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More Wombs, More Babies? China Hints at Legalizing Surrogacy to Increase Birth Rates

A state media article that calls for a loosening of surrogacy bans has stirred controversy among Chinese Weibo users.

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Chinese Party newspaper People’s Daily published an article on Friday that featured older couples struggling with infertility and called for a loosening of surrogacy bans. The article immediately stirred controversy among Chinese Weibo users.

January 2016 officially marked the end of China’s contentious one-child policy of 36 years that made it illegal for couples to give birth to more than one baby, implemented to slow the country’s population growth rate. Since the end of the policy, couples of which at least one of the pair is an only child are legally permitted to have a second child.

Unsurprisingly, 2016 saw the highest birth rate in a century. With 17.86 million of births in total, there was an increase of 7.9% in childbirths compared to the year before according to China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission.

 

“Doctors suggest to relax existing surrogacy bans while still preventing commercialization of the practice.”

 

However, the figure still falls short of government’s estimations for the population to reach 1.42 billion by 2020, and might be too low to balance the consequences of the aging society and the shrinking workforce. By 2050, 370 million people in China are expected to be aged 65+ – it is often called a “demographic crisis.”

When dropping the one child policy, Chinese authorities also halted a plan to ban surrogate motherhood. Since 2001, the Ministry of Health laid out rules that made it illegal for medical staff to offer surrogacy services, and in 2015 there were official plans to completely curb surrogate pregnancies.

The timing of the reversal of the surrogacy ban was ambiguous, especially because it was called “unprecedented” for the Chinese government to reverse a draft law after it has already been publicized.

On Friday, an article in Chinese state newspaper People’s Daily enraged Chinese netizens as it focused on the topic of second pregnancies in older couples and suggested a legalization of surrogacy to give couples more opportunities to have a (second) child.

It says:

“In the ninety million families that are qualified to have the second child in China, 60% of women are over 35 years old and 50% are over 40. The fertility rate is obviously going down because women are getting older, and the average age for a woman to have a last pregnancy is generally around the age of 40. Therefore, doctors suggest to relax existing surrogacy bans while still preventing commercialization of the practice.”

Surrogacy often comes up when there are fertility problems or other reasons; a surrogate mother can carry the baby for a couple through artificial insemination of the father’s sperm, or, if possible, through IVF.

 

“They have totally gone mad! Surrogacy was illegal and now it is being promoted to increase birth rates!”

 

Perhaps uncoincidentally, one of the most controversial sketches of the CCTC Chinese New Year Gala last week focused on an older couple of which the woman was not able to conceive. The sketch also mentions the possibility of IVF, and led to angry reactions on Weibo of women who felt like the government was pushing women to have children.

Friday’s People’s Daily article also immediately triggered thousands of comments on Chinese social media. On Weibo, there were over 14K comments within several hours.

The vast majority of commenters criticized the article and made sarcastic comments about it: “They have totally gone mad! Surrogacy was illegal and now it is being promoted to increase birth rates!”

“We as Chinese women are not being treated as human beings but as breeding machines!” some wrote.

There were also netizens that sharply pointed out the improbability of the suggestion that surrogacy could be legalized without making it commercial: “I’ve never heard of any voluntary surrogate mothers. Whoever is willing to provide this kind of service for free? What can you say to surrogate mums? ‘Sorry I need to borrow your womb?'”

There are also those who sarcastically wondered: “If we are struggling with infertility, can we expect that child trafficking will also be legal one day?”

 

“Our wombs do not belong to ourselves, but to the country and the Party.”

 

Many commenters worry about the future of birth intervention in China, writing: “When I want to have more babies, it is prohibited. And now they’ve [suddenly] worked out this unethical way to force us to give birth. This is another insane form of birth control – they may eventually start to fine couples who don’t give birth one day.”

China’s strict control over children births has been controversial in international society for a long time.

At present, only rich parents can afford to resort to alternative ways to have a child, such a IVF and using surrogate mothers or receiving high-quality medical treatment in foreign clinics.

China’s huge underground market in surrogacy has thus been rapidly growing with demands largely exceeding supplies. According to the article, the number of couples suffering from infertility in China is about 15 million, which means that whether surrogacy remains illegal or not, it will still be a booming sector with potential profits.

There have been radical changes in China’s child policies over the recent years: from “over-produced” children being deprived of official documentation for basic social services to the wide-publicizing encouragement of second babies’ births.

“Our wombs do not belong to ourselves, but to the country and the Party,” one female Weibo user sadly commented.

– By Yue Xin
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(Featured image: the slogan on the wall in rural China has been edited after the change of policy. Photo credit to CNR. “Better to let the blood flows like river, not allowing to give birth to one more/less.”)

