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Sichuan Couple Has 11 Children: “Having Children Is Better Than Saving Money”
“Having children is better than saving money” – He Hong has persisted with this notion for nearly 20 years. Now, he is starting to realize was “a mistake”.
He Hong is a villager of Sichuan province’s Suining city’s Pengnan town Santai village. In 1995 while working in Shanghai, he brought home an Anhui woman, and started a family. Afterward, one child after another joined this family. By 2012 July, before the local government educated He Hong’s wife An Huan about birth control, the two of them had already given birth to 11 children, and were called the “excessive birth guerrilla band” by locals. Even more puzzling to locals was that He Hong has not paid the “excessive birth fine”, and except for his last child that was given to a relative to raise, all f his children have gotten a hukou.
Behind all these questions is a what the local town government describes as the “thorny problems involved in their work”, the “loathing and ostracizing” nakedly expressed by fellow villagers, and the “lonely life” endured by He Hong and his family.
“A dark trap”
The second eldest is 17 years old this year, who says, “My older sister deliberately avoided staying here”, “In a few years, I also want to go out, and change my life [future].”
Flimsy clothes, messy hair, and only a smile to split their dirty faces. Upon seeing this reporter, He Hong welcomed me, as a flock of children followed behind, all dressed similarly.
“Say ‘mister’,” He Hong taught his children.
“Hi, mister,” the children said in unison.
“Forget it, just say ‘uncle’,” He Hong said maintaining a slight smile the entire time.
Unevenly, some said “uncle” while others still said “mister”.
“Uncle has come a long way, so bring Uncle in to have a seat,” and before he finished, there were already children running towards home along the path through the field.
He Hong’s home is located under a rhubarb tree in Suining city’s Pengnan town’s Santai village, a two-story brick structure, its entrance and rooms piled high with clothes and junk, and dining ware, food, fertilizer, and other daily necessities mixed among them. He Hong says, most of this is junk that we scavenged. The entire family sleeps among this junk every day, grabbing and wearing whatever clothes is near when they wake up. A local villager says, “Their lifestyle is a mess.”
On both sides of their home are collapsed hovels with only their walls still standing, some used to raise pigs, some as a kitchen. On a clear day, the stone furnace can spit out flames; on rainy days, the entire family can only eat half-cooked rice or cold rice, and the room where they sleep will also flood. When the visit of a stranger, their family’s three dogs bark incessantly, with two cats occasionally joining in. He Hong simultaneously admonishes then and explains: they were also found [adopted as strays].
It is in this building that He Hong and his wife gave birth to 11 children. Combining what the couple says and their family hukou household registry documents, they have 7 girls and 4 boys, including a set of “dragon and phoenix” [boy-girl] twins born in 2005. The eldest is a daughter, who has just turned 18, and who has already left home to work; the youngest is also a daughter, not yet 4 years old, who was adopted by a distant relative; the other nine children all live at home to this day, with four attending school. Due to long-term malnutrition, these children are all physically smaller than their peers.
Second eldest He Junhui is a boy, is 17 years old this year, and has already dropped out of school for two years. He comfortably entertains this guest with his father, continuously throwing out social topics like “anti-corruption” and “finding employment” to avoid awkward silences, with a maturity in his conversation that exceeds that of his peers. He describes his home as “a dark trap”, where one is stuck here upon birth, unable to find a way out. “My older sister deliberately avoided staying here, and even if it means going out to rent and work, she doesn’t want to come back.” Squatting down, sighing, he continues, “In a few years, I also want to go out, and change my life [future].”
The third eldest He Junyi is a girl, is 16 years old this year, and currently in her second year of junior high. She speaks little, often avoiding the hubbub, and stands away at a distance. She says her grades aren’t good, is often made fun of at school, and wants to improve her grades.
The fourth, He Junlong is a boy, is 15 years old this year, and because of fighting with a schoolmate, he has just dropped out of school. He Hong says the fourth has been in a vehicle accident before, where he suffered some brain damage, and now has a bad temper and difficulty communicating with others. He mostly laughs along, while his speech isn’t very clear.
The other children are all still small and not yet mature, running around in the fields chasing each other having fun, as well as doing somersaults in the piles of junk.
“Having children is better than saving money”
He Hong explains, “As long as one child does well in life, an entire family’s future/fate is changed, and [that child] can also contribute more to the country.”
