The Impact of China’s Modernization on Special Needs Orphans

By: Shelby Marcus ,`14

Shelby Marcus, `14
Shelby Marcus, `14

Two summers volunteering at a Chinese orphanage for medically fragile orphans caused me to focus my Global Thesis on how Special Needs Orphans have been impacted during China’s modernization.

In the wake of the failure of China’s Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward, China’s new leaders sought modernization in the 1970s. China’s drive to modernize has resulted in urbanization, economic reform, industrial development, and birth planning policies. The One Child Policy was implemented to limit China’s large population. Urbanization has shifted the majority of China’s population to cities. China’s economic reform has created the second greatest economy in the world. However, the environment has been destroyed by industrial development that has engulfed cities in pollution.

Urbanization, economic reform, industrial development, and birth planning policies have impacted the fates of special needs orphans. The One Child Policy resurrected the traditional preference for boys that caused families to abandon their healthy infant daughters. These girls flooded the orphanages previously primarily filled with special needs orphanages. By limiting families to have only one child, the One Child Policy promoted quality over quantity. The economic reform further emphasized this concept as the government called on every citizen to contribute to the economy. This emphasis on human quality, known as su zhi, decreased the value of people whose deformities and disabilities hindered their ability to contribute to China’s rise to success. The pollution that entrenches Chinese cities, a byproduct of industrial development, has been shown to increase the prevalence of birth defects.  China’s industrialization has increased the number of children who will be abandoned because of their low su zhi.

The demographics of Chinese orphanages have come full circle as they return to the numbers of pre-modernization. The sad truth is that although special needs orphans don’t have to compete for resources with healthy children, they still are orphans who will never know the love of a family. While the government was reluctant for the first few decades of China’s modernization to address the issues of orphans, in the last few years, China has become more and more involved in attempting to better the fates of Chinese orphans. However, improving their medical resources and physical conditions of orphanages superficially treats the poor conditions of orphans, but will never end the cycle of abandonment and isolation from society that children with any disability or deformity undergo. 

The Impact of China’s Modernization on Special Needs Orphans

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