Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Time Marches On

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
(Bloomsbury), Pp. 343

Although George Saunders is considered a champion of the American short story, this is his first novel. It is daring in form and subject and it won the 2017 Booker Prize. The bardo of the title is a transitional realm in Tibetan tradition where spirits mingle. From here they will either ascend to Nirvana and escape human suffering, or fall back through a series of increasingly wild and scary hallucinations until they are born again into a new body. The Lincoln of the title is either President Abraham or his son, Willie, who died of typhoid fever in 1862. The boy is interred in a Georgetown cemetery and his distraught father visits the crypt alone several times to hold his son’s body. From these slim facts Saunders embroiders a story of fantastic hyperrealism dealing with grief and loss and moments of bawdy humour.

The graveyard is populated with characters from many different eras and circumstances with a strong sense of Rabelaisian machismo; like Dantesque damned souls the spirits manifest with hideous deformities that relate to their erstwhile lives. The spirits refuse to use the word ‘dead’ and believe they are merely unwell or in a sick-box (coffin), fiercely resisting the urge to move on.

Narrated through multiple voices, the novel offers differing opinions on the same thing. Some of the quotes are from characters in the bardo; others come from books and newspapers and we cannot believe any of the accounts, no matter how scholarly they appear with their references and footnotes. On the night of a party in which Lincoln’s son became feverish, none of the eyewitnesses can agree on the presence, size, shape or colour of the moon. Similarly the colour of Lincoln’s eyes varies according to each description. These differing viewpoints extend to his involvement in the war: is he “an idiot”, “weak and vain”, a “tyrant” with speeches that “have fallen like a wet blanket”? Or is he one of the greatest presidents the US has ever known? We see what we want to see, and memory is unreliable. Saunders suggests that history is constantly reinterpreted, and portents and patterns only appear retrospectively.

The voices become a cacophony, bickering like characters in a Beckett play and retelling old tales. Saunders had originally conceived these grave-bound scenes as a play and they remain entirely rendered in speech as the narration is handed from voice to voice. We are guided through this bardo by a Greek chorus with three main narrators: Hans Vollman, a man who was about to finally consummate his marriage when he was hit on the head and so has a large erection; Roger Bevins III, a man who slit his wrists over his homosexual lover and then realised he had made a mistake as he lay bleeding on the floor, and the Reverend Everly Thomas, a man who managed to get to the Final Judgement but was sent to Hell and so ran away back here as a sort of waiting room to try and work out what he done that was so bad.

The young are not meant to tarry here, and if they do they get subsumed by Gothic-style creepers that bind them. Our heroes try and persuade Lincoln to let his boy go so that he will not have to succumb to this fate. If the deceased has truly gone to a better place, why do we grieve? We grieve for ourselves; not for the departed, and the way we remember someone after their death is not necessarily the way they really were in life. We are all in a constant state of flux from dreams to wakefulness, from life to death, and perhaps beyond. Lincoln realises that nothing is permanent.

Before people leave the bardo they flicker through all their incarnations; the people they have been but also the possibilities they have not been – their future-forms they had never alas succeeded in attaining. Every time a person leaves, the same sentence is repeated like a stanza an epic poem: “Then came the familiar, yet always bone-chilling, firesound associated with the matterlightblooming phenomenon.” Many resist this phenomenon and cling to the earth, but they cannot leave the cemetery into which they are penned by a “dreaded iron fence” which recalls something out of The Walking Dead.

