“Better ten graves than one extra birth,” preaches a slogan of the one-child campaign in China. And this is also the title of the book in which Harry Wu has described and analyzed the Chinese anti-childbearing policy, made up of sterilization, forced abortion, infanticide.
The book was released in the United States, where Wu lives – in exile from China – and heads the Laogai Research Foundation. And now it has also been released in Italy, just as the parliament approved, on July 15, a motion that requires the Italian government to present to the general assembly of the United Nations a resolution against abortion as a means of population control, and for the affirmation of the right of every woman not to be forced to abort.
In China, the obligatory one-child policy was introduced in 1979. Wu’s assessment of these thirty years is expressed well in the title of his book in its Italian version: “Slaughter of innocents.”
The book has been highlighted in Italy mainly by two newspapers: “Avvenire,” owned by the episcopal conference, and “Il Foglio,” directed by Giuliano Ferrara, a non-Catholic intellectual deeply involved in the defense of unborn life and in promoting an international moratorium on abortion.
The following article appeared in “Il Foglio” on July 29, 2009. The author takes his cue from Wu’s book. But he goes farther. He shows that the slaughter of the unborn and of infants is not the sole prerogative of China over the past few decades, but has accompanied many civilizations over the span of millennia. Pagan ancient Rome had it. The China of past centuries had it. Today’s India has it. The missionary expansion of Christianity has often found it it on its path.
Not only that. Abortion and infanticide are also regaining ground in the West today. They are common currency in the “new world” promoted by bioethicists like Peter Singer. They emerge in laws like the one providing for the euthanasia of children up to the age of twelve, in Holland.
The successes and failures of the expansion of Christianity are often mirrored precisely by the practice of this slaughter.
– Sandro Magister
Moratorium against the new pagans
by Francesco Agnoli
Harry Wu’s book “Better Ten Graves than One Extra Birth”- in Italy entitled “Slaughter of innocents. The one child policy in China” – demonstrates how today, in the twenty-first century, thousands and thousands of children in that country are killed in their mother’s wombs, at any stage of gestation, or are drowned, strangled, left to die in the cold once they are born. Similar things also happen in India.
So then, anyone who loves history knows that what is happening today in these two huge countries, which together constitute almost one third of the world population, has always happened in the past, including in old Europe or in the New World. Up until the coming of Christianity.
One of the ideas that recur most in the writings of the first Christians is in fact their desire to frequently repeat one concept: we Christians are different from the pagans, in part because we do not kill our children, neither within our women’s wombs or outside of them.
In chapter XXX, paragraph 2 of his “Octavius,” the second-century apologist Minucius Felix, comparing the teaching of Christ with that of the pagans, writes: “you expose your newborn children to wild beasts and to birds; or strangling them you crush with a miserable kind of death. There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, smother in their very bowels the seed destined to become a human creature, and thus commit a parricide before they bring forth. And you learn these things from your gods, for Saturn did not simply expose his children, but even devoured them.”
For his part, the great Tertullian, in his “Apologeticum,” chapter IX, states: “For us Christians murder is expressly forbidden, and therefore it is not even permitted for us to destroy the fetus in its mother’s womb. Preventing birth is murder in advance. It doesn’t matter at all whether one destroys a life already born or crushes it at birth: what is about to be born is already a human being. Every fruit is already contained in its seed.”
Another very important document from second-century Christianity, written in Asia Minor, the Letter to Diognetus, reiterates the same ideals in this rather concise manner: “Christians marry like everyone else and produce children, but they do not throw away their newborns.”
On this same theme of infanticide, the historian A. Baudrillart has written: “There may be no matter on which ancient pagan society and modern Christian society are in more stark opposition than in their respective ways of thinking about children.”
In effect, if we look at the ancient world, we note that abortion and infanticide are fairly widespread. “Seneca,” recalls the American sociologist Rodney Stark in ‘The Rise of Christianity, “regarded the drowning of children at birth as both reasonable and commonplace. Tacitus charged that the Jewish teaching that it is ‘a deadly sin to kill an ‘unwanted child’ was but another of their ‘sinister and revolting’ practices. It was common to expose an unwanted infant out-of-doors where it could, in principle, be taken up by someone who wished to rear it, but where it typically fell victim to the elements or to animals and birds.”
So in Rome just as in Greece, children were casually killed, or sold, or exposed and left to die of hunger and cold when there was no one to rescue them, usually in order to make them slaves. We know of the discovery, in the Roman sewers, of piles of bones from infant children who were abandoned and then thrown away like trash or garbage.
The victims of infanticide were usually girls, as in China and India today, while abortion, in addition to killing the fetus, often killed the mother as well, or left her sterile.
The first Christians’ refusal to resort to abortion and infanticide, which was connected to a high rate of fertility among them, was not only a great victory of humanity, but also one of the elements that, together with conversions, allowed the first Christians to expand more and more, to the point of surpassing the pagans in numbers.
