Disability Rights V Quality Birth Rhetoric: The Construction of Disability in China

Interesting article on the construction of disability in China by Yee-Fui Ng (Sessional Lecturer and PhD Candidate, Monash University Law School). The abstract: This article explores the tension between the Chinese government’s strong engagement in disability rights and simultaneous focus on ‘quality births’, which results in the abortion of disabled foetuses. At a broader level, the author examines the politicised and cultural construction of disability in China by scrutinising how the ‘disabled’ are defined, administered, policed and governed in postsocialist China.

Samuel Bagenstos (from the blog ‘Disability Law’) suggests that the abstract doesn’t really tell you much, and offers an excerpt from the paper:

This article explores the tension between China’s strong engagement in the area of disability, and the widespread acceptance in China of the importance of ‘quality birth’ (or suzhi) and the resultant perceived need to reduce the number of disabled babies being born.5 This article aims to explore this tension by critically analysing the laws and government rhetoric on disability rights, against the ‘quality birth’ laws and rhetoric, which include laws sanctioning sterilisation of disabled couples. At a broader level, the article examines the strategic way in which the Chinese government uses the language of disability in the two separate strands of disability discourse. In doing this, the article also sheds light on how the disabled are defined, administered, policed and governed in postsocialist China.

I argue that although at face value the Chinese government’s emphasis on disability rights and the simultaneous focus on ‘quality births’ seem to be diametrically opposed, these separate rhetorical strands work harmoniously with each other due to the pervasive influence of suzhi or ‘quality’ on the government and the Chinese population. My contention is that the combined effect of government policy in the area of disability is that there will be fewer people born with disabilities in Chinese society, as pre-birth disabilities are to be prevented through abortion to increase the ‘quality’ of the population, while those disabled post-birth are rehabilitated under the Chinese government’s disability rights efforts to contribute to the socialist regime. I also argue that as the concept of ‘quality’ strongly permeates contemporary Chinese society, where the Chinese public self-regulate, their behaviour and goals are aligned with the government to reduce perceived ‘low quality’ births; thus disabled foetuses are more likely to be aborted.

The article can be downloaded here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2261015

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