What is the future for these souls? Does a terrible judgement await us all? If there is Fate or Destiny, how is anything our own fault? There is no question of return, but there is a suggestion of progress. “Time runs only in one direction and we are borne along by it, influenced precisely as we are to do just the things that we do. And then are cruelly punished for it.” This bardo combines many belief systems into one peculiar magical realism, and in the middle of it all is an attempt to come to terms with death, grief and loss, and a man’s need to mourn his son.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Friday Five: Good Beer Week Learnings

When one goes to a week-long beer festival and drinks 178 'unique' beers, it may be difficult to keep track of things. So to prove that I did indeed learn some things, I am willing to share them with you:

5 Things I Learned at Good Beer Week:

Sour beer face (No, it isn't Him Outdoors)
  1. You can have too much sour. Not just in terms of the fact that mouth puckering isn't always fun, but some people also have internal reactions to the acids and yeasts involved. When you've got a hall-full of beer drinkers, these effects may not be particularly pleasant. Just saying. 
  2. I'm fed up with coffee in beer. I like coffee. And I like beer. But I like dark beer that doesn't taste of bitter grounds. There are many flavours I look for in dark beer including chocolate, spice, vanilla, smoke, nuts, toffee, caramel, liquorice, toast, raisins, molasses, and dark fruit (probably not all in the same beer). These days most of those flavours are overwhelmed by coffee, however, which has become pervasive. Wake up and smell the beer, people!
  3. Bourbon burns. Not always, as is proved by the utterly sensational Stockade Old Money Barrel Aged Bourbon Imperial Stout. This was the best bourbon-barrel-aged beer of show and is rich and big and boozy and beautiful with delicious chocolate notes. Many bourbon-barrel aged beers are just too harsh, however, and they burn.
  4. Lavender has no place in a beer. I understand that brewers want to try all sorts of ingredients in beer (I had a beer with snails in it and another including crickets) and many spices blend nicely. I've enjoyed beer with basil, chamomile, and one with Rogan Josh spices in it. But unless you want your beer to be reminiscent of granny's bathroom, may I suggest leaving out the lavender.
  5. Write it down: you WILL forget. Remembering what you thought of 178 beers is hard enough at the best of times. It's even harder when you've had 178 beers. If you care about recording thoughts and impressions for future reference, do it there and then, or you'll have no chance.
Not a mental image you want from a beer

Friday, 11 May 2018

Friday Five: Comedy Festival

About a month ago Canberra had a comedy festival. It's sort of a warm-up for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, which is bigger and has more acts. But I like this one as it is fairly low key and the laughs seem more heart felt.

5 Comedy Acts at the Festival:
  1. Oedipus Schmoedipus - Canberra Theatre Centre
  2. Although not strictly part of the Comedy Festival, I feel that Oedipus Schmoedipus belongs here. Written by post (Zoe Coombs Marr, Mish Grigor and Natalie Rose), the premise is to look at death on stage, and there has been an awful lot of it over the years. From the drama of the Greeks to the tragedies of the bard, people have been theatrically dispatched in a myriad of ways. Performers Mish Grigor and Shelly Lauman take us on a quick trip through death's door, and include 25 local volunteers (who have rehearsed for a few hours and are different for each performance) to portray the profound and sometimes ridiculous shufflings off this mortal coil. Most of these dramatic deaths have been written by men, but this female duo introduces the notion that men do not hold a monopoly on the moribund. 'The great whites' tell us that death is a lot of things (an island; nothing; an open door; an illusion; a lonely business; a friend; welcome), but who knew it was fun too?
  3. Rich Hall - The Street Theatre
  4. One of the funniest Americans around, he's as baffled by the antipodean tendency to go barefoot in public indoor spaces as I am. His drĂ´le delivery lampoons everything and everyone, including himself. Witty without being acerbic, he seems to find the world a laughable place, which is comforting in the face in current global politics. He does riff on the US Healthcare system and gun laws, but he also talks about long-term relationships and new babies. With his hat and guitar he resembles the poetic side of Bob Dylan, but he doesn't take himself nearly as seriously. Rich Hall's improvised songs based on audience conversations are less about the great social inequalities and injustices of life and more about picking up girls or stepping on pieces of Lego.
  5. Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet - The Street Theatre
  6. Imagine a Shakespeare play (in this instance Romeo and Juliet) acted with sharp wit and deep understanding of the text. Then imagine one of the actors is inebriated. Yes, they will forget their lines; yes, they will skip ahead and back in the script leaving the other actors bewildered and desperately trying to catch up and/or fill in the blanks; yes, they will change the plot lines entirely with a complete disregard for the character arcs and structure; and yes they will milk certain parts and reduce others to mere footnotes. If they are as entertaining and inspired as this lot, however, the improvisation will be excellent. It's basically the difference between knowing they're shit, and knowing their shit. Clever and funny i'faith; verily 'twas most amusing. ,
  7. Stephen K Amos, Bread and Circuses - Canberra Theatre Centre
  8. Stephen K Amos is a wise and funny man. Whether he is launching into established routines or trying out new material to see how it is received, he is always alert to the nuances of the audience. Of course we all see the world as it filtered through our own perspective of privilege or diversity. While he is keenly aware of racist and homophobic bias, he occasionally strayed into stereotypical casual sexism territory, which was a little disappointing. He recovers well because he is confident and charming and knows how to command the stage, but he did appear a little tired, as if this isn't his best work and he knows it.
  9. Ross Noble, El Hablador - Canberra Theatre Centre
  10. What an incredible mind this man has: bewildering; bonkers and brilliant. I could listen to him all night, which is fortunate, because he artfully rambles his way through a couple of hours of stand-up. Tangents are Ross Noble's friend, but although he appears shambolic in his breakneck delivery and chaotic appearance, he is anything but. Every loose end becomes a loop as he returns to the subject with peripatetic aplomb. It's always hard to know whether the the ad-libs really are off-the-cuff, but they are certainly head and shoulders above most comedy. What the name of the tour and the Mexican Day of the Dead inspired inflatable set has to do with the material itself, I couldn't tell you, but I was laughing too much to care - and isn't that the point of comedy?