Additional editing by Manya Koetse
©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Yue Xin is a bilingual freelance journalist currently based in the Netherlands with a focus on gender issues and literature in China. As a long-time frequent Weibo user, she is specialized in the buzzwords and hot topics on Chinese social media.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Jully

    February 4, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Oh, they have a great population. In fact, they even have two-children policy. It was made not for nothing. Thus, they give birth many. But, you know, at the same time, there are families who have infertility. One couple can have three babies, for example. While, another family can have none. In such situationб infertile will feel a piece of in justice. And I can understand them. Thus, it is rather complicated issue. Interests of all people must be considered. As of surrogacy, maybe it can be allowed only for infertile. It can be used only in the case of medical reasons. In such cases, it can be. It must be only strictly regulated.

  2. Avatar

    Siobhan Justin

    February 11, 2017 at 6:36 am

    The logical course of action would be to lift the bans on childbirth altogether. The two child policy isn’t much better than the one child policy; it still leads to forced abortions. Procreation is a gift from God; it should not be limited by man.

  3. Avatar

    Megan

    July 3, 2018 at 7:50 pm

    Oh, they have a great population. In fact, they even have two-children policy. It was made not for nothing. Thus, they give birth many. But, you know, at the same time, there are families who have infertility. One couple can have three babies, for example. While, another family can have none. In such situationб infertile will feel a piece of in justice. And I can understand them. Thus, it is rather complicated issue. Interests of all people must be considered. As of surrogacy, maybe it can be allowed only for infertile. It can be used only in the case of medical reasons. In such cases, it can be. It must be only strictly regulated.

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China Health & Science

‘Cecolin’ Is Here: First Made-in-China HPV Vaccine Priced at US$47

China is the third country in the world to produce its own HPV vaccine, and it is cheaper than its foreign counterparts.

Manya Koetse

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While Chinese media praise Cecolin for being China’s first domestically produced HPV vaccine, Chinese social media users are more concerned with its price, quality, and availability.

In the first week of 2020, the first China-made HPV vaccine was approved by Chinese drug regulators. The domestically produced HPV vaccine became a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media. On Weibo alone, the topic received more than 580 million views since early January.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine prevents infection with the specific viral infection that causes cervical cancer. The earliest HPV vaccine, ‘Gardasil’ by American multinational pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., first became available in 2006. Along with Pfizer’s ‘Prevnar 13’ – the vaccine deployed for the prevention of pneumococcal pneumonia – Gardasil is among the world’s best-selling vaccines.

With the introduction of the first Chinese HPV vaccine, the virtual monopoly position of Merck’s vaccine might now change as the Chinese vaccination is entering the market.

The Chinese vaccine is named ‘Cecolin’ (馨可宁), and was co-developed by drug maker Innovax (万泰沧海生物技术) and Xiamen University. It is intended for girls and women aged 9-14 (two shots needed) and 15-45 (three shots needed). According to CGTN, some 8 million shots will be produced in China in 2020.

Gardasil and Cecolin are not entirely the same, however. Gardasil is a so-called quadrivalent vaccine, which targets four different antigens (HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18), while Cecolin is a bivalent vaccine only protecting against HPV 16 and 18 types, the two most common viruses leading to cervical cancer. Another type of HPV vaccine is the nonavalent kind, the Gardasil 9 vaccine, preventing diseases caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, 18, 31, 33, 45, 52, and 58.

Nearly all sexually active people will be exposed to HPV at some point in their life, and if girls and women are given the vaccine before any natural infection with HPV, the vaccines have been shown to protect against pre-cancer of the cervix. Males can also get the quadrivalent and nonavalent HPV vaccines to protect against genital warts, anal precancers, or the spread of HPV to sexual partners.

While Chinese media emphasize the fact that China is now the third country in the world, after US and UK, to succeed in producing its own HPV vaccine, one of the topics receiving the most attention on Chinese social media is the price of the Cecolin vaccine.

Cecolin is currently priced at 329 yuan (US$47) per shot, which is considerably cheaper than the approximate $250 per dose of the Gardasil vaccine in the United States.

The nonavalent vaccine costs about 1300 yuan or more per shot in China ($186+), with the quadrivalent Gardasil being priced at approximately 800 yuan per shot ($115), and the imported bivalent vaccine costing 600 yuan per dose ($86).

Weibo user shares receipt of 9-valent vaccine, 1338 yuan per dose.

Many Weibo commenters praise the arrival of the Chinese vaccine and its relatively low price. A complete vaccination programme would now only be either 660 or 1000 yuan ($94/$143, depending on needing two or three shots) instead of $260 or more.

“Whoa that’s cheap!” some commenters write, with others saying: “This makes it possible for the poorer girls to get their shots.”

But there is also a lot of discussion on the quality of the vaccine, and whether the bivalent vaccine is effective enough (for clarity -the two HPV types the vaccine protects against causes 84.5% of all cervical cancers in China). Some Weibo users say they would still like to get the more expensive nonavalent vaccine instead – even if they will need to spend around 4000 yuan ($570) on their completed shots.