This family’s story can be traced back to the year 1995.
He Hong brought home [married] Anhui woman Zhang Xingzi while working in Shanghai. That year, He Hong was 30 years old, while Zhang Xingzi was 26. A villager said Zhang Xingzi suffers from lacunar psychosis, and that He Hong had “found her by the side of the road” [“scavenged” her, taken in something no one else wanted]. He Hong says her wife suffering from illness is true, but she was not “scavenged” and they had instead met each other and fallen in love while working together. Zhang Xingzi professes she doesn’t know that she suffers from an illness, only that she occasionally has headaches. She also says she had met He Hong while working.
Without a wedding or registering for a marriage certificate, the two of them began their life together. In 1996, their eldest daughter was born. In 1998, their second child was born. In 1999, their third arrived. Thereafter, the number of children increased more and more.
He Hong explains the reason why they had so many was in hopes of using their children to change their family’s fate/destiny. “Having children is better than saving money, with each additional child being an additional hope, that as long as one child does well in life, and helps his/her siblings, an entire family’s fate/destiny is changed, and [that child] can also contribute more to the country.”
Zhang Xingxi for her part feels she is completely the passive party, “We didn’t deliberately want this many babies; we just didn’t know contraception, and once pregnant, we couldn’t bear to abort. Plus, my husband is a barefoot doctor. Every time, he handled the delivery himself. So over time there were more and more.”
Why was He Hong and his wife able to have so many children? “We’re poor, can’t afford to pay the fine, so they just let it go.” Local villagers however say the main reason is that He Hong’s big brother He Xuewen was the Santai Branch Party Secretary at the time, and was given deference. Santai village’s current village head Tang Chaocai also believes this.
“No way! I’m stricter with He Hong than I am with anyone else,” He Xuewen said in defense of himself, that the main reason for the failure of enforcing the One Child Policy with He Hong at the time was because the couple would not cooperate. “My brother’s wife has a mental illness, and my brother is also unreasonable. So many times we’ve forcefully abducted them [to receive a forced abortion], but feared someone dying [in the struggle from resistance]. So they had more and more children, offended all the other villagers, so of course they’re going to put all the blame on me. I too feel wronged.”
A deputy town mayor of a Pengnan town has a similar response as He Xuewen about this issue. He says this is a “problem arising from history [tradition, beliefs]”. At the time, the family planning department had done a lot, several times already having dragged her to the hospital operating table, but the couple ultimately struggled free and escaped.” That woman is from another province, and they haven’t registered a marriage certificate. When we check on/investigate them, they hide, so monitoring them is indeed difficult.”
“It’s a headache for the government as well”
Multiple representatives of the town government say “He’s always using county government leaders to threaten us”, whereas He Hong expresses being “very lonely, with everyone looking down on us.”
“It’s really unfair. Not only has he had so many children, all of them have gotten a hukou, the entire family living off the country’s subsistence allowance [welfare].” When the topic of He Hong and his family are raised, Santai villagers and neighboring Shangwan villagers are all very antagonistic.
He Hong’s family hukou household registry booklet shows that apart from the last child, all of the other children indeed have a hukou. With regards to this, local villagers and Santai village head Tang Chaocai are unable to give an answer [explain], whereas the answer He Hong himself gives is completely different from that of the Pengnan town government’s account.
He Hong says the hukou for these children were all acquired as the children neared schooling age by going to various government departments and “begging” them. “I can’t afford the fine, but after going enough, they also pitied me, and thus gave me [a hukou for his children].”
A deputy mayor for Pengnan town however says these children’s hukou were all obtained two years ago all at the same time. “At the time, He Hong finally agreed to his wife implanting an IUD, so from the basis of being people-oriented, we registered them for him.” Town government documents show that Zhang Xingxi implanted an IUD in 2012 July. The registration date of He Hong’s family hukou household registration booklet is 2013 February.
The “two differing versions” of this hukou matter is but this family’s real life in a nutshell.
According to villagers, He Hong often conspires with his children to steal things from villagers’ homes and fields. “As long as they covet something, it’ll be gone the moment you look away, so villagers close their doors the moment they see them.” During this Southern Metropolis Daily reporter’s interviews, scenes of villagers seeing He family children and closing their doors or avoiding them did appear.