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Enough to bruise a heart

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates

(Vintage) Pp. 226

Along with Revolutionary Road, this compact and expressive work is considered to be one of Richard Yates’ finest novels. His vision of all-American self-loathing and entrapment is bleak and painful to read, while his characters are well drawn with sharp outlines. The opening line sets the tone: “Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce.” From there it is all steadily downhill and increasingly out of control.

The two sisters are Sarah and Emily: “Sarah was the dark one, with a look of trusting innocence that would never leave her; Emily, a head shorter, was blond and thin and very serious.” The novel is comprised of short descriptions without excessive detail; Yates tells stories and expresses thought and emotions succinctly. Over a span of forty years the girls grow up: their father leaves; they get careers and relationships and marriage and children; their mother, Pookie, goes into a home; and they try and live a life and be happy, but they aren’t.

Sarah marries an abusive man and succumbs to suburban depression; Emily has a succession of men; Pookie constantly tries to make up for being left by a man: they are all dominated by the need for male approval and validation, which chimes discordantly in this era. They seem to only validate their existence through male eyes. When Emily questions her older sister as to why she stays with a man who beats her, Sarah answers, “It’s a marriage. If you want to stay married, you learn to put up with things.” Emily suspects there may be alternatives and goes to college to major in English.

She moves to the city and takes on a series of not-very-important jobs in advertising, losing herself in unfulfilling relationships and drink. She begins to feel disillusioned as she ages. What options were there for women? Emily tells Sarah she could leave her husband and do something else, but what? “The only thing she could picture was Sarah working as a receptionist in some doctor’s or dentist’s office. (Where did all those pleasant, inefficient middle-aged ladies come from, and how had they gotten their jobs?)”

The relationships are all full of anger and spite, and the writing reflects this nasty misogyny. Emily’s husband, Andrew, tells her in intimate detail how much he hates her body (when they have been married for less than a year) in a degrading and objectifying manner, with no consideration of her mind. “I hate your sensitive little tits. I hate your ass and your hips, the way they move and turn; I hate your thighs, the way they open up. I hate your waist and your belly and your great hairy mound and your clitoris and your whole slippery cunt.”

