The State Owes Us: Social Exclusion and Collective Actions of China’s Bereaved Parents


Chih-Jou Jay Chen (with Chen Ying)

Modern China

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Abstract: China’s one-child policy has come to an end, but its ramifications continue. This article explores the issue of bereaved parents who lost their only child as an unintended consequence of the one-child policy and provides a social and political analysis of their suffering and resistance. Chinese social institutions and cultural norms traditionally discriminate against bereaved parents, excluding them from social support and social relations. As a result, bereaved parents often cut ties with their extended families, networks, and other social relations; they are stigmatized, marginalized, and isolated. However, through the internet and social media, these parents have begun forging new social relations and associations among themselves. They mobilize collective protests fueled by shared grief and the moral appeal of their patriotic sacrifice for the state, demanding official government recognition and compensation for their losses. This article treats bereavement as a subject of analysis and shows how state power shapes or even damages people’s everyday lives in a specific family-centered cultural context.

About the author: Chih-Jou Jay Chen was a HYI Visiting Scholar from 2014-15