Margaret Sanger, "Margaret Sanger in China," Jul 1922.

Source: " Birth Control Review, July 1922, pp.123-5 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections, S70:940."


Margaret Sanger in China

To the Readers of THE BIRTH CONTROL REVIEW:

The average tourist visiting China, cannot help but be impressed by the fact that the Malthusian doctrine has proven itself true here and can never be refuted while China exists in its present condition. Here one sees millions of people, with scarcely clothing enough to cover their naked bodies, eking out a mere existence for which they have to work twelve to twenty hours a day.

On the way from Mukden to Peking, every inch of ground is utilized for food. While on our trip from Peking to Hankow and then down the Yangtze River to Nanking on our way to Shanghai we saw the land so taken up in producing food that the people are compelled to make their habitation and homes in boats upon the water. There are few roads in China. Even that space is taken over for food production and mile upon mile of great tracts of land is cultivated for the barest necessities, and this after four thousand years of civilization!

China proves beyond a doubt that the bare fact of birth does not necessarily enhance our civilization. We find in this old country conditions that are appalling. In all the large cities the foreign quarters are clean and well cared for, with paved streets, beautiful palatial residences, few children in the districts, and those few well clothed and looked after by Chinese nurses. While off in another part of the city, where the Chinese native dwells, conditions are unspeakable. It amazes me that foreigners, Americans, English and French can live here and close their eyes to such sordid, degrading conditions. They could not live amongst such conditions in their own country without an effort to improve them. It is said by those who have lived here long, that China psychologically swallows up all those who live here, and I certainly believe that it is true, for during my conversation with many missionaries and business people, who have lived here for the last fifteen or twenty years, I find that they have lost many of those qualities of character and conscientiousness which have been bred in them for generations in their own country. Here and there one finds an effort towards improvements, but the improvements in the cities are done mainly in the foreign districts for their own comfort and convenience. Here we see the most abject and distressing objects of poverty and misery. We see disease rampant openly in the streets. We see lepers sitting begging from passers-by, while those afflicted with syphilitic sores walk beside us. We see mothers, professional beggars, who bear their children openly in the streets. Their children in turn become beggars and so it goes from generation to generation. The street is their home, eating, sleeping, and begging there. They do not like to be photographed as they are very superstitious and believe the camera brings evil to them.

The thing I cannot accustom myself to in China, is being pulled in a rickshaw by a human being, or being carried in a sedan chair by three or four of them. I can't endure the eager running of the half naked rickshaw boy, and I avoid them whenever it is possible. It is said his days are numbered in this uncivilized occupation. He lives four or five years at most. The reminder of his life is spend eking out an existence. He suffers from varicose veins and heart disease. We see them everywhere, clothed in thin trousers and jacket, and usually ragged and dirty when not engaged by hotels. Eagerly they solicit our trade and pick up the shafts of their little vehicle and being the dog trot journey.

At Peking a young woman, secretary to a prominent official called for me to take me to the gentleman's home. On the way she related the joys of living in China. She said she got a small salary, far smaller than she got in America, but her comforts far exceeded anything she could have at home with double her present wage. Among the comforts noted was a rickshaw boy whom she employed by the month, paying him 10 Mex. or 5 American dollars a month, out of which the boy supports himself and his family. He had been in her employ three years--she had never given him more money nor did she expect to.

One of the hardest features of life of an employee in China is that he can not get a position by himself. He must have someone else get it for him. When a foreigner does not know this, and dismisses a servant, it means practical starvation for that man.

Besides the rickshaw men, the lives of coolies and sing-song girls make me shudder. While in the Northern cities the coolies are men and boys, in Hong kong the women do this beast of burden work. As I sit writing this I look out of my window upon a newly built structure where hundreds of women are carrying bricks in baskets to the men who are laying them.

I can not give here all my experiences, but I can never again boast of our civilization after my conversation with some of Shanghai's sing-song girls--these little children are segregated in districts for someone's profit. They are babies in body and mind, and are sold into bondage often in infancy. It is said they are owned completely by the woman or man in charge, and any attempt to run away or at insubordination is promptly met by the cruelest beatings and torture.

I passed through several of these districts in Shanghai accompanied by a progressive missionary who had lived in China the past seventeen years. He spoke the language fluently and himself was an officer of the Door of Hope.

I wanted particularly to find out what these girls used to prevent conception. They spoke freely of their lives and their sorrows. I came away sick to my soul with doubts and pity and would have been filled with despair had not each girl told the story of many babies at home, "too much baby," "no chow," convincing truth again and again that Birth Control is the basic solution to such problems, especially as they relate to the future.

We in the Western world who have the desire to make the Birth Control movement international have asked ourselves how this idea would be accepted in the Orient. We have time and again been told by our opponents that the Japanese and Chinese would not accept this idea, and that eventually, if we persisted in our work in the Western countries, the white race would be entirely wiped out. It is, however, a great pleasure to me to be able to say that the idea of Birth Control is readily accepted in both of these countries. I have already given an account of the enthusiasm with which the message was received in Japan, and, while there has been no such publicity in China, yet wherever I have gone, and there has been an opportunity to speak, the enthusiasm has been keen and encouraging. In Shanghai I was able to meet several members of the Commercial Press. All these gentlemen were editors and influential writers in the Chinese world. They entertained me at tea one afternoon and made plans for the translation and publication of a pamphlet on "Family Limitation" and also for the establishment of a magazine devoted especially to the population and Birth Control subject. On Sunday April 30th I was invited to address a meeting at the Labour Museum on behalf of three organizations, Kiangsu Educational Association, the National Association of Vocational Education of China and the Association of Family Reformation of China. I was asked to address this public meeting, to consist of working men and women. It was interesting that the occasion of this meeting was the third anniversary of the Family Reformation Association of China. The three essential rules that one must abide by in joining this association are not to drink, not to smoke, and not to gamble. I suggested a fourth rule of limiting the family, to cope with the mothers' health and the fathers' income, and the suggestion was readily applauded.

While my tour through China has not had the same national interest as my meetings in Japan, yet I feel that considering the lack of time and preparation for my coming to China the results have been splendid. With the possibility of a League in Peking and the establishment of a clinic there together with a branch League in Shanghai and a magazine devoted to Birth Control, I feel that we have established some good centers and should make rapid progress in the next few years. The Chinese press has been splendid. Wherever one has been able to arouse attention, there has been a splendid response and I feel that one of the important things of the future will be to send two or three speakers into China to remain at least six months, in order to pick up the loose ends and to encourage those already starting this work.

From the South China Morning Post of May 8th in the Editorial entitled Birth Control I quote: "China is as striking an example of over-population and resultant degeneration as the world can show. It might with difficulty be made the reformer's first battle ground, for from what we know of 'ole custom' it would be a hard fight, so hard that if it were won, the education of the rest of the world would be a simple matter."

This sums the matter up in a nut-shell and yet I feel today, as I am about to leave this country for Europe, that there are no more encouraging prospects for the general practice of the idea than right here in China.


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