These women are constantly trying to numb themselves from the sharp edges of the world in which they live. They turn inward, but they don’t like what they see there either, in what is a novel of profound sadness where the omnipresence of alcohol and ill health (both mental and physical) are reminiscent of Eugene O’Neill.

When the girls are young, Sarah dresses up to participate in the Easter Parade with her beau, and they are photographed in an image which will cause Emily lasting jealousy of their frozen-in-time happiness. But, whereas Easter usually signals new beginnings and hope, this is Richard Yates, so there is only stagnation and despair. This book may be small, but it is powerful, and the punch it packs is enough to bruise a heart.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Short and Sweet 2018: Week Two

Short + Sweet Theatre Canberra 2018 (Week Two)The Courtyard Studio, 24 - 27 April 2018

The premise of Short and Sweet is simple. It features a series of plays that are ten minutes long. If the play overruns the ten minutes, the lights are turned off. There is one venue and no set. Whatever props and furnishings are used need to be carried on and off by the actors. This time was slightly different with a number of items such as chairs, tables and a coat rack hanging from hooks at the back of the stage to be used when required.

There is one lightning and sound operator - sound files and lighting cues must be given to this person by the director a week before the show so that they can all be placed on one file. The sound system and lighting rig are rudimental - no intelligent lighting systems or layered soundscapes are available. It is bare bones theatre, which can be good, or it can be bad.

Every level is a competition. The writers submit their plays and they are selected to be performed. The directors have access to scripts and they apply to direct what is available. Actors turn up for a group audition in front of all the directors and present a short pre-learned monologue. The directors will then decide whether they can use this person in their piece. Or not. There can be a bit of a bun fight. It can also be a great way of learning new skills and working to time-constraints with previously unknown practitioners in a way that is supremely challenging but hopefully rewarding.

The way around this is to set up as an Independent Theatre Company and then you can write your own play, direct it yourself and fill it with actors you've already asked to be in it, having rehearsed it as much or as little as you like. For all of the above reasons, these pieces are frequently the best or the worst of the whole show.

At each performance there are judges, who know about the art of theatre and performance and bring their knowledge and experience to the process in selecting the three best pays in their opinion, and there is a people's favourite voted for by the audience, who get to select two plays: these are often but not always the same thing. The people tend to like to laugh: they vote for comedy; they vote for topical and local geographical references; they vote for plays with multiple characters; and they vote for their mates.

The performances for week two are varied in content and execution - one of the hardest things about judging is knowing what exactly one is judging: is it the writing; the acting; the direction or the whole thing - the elements rarely combine in equal measure.

One of the best-written pieces is Curtain Call by Cara Irvine about the tricky process of ending a play with a bow: who stands where; do you hold hands; how do you indicate to the backstage crew without smacking each other in the face; what do you do if they're still clapping? 'They won't be'. The writing combines comedy and the art of performance, appealing to all stage practitioners - and, let's face it; they're the ones who are in this audience. Irvine also directs it but the presentation of the dialogue is not quick-fire enough to truly hit the mark.

Adele Lewin gives a strong performance in Half a Mind (written and directed by Evan Croker) as an elderly woman whose dementia gives her chronic mood swings. She bullies her adult son (played with a fine level of sufferance by Stephen Walker), and forgets her own name and that of her children although she remembers all the parts she has played on stage, particularly Blanche DuBois - this is an actor's dream role even if the writing is a little unrealistic and over-theatrical.

Simon Doctor and Sarah Greenwood in The Jump
Of course, it's hard to come up with new ideas and often the plots can feel familiar. The person who is about to kill himself until he realises there is a contract out on him (The Jump written by Paulene Turner) seems derivative. Similarly Procrastination by Allen West deals with a writer trying to find actions for his characters on a path that feels well-trodden, and Wannabe written and directed by Laura Griffin tells a fairly well-recognised tale of the reaction of two female friends who discover they are dating the same man. Although the actors involved (Hannah Bennett, Emil Tow and Charlie Wan) all play it with a fresh enthusiasm, there is nothing novel for someone who remembers the eponymous song without any sense of irony.