But infanticide was not practiced only in Rome, as demonstrated in part by the legend of Romulus and Remus, or in Greece, but in the entire ancient world.
The famous bioethicist and animal rights supporter Peter Singer forcefully upholds the idea that this ancient practice should be rediscovered today, together with legal abortion. In fact, if it is true that only Christians forcefully rejected it – Singer argues – why should we believe that they alone were right, while all the other peoples and religions of the past were wrong?
“Killing unwanted infants or allowing them to die has been a normal practice in most societies throughout human history and prehistory. We find it, for example, in ancient Greece, where disabled infants were exposed on the mountainside. We find it in nomadic tribes like the Kung of the Kalahari Desert, whose women will kill a baby born while an older child is still too young to walk. Infanticide was also common on Polynesian islands like Tikopia, where food supplies and population were kept in balance by smothering unwanted newborn infants. In Japan before westernisation, ‘mabiki’ – a word that has its origins in the thinning of rice seedlings so that there is room for each plant to flourish, but which came to be applied to infanticide too – was very widely practiced, not only by peasants with limited amounts of land, but also by those who were quite well off.”
With the spread of Christianity over much of the world, abortion and infanticide became much more rare and isolated phenomena, while legislation, beginning with Constantine, intervened in defense of infants, and works of charity and assistance were developed for abandoned children and for families in difficulty. Up until the return of abortion in communist and Nazi legislation in the twentieth century, and of infanticide with the new law on euthanasia for children up to the age of twelve, in Holland.
If we turn our minds now to the two huge countries in which abortion, even forced abortion, and infanticide are mass phenomena, it is easy, after this brief excursus, to understand the reason for all this: China and India are among the countries least penetrated by the Gospel of Christ, and Western culture with it, which intentionally or not is a bearer of this message, or at least of part of it.
When the first Jesuit missionaries reached China, they were rather impressed by this great civilization. But what made the biggest negative impression on the great Matteo Ricci, when he set foot in the Celestial Empire in 1583, was the widespread prostitution, the rampant corruption, the frenzy for money, and above all, the extent of the practice of infanticide. The communist regime, which is capable of planning millions of forced abortions, mass sterilizations, mass killing of infants, still has a long way to come, but respect for children, in that country which is admirable in other ways, is entirely missing.
As J. J. Matignon would write at the beginning of the twentieth century in “Superstition, crime e misère en Chine,” the Chinese often sell their daughters as prostitutes, or kill them, because of poverty but also because of their magical superstitions, their obsessive ancestor worship: “As it always has in China, superstition plays a key role: in fact, the eyes, nose, tongue, mouth, brain of children are believed to be organic materials endowed with great therapeutic power. It can happen that after giving birth the mother falls ill, and then, in order to appease the spirits, the girls or in certain cases the boys are destroyed. There are women who have the specific task of bringing about the death of newborn girls . . . The newborns are destroyed by tossing them into a corner of the house or a garbage bin, where the dust and filth will not take long to block the child’s respiratory tract.” Other times the children are drowned or smothered with pillows, although the influence of the Europeans, Matignon concludes, seems to have a certain limiting effect on these customs.
During Matignon’s own time, two missionaries were saying the same things about China. The first was a Jesuit, Saint Alberto Crescitelli, who was later decapitated and disemboweled at the age of 37, on July 21, 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion. The second was a Divine Word missionary from Val Badia, in Trentino Alto Adige, Saint Giovanni Freinademetz. Having arrived in the country that he would love his entire life, to the point of dying of typhus there, he wrote to his loved ones, on more than one occasion, that the Chinese have “the custom of exposing their own children, or simply exchanging or selling them . . . One of our best Christians, before his conversion, had killed his daughter by throwing her against the rocks, simply because she was crying too much” (Sepp Hollweck, “Il cinese dal Tirolo”, Athesia, 2003).
In another letter, written from Hong Kong on April 28, 1879, Freinademetz recounts how the Catholic nuns had built two orphanages, where they received more than a thousand children per year. The Chinese “give them away for nothing or for a few pennies, and don’t give it another thought.”
So the missionaries – he wrote from Puoli on July 2, 1882 – went through the streets looking for them, baptizing thousands of them at the point of death, and saving the ones they could: “Many souls have already been saved since we arrived here, many children of pagans who died after being baptized, and again yesterday we had the solemn burial of a little girl of just over a year old, who had died. Her mother had wanted to strangle her in order to be able to breastfeed another woman’s child for money, she then heard that we accept all sorts of children, and we raise them well; so she brought her to us more than two months later. The girl became ill, and died after being confirmed by us half an hour before her death. We wanted to bury her with great ceremony in order to demonstrate to the pagans how we honor their own children whom they throw away. The pagans here do not use coffins for little children, but as soon as they are dead they dig a hole and throw them in. We made the girl a beautiful little casket painted red, we dressed her in a beautiful blue dress and brought her to the church, all of us missionaries accompanied by the Christians, who had never seen anything like it. Many pagans came to see . . .” (G. Freinademetz, “Lettere di un santo,” Imprexa).
