Twenty-two years ago, a heavily pregnant Qian Fenxiang hid herself and her three-year-old daughter on a houseboat on a secluded Suzhou canal, 120km away from her home in Hangzhou, and waited.
Six weeks later, she gave birth on the boat to a second daughter, a child who should have been aborted under China’s draconian one-child policy, introduced in 1979 as a means to reduce poverty.
Xu Lida, her husband, had cut the cord with a pair of scissors he had sterilised with boiling water and, for a do-it-yourself delivery, all seemed to be going well – until the placenta wouldn’t drop. It was a dangerous complication, but hospital care was out of the question. Fortunately for the couple, there was a small clinic near where they were moored, and a doctor who agreed to help without alerting the authorities.
Five days later, the then 24-year-old Xu got up at dawn and took the …
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