Dec Hastings, Yarno Rohling and Stephanie Wilson in Procrasrination
Writing a ten-minute play is very tricky: there needs to be dramatic action, engaging dialogue, and plausible characters. The Choir Needs to Get Rid of Trevor (written by John Lombard and directed by Vee Malnar) is nicely acted by Helen Way, Mark Smith and Ryan Pope with some amusing dialogue as the choir committee work out who is going to tell Trevor that he is tone-deaf and doesn't belong here. Knowing how incisive Lombard's work can be, however, the denouement feels a little tame. Madeline Woods displays a comic incredulity when she discovers she has been kidnapped by mistake in Keeping Annabelle (written by Rachel Welch and directed by Melinda May) but this feels like the beginning of a play rather than a whole, and it is intriguing to imagine whether Daniel Berthon will develop more nuance as the amateur abductor.

Madeline Woods and Daniel Berthon in Keeping Annabelle
Helen Way and Christopher Ritchie in Maxwell's House
Maxwell's House written by Arne Sjostedt has some charming acting by Helen Way and Christopher Ritchie, and Cara Irvine does her best to direct a somewhat clunky script about a couple of strangers with a coffee obsession - so very Canberra to have a passion for the bean but nothing new to say about it. Director Amanda Gillespie also tries to wrangle some nuance out of the very one-note The Wedding Night Tweets (written by Daniel Guyton), in which the newlywed bride (Katherine Berry) commits every action and inaction of the groom (Jayme Makus) to social media scrutiny in the hope of a book deal. Writer Frank Legget tries to throw in a few twists to his Late Night Pizza (directed by Paul Jackson) but, although played with commitment by Ash Hamilton and Katherine Berry, they feel a touch too convenient to be shocking.

Katherine Berry and Ash Hamilton in Late Night Pizza
One of the best blends of all the elements is Cara Irvine and Martha Russell's Miss, which Irvine also directs. Presenting both viewpoints of the teacher and pupil trying to get through the workload while feeling misunderstood is thoroughly engaging. While Miss (also Irvine) desperately attempts to encourage her recalcitrant pupil to think for herself, other class members literally clown around, playing guitar, juggling and performing acrobatics which match the convoluted contortions that can underpin the modern education system. The exploration of the abstract highlights both the humour and heart in this brave and sensitive work.

The cast of Miss
This is a great night out at the theatre demonstrating multiple talents and providing a fantastic platform on which emerging artists can perform.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Defining Details: Art in the Gardens with Friends

Telopea specioissima by Margaret Steele
Botanical art fascinates me; there is such a high level of detail and the lack of background showcases the specimen in an exemplary manner. The Friends' Botanic Art Groups were holding their 11th Annual Exhibition at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, so I went along to admire their work.

One of the curators explained to me that the Botanic Art Group consists of three groups each of which get together once a month at the gardens to sketch and paint. They are provided with specimens they wouldn't otherwise have access to and they do their initial work here, then augment it later at their leisure. Botanical art requires close attention to detail and each work can often take many weeks to complete.

Of course, there is a form and structure to botanical illustration which pleases me. The images depict the form, colour, and details of plant species and must be scientifically accurate, so the artists must understand plant morphology, but they often also have an artistic component. This marriage of art and science appeals to me, as well as the ability to discover the elements of creativity within a prescriptive framework.

Each BAG member is entitled to submit one work that is an artist’s choice but all other works have to be vetted by a team of judges comprised of botanists from the ANBG and botanical artists to ensure a high standard. Just having work accepted for exhibition is an honour. A commission from the sale of each painting goes to the Friends to support the ANBG, and the annual event has been increasingly successful in raising funds.

