Face-Washing or Whitewashed Tombs?

The Chinese government appears to be getting a little more politically correct in the enforcement of one of its most notorious policies—the one-child policy. According to the Shanghai Daily, the National Population and Family Planning Commission has initiated a new program called the “Face-Washing Project.” In an attempt to enforce this policy, apparently some local officials have threatened violators with forced sterilization, arrest, and even death.

The newspaper reports:

Some local officials in rural areas have come up with nasty slogans to intimidate couples planning to have more than one child. Simply reading some of them can send chills down one’s spine.

Some examples: “If you don’t receive the tubal ligation surgery by the deadline, your house will be demolished!” “We would rather scrape your womb than allow you to have a second child!” “Kill all your family members if you don’t follow the rule!”

“Once you get captured, an immediate tubal ligation will be done; Should you escape, we’ll hunt you down; If you attempt a suicide, we’ll offer you either the rope or a bottle of poison.”

Instead of using such intimidating slogans, the face-washing project wants to substitute “milder expressions in an effort to ‘avoid offending the public and stoking social tensions.’”

Population control has been a concern in China for quite some time. With the world’s largest population in excess of 1.3 billion people, the Chinese government has employed a number of measures in their attempt to curb population growth. The one-child policy was implemented in the 1970’s and restricts families in urban areas to one child. Violators face steep fines and even forced sterilization.

Rather than using threats of violence, the new government mandate wants to focus on China’s population problems. Forty years of the one-child policy has created gender imbalance in the nation. Li Bin, director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, stated that there were 118 boys born in 2010 for every 100 girls. As a result of gender imbalance, it is estimated that 30–40 million men will have difficulty finding a wife by 2020.

In addition, the population of China is aging. “Currently, 13.26 percent of China’s population is aged 60 or above. The percentage is expected to hit one-third, or 440 million people, by 2050, according to Li.” With only one child for every two adults, care for the elderly will become a major burden for the Chinese government.

In light of these problems, China is not backing down from its policy. Population control is still a major issue. The Chinese government is simply trying to put a new face on its policy.

This face-washing project reminds me of a condemnation Jesus made against the Pharisees. In Matthew 23:27–28, Jesus proclaimed:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

The problem is that the government is putting a coat of whitewash on a tomb. The unspoken problem with China’s policy is the proliferation of abortion, especially of little girls. If the people are only allowed one child, they want a son who will take care of them and carry their family name. The new slogans may present a nicer face, but the policy is still full of dead men’s bones, literally.

Before we condemn China for a policy that leads to sex-selective abortions, we need to recognize that only now is there legislation in the House Judiciary Committee to prevent sex-selective abortions in the US. The Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act is working its way through the House of Representatives, but not without opposition. While there may not be a policy in the United States that limits families to one child, there is a sense among many Americans that having more than one or two children leads to imminent financial disaster. Therefore, we are beginning to see such sex-selective abortions in our own country as well.

May we heed the words of Jesus and recognize the underlying sin in our own lives and in our nation rather than simply applying a coat of whitewash.


Li Qian, “Gentler reminders to replace ugliness,” Shanghai Daily, February 25, 2012.

Mark Norton, “House panel OKs ban on sex-based abortions,” Baptist Press, February 27, 2012.