Sundance 2019: One Child Nation

A still from One Child Nation by Jialing Zhang and Nanfu Wang, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition an at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Nanfu Wang.

If Three Identical Strangers didn’t leave you with feelings of anger, One Child Nation should certainly leave viewers feeling angry about Chinese policy.

China’s One Child Policy came to an end following a period of 35 years in 2015.  This doesn’t stop a pair of documentary filmmakers from examining the devastating effects.  If families had a daughter rather than a son, they would be increasingly likely to give them up for adoption.  Or worse:  leave them in the market with hopes of somebody finding them.  In some instances, this never happened and the child died a slow death.  If you aren’t angry yet, please bare with me because it only grows worse from here!

Women were forced to have their bodies sterlized after the birth of their first child.  Oh, they could make a run for it but they would be caught and forced to have this unwanted surgical procedure.  Then there’s the abortions that take place following eight or nine months of pregnancy.  This wasn’t a choice for them.  It was a government policy that forced these women into terminating their pregnancies.  Even though the Chinese government has eased up in policy by allowing a second child, we can’t not forget the horrors that they’ve already placed on their population.

Wang’s own family suffered as a result of this policy.  Through making the film, she learned of a cousin she never knew existed.  It isn’t just her family that opens up on the government family planning policy but those who were in charge of enforcing the law at hand.

While the Chinese government may have thought they were in the right with population control, the consequences were devastating.  There was a whole child trafficking scandal that took place as a result of hiding a second birth.  On top of this, many women were forced into having an abortion some eight or nine months into their pregnancy.  The whole film as a whole is very devastating.

For example, we learn about a young Chinese woman with a twin sister living in the United States.  She only knows this because the sister was given up for adoption because of the whole one child policy in effect.  At the time that the film premiered at Sundance, neither had met each other.  Will they ever?  It’s hard to say.

There’s an organization in America, Research-China, working to provide more history on the history behind Chinese adoptions.  Even though the Chinese families want to know what happened to their children, it’s possible that those children are too busy enjoying life in the USA to care.  Or it could be that the adopted parents don’t want their children to know.  The whole situation just feels so complex.

The horror depicted in One Child Nation is absolutely devastating to say the least.  No family should have ever had to deal with this trauma.

DIRECTORS:  Nanfu Wang & Jialing Zhang

One Child Nation held its world premiere during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. Documentary Competition. Grade: 4.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.