The artworks generally vary in price from $150 - $500, although there was an $800 price-tag on Magdalena Dickinson's watercolour Eucalyptus macrocarpa. It is a beautiful large picture with a soft wash rendering the budding flowers a sensual appeal - lush and rich; succulent and bold, they appear almost edible like a ripe juicy fruit. I didn't buy any artwork, but I did purchase a couple of raffle tickets, first prize in which is one of the pictures, so I may yet have something beautiful to hang on my wall (fingers crossed).

Callistemon sieberi by Kristen O'Keeffe
I like the inclusion of aspects that help to inform the narrative, such as a bird or beetles to indicate size and the plant's position in the ecosystem, such as the above image by Kristen O'Keeffe. On her website (which features examples of her work and a blog), she explains that she loves the process of collecting specimens and working up compositions. She continues, "I find the medium of watercolour technically challenging but extremely enjoyable. In the future I would like to explore a more scientific approach in keeping with the traditions of botanical art where all aspects of a specimen are described to form part of a scientific record."

This particular exhibition was made all the more pertinent due to its focus on works featuring threatened and endangered species, many of which are in the Gardens. These fine representations are more than just works of art; if the species should be lost, the pictures will provide a scientific record. This seems to mirror the original use of botanical illustration to register 'new discoveries' as scientists and botanists explored the globe and presented their findings to their financiers.

The artists use a range of materials and methods including watercolours, coloured pencils and graphite, pen and ink, and scrapeboard. Their subjects feature banksia and eucalyptus; tamarind; orchids; waratah; pine nuts; karrajong seed pods. Marjorie Roche's Ephemera is crafted from graphite on pulped paper: the greys, browns and golds showcase the fleeting existence of leaves and seed pods. Meanwhile the entire development of the plant is recognised in Sue Grieves's watercolour, Eucalyptus youngiana. The colours of rich and vivid red to dark green depict the pods at multiple stages including closed, open, dead and empty.

One might have thought that development of photographic plates could make botanical illustration obsolete, but this has not been the case. A botanical illustrator is able to create a compromise of accuracy, an idealized image from several specimens, and the inclusion of the face and reverse of the features such as leaves. Additionally, details of sections can be given at a magnified scale and included in the margins around the image. For example, there are a couple of brown seed pods in the lower left quadrant of Maria Boreham's watercolour, Grevillea fleuosa which otherwise depicts the leaves and flowers in many shades of green. Also, Joan Pukis faithfully records the curved droopy leaves and little gum nuts, some with minor blemishes in greens and browns in her watercolour, Eucalyptus canalicilata while the pencil shadows are like ghost leaves in the background.
Brachychiton sp. Ormeau by Eva Henry
There are some of the more 'showy' specimens on display, such as Jann Ollerenshaw's Caladenia actensis/ Canberra Spider Orchid (a watercolour of the critically-endangered plant rendered very simply with exquisitely fine hatching detail in the fringes) or Vivien Pinder's collection of Sun Orchids (individual circles encompassing the flowers of different colours: gold; purple; pink; mauve and yellow; cream and splattered with russet). I admire them all - I have no artistic talent in this department and shall stick to the Performance Arts while appreciating the Visual Arts from a distance. 

Most of these artists are female and I find it interesting that the art of painting flowers has passed from the predominately female highly-skilled practitioners of still-life paintings during the Renaissance (when women were generally excluded from painting grander subjects such as histories and allegories due to their gender) to the mainly male scientists of the eighteenth-century explorations, and back to the ladies of the Victorian era with their watercolour flower paintings. Confined by social restrictions to the seclusion of their home (and certainly not permitted to study the human figure in a life class), subjects such as still life and flowers were considered particularly suited to women. 

Interest in botanical art is undergoing a resurgence as people like to connect with the natural world, and feel they are documenting plant life not only for art, but also for science and environmental research. Researching and recording that which we have before we lose it is of crucial importance to science and society alike. Painting plants has once again become political. And viewing the exhibition inspired me to look at the plants in a new light when I walked around the gardens taking photographs.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

How Many is Enough?

