Cartoons Urge Birth Control

Want to find a theme park whose theme is birth control? Welcome to China's countryside.

The most eye-catching scene in Beiguodong Village these days may be a one-kilometer stretch of street lined with beautiful and humorous cartoon pictures, all trying to persuade people to have

fewer children.

The cartoons depict cocks and hens ardently discussing how many eggs they should lay. Their decision: the fewer the better -- considering the explosion of the poultry population.

And there are more monks, as more and more men rush to temples after failing to find girlfriends -- a result of the imbalance between the number of men and women in China.

Beiguodong Village in Wuzhi in central China is not unique, as at least 200 villages in this county in China's most populous province of Henan have turned themselves into cartoon central, and some 12,000 pictures have been drawn by farmers with the help of family planning officials. The cartoon streets have become an open cafe for the farmers and the cartoons are frequently the topic of after-dinner conversation.

No one remembers who first came up with this idea, but according to Li Hongkui, a fine-arts teacher at a village middle school, "cartoons make a heavy topic lighter."

She was invited to create cartoons telling villagers how to practice birth control, how to keep their reproductive organs healthy, and how to give birth to a healthy baby.

"These topics used to be very private and people were just too embarrassed to discuss them," said Li, surprised by the changes going on in the villages today, where life is still much more old-

fashioned than in the cities. But cartoons can be accepted by nearly everyone.

Li's works have titles like "Planting more trees and bearing fewer babies," and "The god of land brings a lawsuit against a farmer who has too many children." The language is symbolic, but

can be understood by the farmers, many of whom are illiterate, Li explained.

For thousands of years, the most awful curse in China was for a man to die without sons. As one old Chinese saying puts it, "One will have more happiness and fortune if one has more children than others." People wanted more sons because they could rely on them in old age, and males were needed for labor in the fields, where almost all farming was done manually.

This tradition has caused the Chinese population to grow from 60 million in the first century A.D. to the nearly 1.3 billion at present, and caused conflicts between man and nature, and hindered \economic development while depicting resources.

A birth control policy was thus introduced in the 1970s which demands that an urban family have only one child, and a rural family two at the maximum.

Publicity, which is essential for successful birth control, worked well in the urban areas but usually failed in the countryside, where people have a low level of education and are more conservative, according to Shi Hailong, an official with the State Family Planning Commission.

Shi said that he was "delighted" by the cartoons in Henan Province, and that tedious publicity should be replaced by more vivid images, such as cartoons, short plays, and story-telling that are more suited to farmers.

These new methods seem to be working. "If I had had only one son, I could have built the most gorgeous house in the village," said 63-year old Zhao Xinghong, a farmer in Beiguodong village.

Zhao grasped a brush in his hands which are used to holding a hoe to paint on a wall. "My fifth son is to get married" is what Zhao painted.

The picture, although clumsy in technique, distinctly depicts the situation in which Zhao must live in a hutch in order to save every penny for his youngest son's marriage.

Zhao said that he drew the picture to encourage fellow villagers not to make the same mistake.

Nearly 9,000 farm couples in the village have decided to have only one child and have received one-child certificates from the birth control committee.

Over 300 million people would have been added to the nearly 1.3billion in China in the last three decades if not for the implementation of the birth control policy. And the world's Day of

Six Billion would have come four years earlier.

"Cartoons help make fewer babies -- Chinese wisdom!" said Shi. "And it is worth trying nationwide."

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