Hot Docs 2019: Our Review Of ‘One Child Nation’

Hot Docs 2019: Our Review Of ‘One Child Nation’

In the late ‘70s, the Chinese government believed their economy couldn’t handle the country’s population explosion. So in 1979, they instituted the one-child policy which limited families to only one child. One Child Nation’s co-director Nanfu Wang grew up with a sibling; her younger brother. The scorn and shamed placed upon her family stayed with Wang and informed her own complicated ideals. Now a mother herself, Wang goes back to China to examine how the policy meant to help the nation had such devastating consequences.

Wang and co-director Jialing Zhang use the one-child policy as a lens to examine life under an authoritarian regime with Wang narrating throughout the intimate and meditative picture. The doc begins with a small personal story about Wang’s family before taking on larger implications.

When Wang returns to China to interview her own family, we discover that Chinese authorities forcefully tried to sterilize her mother. After learning of this harrowing ordeal, the film pivots and interrogates the men tasked with enforcing these restrictive laws, and the midwives who administered thousands of sterilizations and abortions. The more Wang pulls on this thread, the more her investigation expands in scope. Wang focuses on how life under an oppressive regime makes citizens feel less accountable for their actions.

Though always compelling, One Child Nation isn’t an easy watch. Be prepared for some harsh visual and devastating revelations. Wang does an excellent job contextualizing the one-child policy’s ramifications. Even if you don’t know a lick about China, their policies, or communist regimes, Wang paints a clear picture that’s easy to follow. She presents a plethora of propaganda commercials, TV shows, live performances, and street art to make viewers understand the policy’s ubiquity. And she puts a humanizing touch on the cold hard facts by sharing her own family’s story.

This post was written by
Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based freelance writer and pop culture curator. Victor currently contributes insights, criticisms, and reviews to several online publications where he has extended coverage to the Toronto International Film Festival, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada. Victor has a soft spot in his heart for Tim Burton movies and his two poorly behaved beagles (but not in that order).
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