One Child: Life, Love and Parenthood in Modern China by Mei Fong 
(Oneworld Publications), Pp. 236

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mei Fong has spent eight years documenting the effects of the one-child policy across Chinese society. In this critically acclaimed account, she weaves together personal stories and social politics to produce an evocative investigation into how the policy has changed China and why the repercussions will be felt across the world for decades to come.

The one-child policy was introduced in 1979; it was ‘relaxed’ in 2013 and phased out in 2016. Mei Fong argues that it was flawed from the initial concept when it was introduced as a form of population control, and that population growth would have decreased naturally without the need for such draconian measures. Even since the abandonment of the one-child policy, the birth rate in China is not increasing. Polls reveal that although couples would like to have two children, many say “it’s unaffordable, too stressful, and will impinge on their personal goals too much…by having one child, they can better concentrate their resources and have a more successful child.”

As it was, the policy led to many unforeseen issues, including the number of enforced abortions and sterilisations. “In one year alone, 1983, China sterilised over 20 million people, more than the combined population of the three largest US cities, New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.”

During the system of the one-child policy, the law was relaxed to allow people to pay to have a second child. Naturally this benefitted the rich (and arguably led to a more affluent, urban and spoiled population) while providing a source of income for poorer counties where families were charged heavy compensation fees (shehui fuyangfei) for having more than one child. As these fines were the only income that did not have to be handed over to the central government/ national treasury ‘for redistribution’ they were rigidly enforced.

In a society which is geared towards marriage and family, this policy has long-reaching effects on cultural attitudes, such as the creation of the Little Emperor phenomenon, and the shocking treatment of elders. The author uncovered many harrowing instances of elder abuse as the spoiled single offspring no longer see the necessity of caring for their parent. “The one-child policy significantly reduced the number of care-givers for China’s elderly, not just in quantity alone, but also in quality. There are fewer women in China now – and by extension, fewer daughters-in-law, and they’re the ones who really take care of the elderly.”

There are terrible stories of geriatrics being put in pigpens by their children or shunted off to unsanitary nursing homes where they wait to die. If this trend continues there will be insufficient young people to care for the current population. According to academic predictions, “Somewhere in the decade between 2020 and 2030 China’s absolute population will hit is peak and start to decline. By 2100, China’s population could have declined back to 1950 levels of about 500 million.”

Perhaps to Western sensibilities, one of the more obvious side effects is the treatment of women. “With the current gender imbalance, women are certainly more valuable, but not necessarily more valued. In addition to a rising anti-feminist backlash, the female shortage has resulted in increasing commodification of women. Prostitution and sex-trafficking in China have been on the rise for the past decade.” Many women in neighbouring countries, such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and North Korea, are forced or tricked into being sold as wives for Chinese men.

In the last two decades 120,000 children from China have been adopted internationally. Naturally this has “significantly shaped global attitudes toward race, family, and the ethics of intercountry adoption” but is it all ethical? Mei Fong asks, “Is the wave of Chinese adoptions, as many believe, an altruistic act that rescues hundreds of unwanted, mostly female children from a life of penury and institutionalization – or is it really baby buying on an international scale, sanctioned and even facilitated by the Chinese government?” She discovers multiple incidents of babies being stolen and sold to orphanages.

Ethical questions also arise regarding fertility and consequent eugenics. With the ability to have only one child, many people are using reproductive technologies to have the kind of children they want “This usually means choosing the sex and the number – twins are favoured – and screening out genetic diseases. In cases where an egg donor is desired – and where genetic material is passed on – Chinese parents are also trying to select traits like intelligence, height, looks, blood type, even double eyelids.”

Mei Fong argues that the one-child policy was unnecessary and cruel violating a number of human rights and leading to infinitely more problems than it solved. This is a fairly bleak outlook on the future of China due to a devastating policy that will have far-reaching and unplanned consequences.