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When a Canadian Swimmer Lit Up Chinese Social Media

Yesterday on ZGBriefs, Joann Pittman featured an article about Canadian swimmer Margaret MacNeil winning gold in the women’s 100-meter butterfly in Tokyo. Finishing just .05 seconds behind her was Zhang Yufei of China.

McNeil’s win lit up social media in China, not because she defeated Zhang Yufei but because she was born in China and is ethnically Chinese. She is one of thousands of Chinese girls who were adopted as infants or young children in part because of the stringent one-child policy that went into effect in 1979. The policy was loosened to a two-child policy in 2016 and revised again to allow for three children per family earlier this year.

The article went on to say:

On Chinese social media, many suspected she [MacNeil] had been abandoned by her biological parents, a once-common practice under China’s now-scrapped one-child policy.

The stringent policy, in place until 2016, led to female infants being aborted, abandoned and even killed due to a traditional preference for sons among many Chinese families. That has left the country with a deeply skewed sex ratio at birth, and a surplus of more than 30 million men.

Concerned about plunging birth rates, the Chinese government allowed all couples to have two children in 2016. This year, it further relaxed the policy to allow three children.

But for many Chinese internet users, especially women, MacNeil’s victory has served as a vivid reminder of the pernicious legacy of the decades-long policy, and still widespread gender inequality.

According to the US government, more than 84% of the over 82,000 children Americans adopted from China between 1999 and 2019 are girls.

While some online articles and posts have portrayed MacNeil’s Chinese lineage as a case of national pride for China, many were quick to point out that the country should instead draw reflections.

“We lost such a talent owing to the preference of boys to girls, how do you still have the nerve to mention (her Chinese origins),” a comment said.

Others lamented the discrimination against girls in their upbringing, especially in rural China.

“She might not be a talent had she been raised in China. Instead, she might have dropped out of school early to work in the factories,” said another comment.

One viral Weibo post, which said, “Canada has stumbled upon a precious gem” and called for people to help MacNeil search for her birth parents, was met with strong criticism.

“It’s the Canadians who have nurtured her into a precious gem,” said the top comment underneath the post.

Over the years we have featured a variety of one-child-policy and adoption-related pieces on the ChinaSource Blog and thought this would be a good time to revisit some of them. Here are links to some that may interest you:

As Margaret MacNeil’s victory is celebrated, let’s remember those who have been impacted by the various versions of China’s one-child policy.

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Narci Herr

Narci Herr

Narci Herr and her husband, Glenn, lived for just over 30 years in Hong Kong. They were first involved in working with the church in Hong Kong and then for the last 20 years of their time in Asia they served workers living in China. During that time Glenn traveled extensively throughout China and Narci …View Full Bio

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