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Margaret Sanger, "Birth Control and China and Japan," Feb 1924.

Source: " The Thinker, Feb. 1924, pp. 32-35 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Collected Documents Series C16:0214."

This article was fifth in a six-part series. For the preceding articles see Highlights in the History of Birth Control, Oct. 1923; A Better Race Through Birth Control, Nov. 1923; Woman and Birth Control, Dec. 1924. For the next article see The Birth Control Movement in 1923, Apr. 1924; the fourth article was not found.


by Margaret Sanger

104 Fifth Ave., New York City

It is not only in the United States that there is need for Birth Control. On the contrary, there are countries which need it far more than we do, countries where overcrowding and poverty sweep millions of babies out of existence, and where life is a bare struggle for existence. Such countries are Japan, and especially China. In 1921 students from these countries in the United States came into touch with the movement here for Birth Control. Their attention was aroused and their interest awakened. Here was something that was desperately needed in their own countries. They determined to start a campaign for Birth Control among their own countrymen and country-women.

Due to the arousing of this interest, invitations reached me, towards the close of 1921, to go to Japan and deliver lectures on Birth Control. The invitation came from a group of progressive thinkers, known as the Kaizo group, and in February, 1922, I left New York for San Francisco with the intention of sailing thence to Japan. On reaching San Francisco, however, I found that there were difficulties in the way. Applying to the Japanese Consul General there for a vise to my passport I was surprised to learn that the Japanese Government had issued orders that my passport should not be vised, and that I could not lecture on Birth Control in Japan.

It is not easy to surprise anyone who has worked for long in the Birth Control movement. We get accustomed to unexpected obstacles and difficulties. In this case, however, my surprise was real; because I was led to believe by Japanese in the United States that the interest in the subject of Birth Control was general among the younger members of the Government. Then, too, the Kaizo group, with whom I was under agreement to deliver five lectures on the subject, publishes a magazine which is highly respected in Japan, and as Bertrand Russell had visited Japan under the same auspices, I had every reason to believe that the Kaizo group knew the laws of their country and were acquainted with the possibilities and limitations under those laws.

In neither of these assumptions was I mistaken. There is a younger group in the Government, and a very large group, whose ideas and ideals are broader and higher than those represented by the minority, the military party. Many of these more progressive men came to the receptions and meetings where I was the guest of honor and expressed their disapproval of the government’s action; their belief in the principle of Birth Control, and their desire to help forward the movement in Japan. While these sympathizers can be numbered in the hundreds, in special departments they are powerless against the more conservative statesmen.

I was desirous to get at the root of the objection to my presence in Japan; but it was not until I reached Yokohama Harbor that I knew whether I should be permitted to land or not. While the "Taiyo Maru" was at sea, a vigorous correspondence had gone between the Home Office and the Foreign Office of the Japanese Government. The Vice Minister of the Foreign Office, Masanao Hanihara, who had attended the Disarmament Conference in Washington, was a fellow traveler on the steamer. He interested himself greatly in my mission, and urged by wireless that all courtesy be shown me. The final outcome of the negotiations was described by the Japan Times of March 11, 1922. "Mrs. Sanger," it stated, "was allowed to land in this country last night, after a series of negotiations that made the diplomacy at the Washington Conference look like child’s play. She will remain here for some time and hopes to have an opportunity of discussing with doctors, at least, her theories on Birth Control. But she has promised the police that she will ‘be good’ and make no attempt to deliver any public addresses on the subject."

The following day I called upon the Chief of Police. It was amusing to find that everyone from the hall porter to the interpreter knew that I was coming. We were ushered into a pleasant room and tea was served, although it was only ten o’clock in the morning. One of the attendants spoke to me about my book "Woman and the New Race," which he said he had read with great interest and much pleasure. He then presented me with a Japanese translation, much to my surprise, for until I saw it there at the Police Office, I had not known that it had been translated or published in Japan.

The interview lasted about half an hour, and ended by my receiving permission to speak in private, or under private auspices on Birth Control. I was told that it was not possible to discuss the subject in public meetings, although I might speak publicly on any other subject. Before I left the room we were photographed and interviewed by reporters, from a number of Japanese papers. I never saw anything like the passion of the Japanese press for photographs. Everywhere I went I was interviewed and photographed, and at the meetings where I spoke there were flashlights--sometimes as many as twenty being taken before the meeting started.

