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Infanticide In China Essay, Research Paper

Killing your baby, what could be more depraved. For a woman to destroy the fruit of herwomb would seem like an ultimate violation of the natural order. But every year,hundreds of women commit neonaticide: they kill their newborns or let them die. Most

neonaticides remain undiscovered, but every once in a while a janitor follows a trail ofblood to a tiny body in a trash bin, or a woman faints and doctors find the remains of aplacenta inside her. In China, babies are often abondoned near orphanages and found decaying along the streets. The Chinese government established population controls that increased the pressure on families to limit reproduction and the religious establishment has failed to take an active role in discouraging neonaticide.

Religion in China is influenced by three major schools of thought: Taoism,Confucianism and Buddhism. While Confucianism is a major philosophy and Buddhism originated in India, Taoism is truly a Chinese religion. Regardless of their origin, all three major religions are ancient and when practiced today are deeply intertwined in China’s communist ideology. Taoism and Confucianism have co-existed throughout history and are usually practiced together either at different times or as different aspects of the follower’s overall life. While Confucianism largely concerns human society, sociarelations and individual conduct; Taoism is more individual and mystic and is greatly influenced by nature. Buddhism, with an estimated 300 million followers worldwide, is a major world religion which focuses on individual enlightenment. Buddhism also teaches reincarnation – the doctrine that the soul returns in another body – and some Chinese Taoist cults teach physical immortality, but none involves resurrection.

Personhood is both a central problem Buddhist ethics, consequently a very promising area for a dialogue. The problem for Buddhist ethics has always been why should people act ethically if there is no act, no actor and no consequences of action. If there is no self or other, how can there be karmic consequences, responsibility, loyalty, or even compassion. Scholars continue to be divided over whether Buddhism suggests different ethics for those who persist in the illusion of self (kammic ethics) and for those who would transcend the illusion of self (nibbanic ethics). The paradoxical unity of compassionate ethics and nihilistic insight into selflessness has been the central koan of Mahaayaana Buddhism. Tantra and Zen suggest that the person who sees that there is no “I” is beyond good and evil. The Theravaadin commentator Buddhaghosa appears to have combined all three views. He held that killing produces karma jointly through the mental effort and intensity of the desire to kill, and the virtue of the victim.1 Since killing big animals required more effort, and was therefore worse than killing small animals, the karma of feticide would be less than murder of adults, and less in earlier stages of pregnancy. None of the religious followings has made a definitve statement against feticide, or presented any spiritual punishment for the act, aside from the karma of feticide which would be negligable.

Neonaticide has been practiced and accepted in most cultures throughout history. In a 1970 study of statistics of child killing, Phillip Resnick, a psychiatrist, found that mothers who kill their older children are frequently psychotic, depressed or suicidal, but

mothers who kill their newborns are usually not. This difference led Resnick to argue that the category infanticide be split into neonaticide, the killing of a baby on the day of its birth, and filicide, the killing of a child older than one day. Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, both psychologists, argue that a capacity for neonaticide is built into the biological design of our parental emotions. Mammals are extreme among animals in the amount of time, energy and food they invest in their young, and humans are extreme

among mammals. Parental investment is a limited resource, and mammalian mothers must ”decide” whether to allot it to their newborn or to their current and future offspring. In most cultures, neonaticide is a form of this triage. If a newborn is sickly, or if its survival is not promising, they may cut their losses and favor the healthiest in the litter or try again later on. Until very recently in human evolutionary history, mothers nursed their children for two to four years before becoming fertile again. Many children died,

especially in the perilous first year. While the limited availability of resources is one factor that is responsible for the infanticide in China, there is a unmistakeable gender preference which results in a higher number of female infants killed over males.

China’s approach to population control has undergone major changes over the past several decades. In 1949 at the time of the Communist takeover, there were an estimated 540 million Chinese people. Chairman Mao in 1965 believed that population growth was a good thing because “every stomach comes with two hands attached”. At

that time China’s birth rate was 37 per 1000. By 1976 population had risen to 852 million. The causes of this rapid growth were a drop in infant mortality rates and the longer life spans which had been achieved in the 1950’s. By the 1970’s it was becoming evident to the Chinese that their economic development could not keep pace with the

growth in population. The economy could not produce the extra food, jobs, housing, clothing, and education that were needed each year. Population growth was consuming more than half the annual increase in GNP. The government of China began to implement policies that supported the idea of a two-child family. It provided services,

including birth control and abortion, to support this program. By 1975, China’s population growth rate dropped to 15.7 per 1000, from 28.5 per 1000 in 1965.

In 1975, the government was shocked to learn that China’s population had reached a billion people. At the same time China’s economic growth per person (GNP) had actually declined by 10%. The government decided they had no option but to reduce the size of the population. This meant that henceforth there could only be one child for each family. After Mao died, the government decided to carry out an even more forceful and stricter population control program. “One couple, one child” became the slogan for a population control drive that began in 1979. The constitution actually stated that “Husband and wife have a duty to practice family planning.” Billboards, newspapers, radio, and television carried the message to as many people as possible. Incentives and penalties were used ensure that people obeyed the program. Late marriages were encouraged (minimum age of 20 for women and 22 for men), free contraceptives, abortions, and sterilization were available. Cash and free medical care were promised to people who limited their families. For families that failed to get the message, there were penalties. A second birth would result in fines of as much as 15% of the family income for seven years. By 1983, the government was ordering the sterilization of either husband or wife for couples with more than one child. Public pressure was applied to people who did not conform. One of the tragic side effects of this program was an increase in infanticide. Female babies were most at risk because of the desire for a male heir to carry on the ancestor line placed a great value on male children.