The aforementioned Pengnan town deputy mayor’s shares the villagers’ description [of Hong He’s family]. He says, “it’s a headache for the government as well.” This deputy mayor says He Hong is “very rascally”, every now and then going to the town government demanding subsidies, and going to the county to complain/petition if we do not give them. “Many times we have no choice but to appease him.” Data from Pengnan town Civil Affairs Office Director Yang Yanzhong shows that starting in 2006, He Hong’s family had eight people enjoying welfare, totaling 880 yuan [RMB] every month; in 2014, they received ad hoc aid of 2800 yuan, and have already received 500 yuan in aid so far in 2015; every rural busy season, the government also helps him purchase seed, fertilizer, etc.; and in 2014 March, the country Civil Affairs Office also allocated funds to help him rebuild his home. Yang Yanzhong says: “Our original budget was 46,000 yuan, only for him to not comply with regulations, and forcibly demand 110,000 yuan in subsidies. If you don’t give it to him, he’ll cause trouble. It is truly holding the government ransom.”
Multiple representatives of the Pengnan town government express that they often suffer He Hong’s harassment. “He’s always using county government leaders to threaten us, saying he’s very familiar with them.”
However, He Hong, his wife, and his children have a different description of their life. In response to villagers’ complaints, He Hong describes it as “scapegoating”. “Children don’t know any better. Them going into other people’s fields to pluck a fruit or ear of corn has indeed happened, but I have never conspired with them to do so, and I even often beat them for it. Now whenever something happens in the village, it is all blamed on me, always cursing me.” Several of He Hong’s children also say their parents do not allow them to steal, and that they would pluck wild tangerines on the side of the road to eat when they’re hungry.
He Hong admits that he has received assistance from the government, but he doesn’t admit that he “causes trouble” [to get that assistance], but rather that [the assistance] has come “from begging time and time again”. As for the funds for rebuilding his house, he claims it he had to borrow over 30,000 yuan from the government with the remaining money coming from family and friends.
“Living here is truly very lonely, with no one respecting us,” He Hong says, many times having thought of moving the entire family away, but having no where to go. Now, he is gradually realizing that his original “having children is better than saving money” notion is wrong, but having already arrived at this point, he has no choice but to grit his teeth and move forward.
A piercing cry interrupts He Hong — His seventh and fifth child had a dispute playing cards and have gotten into a fight. He Hong and his second eldest run over to stop it. At this moment, the smallest child in the house has fallen sound asleep by the entrance, while the other children silently stand around their mother Zhang Xingzi. Zhang Xingzi throws more firewood into the stove, and then says:
“This life is hard.”
Comments from NetEase:
I think the number of children other people want to have is their own business. If you don’t want to have one, that’s fine, but you can’t criticize others for having more.
tfm女司机 [网易山东省青岛市网友]： (responding to above)
If you’re going to have many children, you still need to allow them to live a decent life. It doesn’t have to be a very rich life but it can’t be like this where they don’t even have warm shelter. [Having children] in hopes of being comfortable in one’s old age [taken care of by children] yet being unable to give those children a good life, this is simply selfish behavior! I despise parents like this who can only have children and treat them as a flock of sheep!!!
娟娟的老公 [网易广东省佛山市顺德区网友]： (responding to above)
Can you rely on the government in your old age? Okay, I support that, there’s hope now.
If this were fucking Russia, she’d be a meritorious mother [a mother that has made good contributions to society].
When it comes to people, it is not about quantity but about quality.
We have several households in our village who in the past were so poor that they couldn’t even afford to celebrate Chinese New Year, but when their three children grew up. their household situation was immediately better. Unless they are exceptional, having rural children rely on education to improve their situation is relatively hard. When you have many people, they are all pairs of hands when they grow up, and when added together, things will immediately be better. They may not all go to college, but parents of this kind of family will produc one or two scholars…
网易四川省成都市网友 网易四川省成都市网友 ip：222.209.*.*
Animal World! [a CCTV program]
Those who want to comprehensively expand the Two-Child Policy stand forward.
I happen to think his notion is correct. It’s like working harder when you’re young to increase your odds of success in the future. Of course, your family truly does have too many, eleven!! I think three or four would be reasonable. If all of these children are filial, then he’ll begin reaping benefits and enjoying life when he’s 60.
网易上海市网友 ip：114.81.*.* (responding to above)
Without a good childhood environment with education to grow up in, you expect your children to be filial to you? Hehe, way to count your chickens before they’re hatched.
This woman is having diarrhea.