Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

A childhood lost: painting China’s one child policy

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, April 11, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – He does not accuse, this little boy with the haunting expression, solemn eyed, gazing directly out from the canvas. He does not ask, as he might well ask, ‘Why am I alone?’ but merely stands still and straight, looking steadily forward at the viewer as his imaginary siblings play around him. 

The little boy’s face is that of 38 year-old Chinese painter Li Tianbing, taken from photos of himself as a child; the other little boys are his imaginary playmates, brothers and sisters who were never born, who populated his solitary life. Li’s work – huge canvases of ghostly children playing in landscapes that evoke both China’s ancient artistic tradition and its conflicted industrialised present – focuses consciously on the impact on individual lives of the country’s One Child Policy. He was five when the government issued it in 1979.

An exhibition of Li’s paintings, titled “A Game as Pretense of Being,” is currently making an impact in Paris, but could perhaps more appropriately have been titled, “A Childhood of One”. The focus of his work, Li says, is not on the large statistics whose immense scale can depersonalise, but on the policy’s impact on individual human lives. Children in China now, he says, for the first time in the country’s history, know only the life of solitude. No one is allowed to have brothers and sisters, and there are no large families in a country where for thousands of years family was all.

Li studied international relations in university, then came to Paris at the age of 22 to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He began painting from his memories and his tiny cache of photos. He said in a video interview that when he was a child, using these photos of himself, he created a whole other imaginary self, a life that included siblings and a large and happy family.

“My paintings are about childhood, but a childhood that is conjured up. The childhood I paint is not what happened in my real childhood,” he says.

“I think the One Child policy was a unique social phenomenon of our generation. What I want to express now is how this generation of people sees the world. The signs he carries in his body, his knowledge of the world and his experience of the world.”

When I was looking at the paintings on the internet, and I read that these children were the images of the imaginary siblings Li never had, my first response was, “Oh, he did that too?” Because I was also an only child, raised by a divorced single mother in the 1970s, and I recognised the expression, that of a child immersed in his own inner world, peopled with imaginary friends, pursuing fantasy adventures far away from lonely reality.

Li Tianbing grew up in rural China in the 1970s, the era following the Communist takeover, when the government issued a decree that no one could have more than one child. Government statistics, widely acknowledged to be unrealistically low, show that the policy has resulted in the loss of at least 400 million people, more than ten times the population of Canada.

The single-minded focus of the government at the time was forcing the country to industrialise, to prove to the world the superiority of Marxist principles. To the ruling class of the time, and up to today, the ideology takes priority over the human needs of the people. As a result, China has the world’s highest rates of capital punishment, abortion and suicide among women. In fact, it is the only country in the world where the suicide rate for women exceeds that of men.

While the policy is overt in China, it is merely a more brutalised version of the societal norm of the West. Here it is not forcibly imposed on the people from above, but it insinuated itself into the minds and hearts of the people I grew up around, where it is every bit as entrenched. To the people of my generation, born in the late 1960s to hippie parents whose rejection of the old values has infiltrated every aspect of our societies, being alone, being “only,” is our norm.

And it produces much the same result: adults whose loneliness is deeply embedded, who take solitude for granted, for whom family life is no more than a hazy fantasy gleaned from books and films, less likely to marry and have children of our own, less interested in engaging in the boisterous unpredictable arenas of the active world, always feeling vaguely like an observer rather than a participant. 

The loneliness wells up from the faces in Li’s paintings like a deep, suppressed groan.

These are the faces of children, some of them obviously very small children, but there is little evidence of innocence. These are not the sun-drenched dreams of golden-haired, apple-cheeked poppets playing sweetly in meadows and country gardens.

The children in Li’s paintings are not starveling, they are not ragged or grubby or neglected. But they are distant, perhaps envious, and a faint but persistent undertone of anger rings incessantly in the viewer’s mind when he looks back at their eyes.

These children live in another world where we are excluded. Who are we to bring our adult reality, with our macro-economic theories and their overbearing imperatives, into their private realm?

Why have we imposed ourselves in this moment, intruding and breaking their concentration? A concentration that is needed to keep reality at bay. The children wait for us to be done looking at them, so they can get back to their play, their thoughts, their world.

In some of the paintings, it is difficult to tell which is the fantasy, which the ghost, and which the reality. A grayscale little boy, holding a toy, runs down a railway track that cuts through a dimly rendered countryside, with ghostly translucent buildings looming up over him as if in a mist. A group of little boys, in bright pink chroma, follows behind him like a school of glittering fish. Which is the reality, and which is the ghost? Where does the child’s imagination end and the real world, the world of gray industrial scenes, begin?

In another, vaporous children stand before snow-covered tree branches, reading communist newspapers. Of the three, only one looks up and over his paper towards the viewer, an expression of surprise on his face, having seen us watching him, perhaps, and wondering where, what world, we have appeared from.

In nearly every painting, one little boy, Li himself, always with the same expression of surprise and disbelief, looks directly at us, as though we are the apparitions intruding into his world.

The paintings have an almost dystopian quality to them, even those showing apparently idyllic natural surroundings, their palettes largely monochromatic, the expressions of the children never joyful but mostly preoccupied and distant. Some of the faces, even those looking directly into the eyes of the viewer, seem closed, as if these children have already made up their minds, already judged the world created for them as a disappointment, and closed the door on us.

Li’s work is an attempt to highlight the reality that the policies that have shaped the macro-picture of demographics, of the economic and social realities on a grand scale in a country with over a billion human beings, have their greatest effect on the individual souls. The human world is not made up of faceless masses, but of one person at a time, living in a unity of a human society made up of other individual persons. In a sense, the existence of “society,” and “culture” and “economics” are all abstractions. Human society can never be about these intangible ideas, but about human beings, one human being at a time.

What a policy that focuses only on these abstractions does to a single, unique human being is the question with which governments never concern themselves, and academics only rarely.

But a single painting is like a single person, and its message, no matter how many see it, is always personal. The children in these paintings assert that they are not instruments or products for use in a grand socio-economic experiment.

See more of Li’s paintings here.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received millions in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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