A Surprise: One Child Nation

Aug 23, 2019

National experiment to be remembered.

An informative Doc: One Child Nation

Grade: B

Directors:  Nanfu Wang (I Am Another You), Jialing Zhang (Complicit)

Screenplay: Documentary

Rating: R

Runtime: 1 hr 25 min

By: John DeSando

“As a bookish child, I would come to see the one-child policy as one of the most fascinating and bizarre things about the land of my ancestors, equal parts Aldous Huxley and King Herod.”
― Mei Fong, One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment

Hearing about China’s 1979 one-child policy, lasting 35 years, is one thing. Listening to Asians who lived through it is another. The logic of administrators, some of whom who appear in Nanfu Wang’s informative and touching documentary, One Child Nation, almost make sense.

Then you realize who is abandoned and who abducted, mostly girls, and you grimace for them and the families who were torn apart by the rule. Assuredly the females had to go first when authorities discovered families with more than one child because the Asian tradition had always favored males.

Wang having been given a man’s name (Nanfu translates into “man” and pillar”) shows a deft hand at directing without preaching. She does what I find lacking in too many docs—the other side. Those supporting a one-child policy appear frequently praising it as the salvation of a billion people who would have starved or resorted to cannibalism without the population restraint.

The devastating effects cannot be hidden: babies left in baskets, twins separated forever, human trafficking on a grand scale are just a few of the disorders. Propaganda is always there to reinforce the state’s message. Wang presents it all, both good and bad.

But like our dark slavery past or Nazi cleansing, heinous plans to control population never seem to survive. The trail, however, is bloody and harrowing.

Wang has expertly balanced between a depressing subject and an important history lesson: “Don’t fool with Mother Nature.”

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at