Artists depict China’s one-child policy and its millions of missing girls

From the BBC comes this story about artists who are using their craft to protest China’s notorious one-child policy. It leads with a description of “Terracotta Daughters,” by French artist Prune Nourry, which highlights how Chinese family-planning regulations have resulted in the world’s most uneven sex ratio—117 boys born for every 100 girls:

In a culture that traditionally favours male offspring, girls have been abandoned, murdered and aborted. (In the year 2000 ninety percent of aborted foetuses were reportedly female.) As such it is estimated that by the end of this decade the country will have a surplus of 24 million bachelors. This has led to fears that there will be a rise in the kidnapping and trafficking of women as brides and, for single men stuck in the impoverished countryside with no hope of marriage, a spike in gambling, depression, and alcohol abuse.

Eight orphaned Chinese girls were used as models for the 108 sculptures in the exhibition, which references China’s iconic Terra Cotta Warriors.

Huiyun started her life in the garbage. As an unwanted baby girl, her parents abandoned her in the poor province where she was born in central China. There, a pair of refuse collectors found her with her umbilical cord still attached. They kept her, bringing her up as their own.

Huiyun is now 12 years old, and life has taken a turn for the better. This year she became one of eight models featured in provocative French artist Prune Nourry’s new exhibition Terracotta Daughters, now showing in Shanghai’s Gallery Magda Danysz. An exploration of China’s skewed sex ratio, the exhibition dishes up a new version of a national treasure − with a twist. Nourry has fashioned more than one hundred sculptures in the same clay, and using the same techniques, as the ancient Terracotta Warriors, the famous collection of sculptures representing the armies of the first Emperor of China. But instead of producing a brigade of soldiers, the artist has created an army of schoolgirls. They symbolise China’s millions of missing women.

“I wanted to highlight the girls that are not cared about, by mixing them with a strong familiar symbol [the Terracotta Warriors],” explains New York-based Nourry. “When you change something slightly that everyone knows it creates something bizarre − and people want to know more.”

For Terracotta Daughters Nourry modeled eight life-size sculptures on eight real orphans. Combinations of these prototypes were then used to make a further 108 sculptures in collaboration with traditional Chinese craftsmen. Funds from the sales of the original eight will pay for three years’ education for each orphan in co-operation with the NGO Children of Madaifu. The artwork is enabling a handful of children like Huiyun, who has dreams of becoming a nurse, to stay in school.

Nourry is not alone in her exploration through the arts of the consequences of China’s controversial one-child policy. Since it was introduced in 1979 the policy has inspired debate that has consumed the population. In just three decades it has dramatically refashioned Chinese society, affecting an entire generation that has largely grown up without brothers and sisters.

Read more about the exhibition, and the work of other artists raising questions about China’s one-child policy, here.

More images of “Terracotta Daughters” can be viewed here.

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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.