Other commenters are most concerned with the general availability of HPV vaccines in China, as there is still a shortage of vaccinations.

The imported HPV vaccine was issued 1,46 million times in 2017, going up to 7 million shots in 2018 and 8,7 million in 2019. On Weibo, some commenters say they have previously gone to Hong Kong to get their shot.

One user from Nanjing writes: “I made an appointment for my site and needed to wait for four months, I finally got it. I don’t want to wait around for the domestic shot to become available here.”

A Weibo user from Liaoning is appreciative that those who want to have the vaccine now have more options: “If you can financially afford it, you can choose the nonavalent vaccines, if you can’t afford it, you can get the quadrivalent or bivalent ones.”

Starting from May of 2020, Cecolin will be available at community hospitals across various regions in China.

By Manya Koetse
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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Health & Science

40-Year-Old Woman Completes Shanghai Marathon While 8 Months Pregnant

Pregnant marathon runner Lili clashes with Chinese traditional attitudes towards women who are expecting a baby.

Jessica Colwell

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A 40-year-old woman named Li Lili (黎莉莉) became news in China after she ran the Shanghai Marathon last Sunday while 32 weeks pregnant, completing the race in five hours and 17 minutes.

This was the third marathon Li has run during her pregnancy. She ran the first two during week eight (with a time of 3:54:43) and week 22 (with a time of 4:47:58) of her pregnancy.

Lily is an avid runner, having completed 62 marathons during her lifetime. Her story went viral on Weibo under the hashtag “8 Months Pregnant 40-Year-Old Woman Runs Marathon” (#40岁孕妇怀胎8月跑完全马#), which has received over 200 million reads at time of writing.

[Li has run three marathons during her pregnancy, one in each trimester.]

Her story has ignited debate across Weibo this week regarding the merits and dangers of vigorous exercise during pregnancy. In interviews with the press, however, Li remained defiant in the face of her critics.

“For many people, they are worried about this because they don’t understand it,” she told video news site Pear Video in an interview.

“Many people have told me it is dangerous. They criticize me, just like they criticized Chen Yihan,” she says, referring to Taiwanese actress Ivy Chen (陈意涵) who faced fierce online criticism after posting pictures of herself running while five months pregnant in 2018.

Actress Ivy Chen’s controversial Weibo post from 2018, showing her running 5 kilometers while five months pregnant.

“But most of these critics have never even been pregnant,” Li continued: “The fact is, I did this because I have a very deep understanding of my own body. I’ve run over 60 marathons, I am an extremely good runner. I’ve run a marathon in 3:28, which is considered an excellent time even for talented athletes, even for men. I have my own training methods, I’ve been training for a very long time, and have carefully prepared for these marathons.”

The reactions to Li’s story online have ranged from enthusiastic praise to outright condemnation.

“Wow! I admire how strong she is! It is said that each person knows what is right for them in their own heart. It’s none of your business what she does with this unborn hero!” gushes the most popular comment on Pear Video’s Weibo post about the story.

But another popular comment argues that marathon running is actually inappropriate for Chinese women in general: “Foreigners running marathons is fine, but this is not for Chinese women. Pregnant Chinese women running marathons is equivalent to them not caring for their children.”

The results from a poll put out by Chengdu Economic Daily so far show the majority of readers do not oppose Li’s decision to run a marathon, with 54,000 choosing the option “One case cannot represent the whole, it will vary from individual to individual” and 38,000 choosing “Support, if the mother’s body is strong enough.” Only 17,000 chose the option “Oppose, pregnant women should not engage in vigorous exercise.”

“What do you think of a 40-year-old woman running a marathon while 8 months pregnant?” asks a Weibo poll by Chengdu Economic Daily.

Some comments on the poll argued that Li was irresponsible to take part in a marathon, in case something did go wrong: “Problems come up when you least expect them. If it’s just you running on your own, that’s one thing. But this is a group race. I can’t say if it’s right or wrong, but it could bring a lot of trouble to other people.”

But the majority of popular comments expressed outright support and admiration, or at the very least opposition to Li’s critics, telling them to mind their own business.

The support for Li’s decision appears to fly in the face of Chinese traditional attitudes towards pregnant women. The list of dos and don’ts for Chinese mothers-to-be is long and complex, ranging from the bizarre (no eating/drinking dark foods so as not to affect the baby’s skin color) to the more common (avoiding shellfish).

The belief that pregnant mothers should avoid exertion is high on the list, extending even to the month after birth.

But despite these strong traditions, Li’s strength and determination have clearly inspired new support for expectant mothers who wish to continue an active lifestyle while pregnant.

Also read: ‘Sitting the Month’ – a Gift or Torture?

Also read: Bad Mom To Be? Pregnant Woman Intentionally Trips 4-Year-Old Boy in Baoji

By Jessica Colwell
Follow @whatsonweibo

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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