In 1984, China’s birth rate was down to the replacement level of 2.1 births per woman. By 1986, China’s growth rate had fallen to 1% which is far below the 2.4% growth rate that many less developed countries were reporting. China’s birth rate stood at 18 per 1000, its population was projected to be 1.2 billion people by the year 2000. However, in 1987 the birth rate jumped to 21 per 1000 with a population growth rate of 1.4%. Controls had been relaxed and the age of marriage was changed. China still has a large population of people of childbearing age, in 1990 there were 270 million women of reproductive age. If each woman has two children, then more than a half a billion people will join the population. China has been able to reduce infant mortality to 44 per 1000 live births, illiteracy to a third of its adult population, and the majority of its children are

enrolled in school. The official census of July 1990 for mainland China recorded a population of 1.134 billion people. In 1994 Cai Wenmai, a leading Chinese demographer, dismissed the possibility of large-scale female infanticide, although numerous reports have surfaced in the Chinese press of female infants being killed. 2 A country stretched to the limits to provide for a expanding population, the Chinese government has been forced to maintain strick population controls.

The Chinese culture has long practiced an intense ancestor worship which is tied to their religious beliefs, this had created a preference for male heirs. The Chinese people consider a male child a great joy and a female child a small happiness ; a male can carry on the ancestral line and will provide for the family. A female child seen as burden and drain to family resouces, which will eventually benefit some other family when she marries, rather than her own.

In 1994 Americans adopted 800 children from Chinese orphanages, and in 1995 the number doubled according to the Adoptive Families of America. Over the last decade, Chinese policy on foreign adoptions have oscillated between being illegal and being government organized. According to the AFA, Chinese orphanges are about 99 percent girls. AFA also reports the majority of foreign adoption agencies that work with China are reputable and reliable. An adoption in China may cost anywhere from $12,000 to $18,000 US dollars, including travel.3 In 1996 Human Rights Watch-Asia alleged abuse in China s orphanages, children admitted to Chinese orphanages have only a 50 percent chance of making it through their first year there, as workers sysmetatically

startve them to death or kill them through neglect and abuse. 4 In light of the poor conditions provided by the government the is a great need for outside sources to provide alternate care for these abondoned children. While the Buddhist monastics have provided care for a small portion of abondoned children, there has not been an signifcant organized effort to address the ever growing problem. Today in China, a baby girl may still be cause for disappointment or infanticide. The increase in the sex ratio that characterizes the birth charts suggests they experienced higher female than male mortality, contrary to the usual greater viability of females. According to the 1982 Census, China had an overall sex ration of 105.5, the age group of 0-4 had an excess of males with a sex ration of 107.2.5 Although female infanticide has been common in some parts of China in difficult times, there is no evidence that the Chinese ever tried to limit the number of sons they raised.6 Under the one child policy, Chinese parents prefer to have a son who can support them in their old age and carry on the family lineage. In 1982, the national newspaper China Youth Daily reported that it had received a number of letters citing cases of abandoned baby girls. 7 The desire for boys is so great in the

single-child family that it has led to an unforeseen increase in female infanticide.

While the government tries to alleviate the problem by allowing foreign adoption, the religious establishment has failed to take an active role in solving the problem or discouraging the practice. The failure to address the problem of female infanticide is indeed a sad and shameful comment on China’s development ethos. The Chinese population continues to exhibit an imbalance in the number of males and females despite more liberated government policies in recent years in China in favor of moderate womens rights. The epidemic of female infanticide attests to the low value upon being female and demonstrates the necessity to implement policies that will serve to upgrade the status of daughters as equal to sons.


Collins, Steven. Selfless Persons: Imagery and Thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

Croll, Elisabeth. Chinese Women Since Mao. New York: M.E. Sharp, Inc., 1983.

Fitzsimmons, Barbara. Russia and China welcome Americans who aren t able to adopt U.S.-born children. The San Diego Union-Tribune 25 June 1995: A-1.

Florida, R. E. “Buddhism and the Four Principles”. In Principles of Health Care Ethics,ed. R. Gillon and A. Lloyd, Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 1994.

Fu, Charlene L.. Most of China s orphans doomed, right group says. The San Diego Union-Tribune 7 January 1996: A-1.

Goldstein, Sidney. Urbanization in China: new insights from the 1982 Census. Honolulu: East-West Population Institute, 1985.

Hanley, Susan B. and Wolf, Arthur P. Family and Population in East Asian History. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1985.

Kalupahana, David. Ethics in Early Buddhism. Honolulu:University of Hawaii Press,1995.

Ling, T. “Buddhist Factors in Population Growth and Control,” Population Studies 23:53-60. 1969

Ling,T. “Buddhist Values and Development Problems: A Case Study of Sri Lanka,” World Development 8:577-586. 1980

Miller, Matt. Harsh China Policy Works. The San Diego Union-Tribune: 29 August 1994: A-4

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