As in China, where today infanticide is nothing less than state business, a similar situation is found in India. In the huge country dominated by the Hindu religion as well, killing, especially of girls, is very widespread, for economic and other reasons. The missionary agency “Asia News” recently reported this story: “Among tribal populations female children are regarded as a burden and social attitudes permit both foeticide and infanticide. In 2006 eleven newborn girl babies were starved to death by their parents in a tribal hamlet of Ranga Reddy district, 80 km from Hyderabad. It is a long-standing practice to wrap the unwanted girl child in a cloth and leave them to die. According to local press reports Jarpula Peerya Nayak, a 27 year old father said ‘My wife gave birth to a female baby for the third time, a daughter is a burden and we decided not to feed her. So she died. It is very difficult to bring up girls and marry them off’. On February 25, his cousin J. Ravi and wife Sujatha let their newborn baby starve to death. ‘My daughter died two days after birth since we did not feed her,’ admitted Ravi. ‘We already have two girl children and can’t afford to have one more.’ A tribal leader outlines the dowry he is expected to give for his daughter in marriage ‘a scooter, five to six tolas of gold and Rs 50,000 cash to a good groom.’ After starving and killing the girl children, the tribals dig a grave in their fields and bury them. Then they put a stone on the grave. Villagers said that dogs had eaten parts of the body of Ravi’s daughter and he had to bury her again. Most of the 40-odd families in the village have either witnessed such killings or have performed it themselves over the years. Jarpula Lokya Nayak has starved to death two daughters.”
In India as well, the efforts of the missionaries and of the Christian minorities is aimed, in addition to the attempt to break down the boundaries of caste and of social inequalities, to the defense of unborn life and of childhood, in the name of the God who became a child. Just one example is enough: that of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Everyone knows that the mission of this woman was that of helping the poor of India, the marginalized, the weak, the least. Among these, Mother Teresa never forgot to mention the children in their mother’s womb, whom she called “the poorest of the poor.” In the book “Dateli a me. Madre Teresa e l’impegno per la vita”, Pier Giorgio Liverani presents the thought of this holy woman, expressed in a thousand circumstances and with great power, as in these words of hers: “Abortion is the greatest destroyer of peace today. Because if a mother can kill her own child – what is left for me to kill you and you kill me – there is nothing between. This is what I ask in India, and everywhere: What have we done for the child? We are fighting abortion by adoption, we have saved thousands of lives, we have sent words to all the clinics, to the hospitals, police stations – please don’t destroy the child, we will take the child.”
The fight on behalf of children, against abortion and infanticide, has been conducted by Mother Teresa and her sisters, sometimes to the point of martyrdom, with great force, clashing with a culture unaware of the sacredness of life from its beginning. For the Hindus, for example, the children who are abandoned or rejected by their parents, if they survive, are and remain pariahs, outcastes making up for previous sins. Women in general, and girls even more so, are expensive because of their dowries, and are considered inferior to males, “to the point that they are not infrequently poisoned at the breast, which is sprinkled with poison while they are sucking their mother’s milk.”
So it sometimes happens that there is a very high number of births, in the effort to have a boy at all costs, and as a result a high number of female infanticides: selective abortion is used until the child desired, a boy, is obtained. Mother Teresa and her sisters founded many houses of charity, schools, and orphanages, receiving great appreciation, but also the opposition of prime minister Morarji Desai, who in 1979 accused them of helping children with schools and orphanages for the sole purpose of baptizing and converting them. Mother Teresa responded to him: “It seems to me that you do not realize the evil that abortion is causing for your people. Immorality is on the rise, many families are breaking apart, there is an alarming increase in the cases of insanity among mothers who have killed their own innocent children. Mr. Desai: it may be that before long you will find yourself face to face with God. I do not know what explanation you will be able to give him for having destroyed the lives of so many children who were unborn, but certainly innocent, when you find yourself before the judgment seat of God, who will judge you for the good you have done and for the evil you have caused from your high position in government.”
And Mother Teresa added how over the previous year the 102 centers that she operated in Calcutta had seen 11,701 Hindu families, 5,568 Muslim families, and 4,341 Christian families who had been taught the meaning of the family, respect for life, the necessity of responsible procreation, reducing births without recourse to abortion or infanticide! The cry of the unborn children, of the slain infants, Mother Teresa said, echoing in another way the concepts expressed centuries and centuries before by Minucius Felix, Tertullian, and many others, “hurts the ear of God.”
Harry Wu, “Better Ten Graves than One Extra Birth”, Laogai Research Foundation, 2004.
The foundation established and directed by the author:
The newspaper in which Francesco Agnoli’s article appeared on July 29, 2009:
Harry Wu’s interview in “Avvenire” on July 28, 2009:
The articles from http://www.chiesa on two countries in which infanticide is a current practice:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.