From that day on, there was an address made every day, and some days there were two meetings. We found that it was a far better plan to speak to small groups of one or two hundred people, where we could discuss the subject freely and frankly, than it would have been to have attempted to address large public meetings. Among the groups which expressed the greatest interest was the Peers' Club, organized by Count Cowamura. At no time in my life have I given a more intimate address. I can say also that it was received with the finest spirit of respect and understanding and desire to know more. It was one of the most encouraging events of my stay in Japan. The fact that men of high station came eagerly to hear a woman speak is considered by the women here a victorious event in a land where the position of women is subordinate and where the men do not seem to take the woman’s movement seriously.

My lectures were given before the most intelligent people in Japan. The Industrial Organization consisted of men at the head of practically every industry in Japan. It gave a dinner in my honor, where we sat, Japanese fashion, on the floor, creating an atmosphere conducive to conversation. The questions asked by these men indicated much thought on the problem of population.

Perhaps the most enthusiastic meeting that was held was that given in the Imperial Hotel at Tokyo on March 20, by a prominent commercial organization. Again it was a dinner but not Japanese--"foreign" as they term it here. Men from the Home Office, Foreign Office and various other Government Departments attended. While many of them understood English, it was necessary to have my speech interpreted. This was done exceedingly well by Baron Ishimoto, my host while in Japan, and I felt that this was the most important and successful meeting held while I was there.

The doctors of Tokyo asked me to give an address on practical methods. The interpreter, a young doctor recently returned from America, was not very good, and I felt at a great disadvantage. At Kyoto the medical association turned out four hundred strong at a few hours notice, and filled the Congregational Church to its fullest capacity. The minister of the church interpreted and did it remarkably well, making this meeting a full success.

All the organizations which invited me to speak were represented by prominent and distinguished people. They were all, except the New Woman’s Organization, composed of the so-called well-to-do. This organization is the most advanced and intellectual group of women in Japan. Many of its members are working in various trades and industries.

From Yokohama to Kobe, and again across the inland sea to Fuzan, the interest was tremendous and the reception accorded me was beyond my hopes or dreams. The opposition of the government threw the sympathy of the people with me, and I believe I accomplished more, established more centers and aroused more discussion in one month than I could under ordinary circumstances have done in a year. Japan now has a Birth Control League. It has for its officers four most intelligent men representing four branches of civil life--Medicine, Science, Labor and Commerce. It is the general opinion that the agitation is most timely. While women were slowly advancing towards their emancipation and Labor was taking its first flights, neither had included Birth Control in its programme. Now they see their problems in a new light, and they see that by the adoption of Birth Control they can cut short their struggles and hasten their victories.

From Japan I went to the Korea, where I found the people wonderfully alert and much interested in the idea of Birth Control. I was not able to stay long there, for I was due in China, and the time was short. We in the Western world have often asked ourselves how the idea of Birth Control would be accepted in the Orient. Our opponents have told us that Japan and China would never practice Birth Control, and that if we persisted in our work here the white race would be wiped out. I found, however, on the contrary, that the idea of Birth Control is readily accepted both in China and Japan, and that there were men and women in both countries ready to go to work to get the idea put into practice.

In Shanghai, I met a number of men connected with the press--editors and influential writers in the Chinese world. They entertained me at tea, and made plans for the translation and publication of my pamphlet on "Family Limitation," and for the establishment of a magazine devoted to the subject of population and Birth Control. In Pekin the Chancellor of the National University took a special interest in my mission, and before I left China a Birth Control League had been formed there and was ready for active work.

We cannot go into China with our sympathies and our moral codes, saving her babies from infanticide, without increasing her problems. We find that after we have rescued 200 infants from the river one year, 2000 additional "sing-song" girls are in the ranks of the prostitutes the next year. In China, we witness the last act in the national tragedy of over-population. China, the mysterious fountainhead of art, philosophy, and the deepest wisdom of the world, is brought down by the super-abundant breeding of its worst elements. Here there are masses of human beings who live below the level of animals. They eat, sleep and breed in the crowded streets and sunless alleys. Thousands have not even a foothold on the land. They are compelled to live in makeshift boats on the crowded banks of the rivers. The flame of Chinese civilization is flickering. It is threatened with extinction. There is a rising tide of famine, of wretchedness, of disease--a flood which, because of the incessant fertility of those millions, spreads like a plague. To contribute to famine funds and to the support of missions in China is like trying to sweep back the sea with a broom. But as long as the American public prefers sentimentality to science this waste of money, thrown into the bottomless pit of charities, will continue. China does not need our missions. The Chinese need our sanitation, our hygiene, our Birth Control. (To Be Continued)

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