laid lifeless, tossed out in response to their gender.
It's disheartening, to visually witness such a grotesque and monstrous act, preformed our of due diligence to a country and its government. The pain in each adult's eyes as they recount their actions and the terror that came with such a widespread protocol is uncomfortable, even if many have worked to change their ways, hoping they can somehow reverse the lasting impact they had on those around them. They are desperate to cleanse their souls of the chaos that consumed their life for decades. Their mental and emotional pain hits hardest throughout the dense narrative.
While many will be vaguely familiar with the terms of the policy, Wang and Zhang successfully bring about the details without succumbing to a rambling of facts. Allowing their subjects to do most of the informing, we become more and more aware of the complexity of the policy, how it affected different people, and the penalties that existed for those who opted to not adhere.
The flow of information is enlightening to those who wish to gain a better insight into the experiment, albeit immensely overwhelming. It isn't due to the onslaught of information, but rather the thought process that allowed those affected to get from one point to the next. Unwanted sterilization, government kidnapping, and forced abortions were all an everyday occurrence to those who lived within the context of the law. The propaganda, as humorous as it is frightening, was deliberate as it manipulated the mind, encouraging those who don't know better to follow along blindly.
One Child Nation does a fantastic job at hitting on several different aspects of the policy, showcasing how it involved different sectors of the government and its citizens. The result is undeniably emotional, a word I never thought I'd use to describe a documentary centered on government policy and enforcement. But here I sit, again uncomfortable at the mere thought of how a single law can so dynamically affect such a broad spread of people, still, generations later.
One Child Nation is a thesis of sorts, dialing in on a practice that was questioned heavily during its enactment. Though the laws have (somewhat) changed, this film shines an ultra-bright light on the fact that the ill effects and horrid memories are far from removed.