The tragic story of a 3-year-old girl born through surrogacy is top trending on Chinese social media today, where the child is referred to as the ‘unregistered surrogacy girl’ (“黑户代孕女童”).
The child was meant to grow up with her two biological parents, but when the surrogate mother tested positive for a syphilis infection halfway through the pregnancy, the intended parents canceled the surrogacy agreement. The story was told in a short video report by Chinese news outlet The Paper.
The poverty-stricken surrogate mother ended up having the baby herself, but could not afford her bills and sold the baby’s birth certificate. The biological parents have refused to take responsibility for the girl.
Without her formal papers and household registration, the 3-year-old girl cannot go to school and is not registered anywhere.
From Surrogacy Baby to ‘Heihaizi’
On January 12, Chinese media outlet Time Weekly (时代周报) published a lengthy interview with the surrogacy mother recounting the entire story of the canceled surrogacy agreement.
The story starts in 2016 when the then 38-year-old* Wu Chuanchuan (吴川川, alias) became a surrogate mother as a way to earn money. The older couple who wanted a baby came from Inner Mongolia and had previously lost a child. *(In the interview, Wu claims she is actually younger than the age indicated on her official papers, which say she is now 47.)
The surrogacy agreement, arranged through an underground company, was settled at 170,000 yuan ($26,200). It concerned a gestational surrogacy, in which the child is not biologically related to the surrogate mother.
During the pregnancy, Wu was living together with other surrogate mothers. When she was four months pregnant, she unexpectedly tested positive for syphilis. Wu says she suspects that the infection was spread within the small surrogacy mother community she lived in.
Syphilis in pregnant women is risky and can have a major impact on the baby’s health. It can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, or death as a result of the infection as a newborn.
“The intended parents decided to withdraw from the surrogacy arrangement, asking for a refund and offering to pay for an abortion.”
Due to syphilis, the intended parents of the baby decided to withdraw from the surrogacy arrangement, asking for a refund and offering to pay for an abortion. Wu would only receive 20,000 yuan ($3085).
This situation left Wu, who already felt the fetus moving, in a very difficult situation. She eventually refused to terminate the pregnancy and withdrew from the surrogacy agency’s home.
Staying at cheap hotels in the city of Chengdu and unable to find a suitable adoption family, Wu eventually gave birth to a baby girl that she would raise herself.
But there was one major issue: money. Wu already could not afford the hospital admittance fee, let alone the 12,000 yuan ($1850) in hospital bills she had to pay after needing a C-section delivery.
To pay for her medical bills, Wu was forced to take desperate measures and ended up selling her baby’s birth certificate. Through the internet’s black market, she found someone who would pay 20,000 yuan ($3085) for it.
Once the baby was born, things looked up for Wu. She soon married a kind man who was willing to raise baby girl ‘Xiao Rang’ (小让, alias) together with her, and the child’s congenital syphilis was cured.
But Xiao Rang still had no birth certificate, and thus no hukou.
The hukou or ‘household registration’ system is a registered permanent residence policy. A hukou is assigned at birth based on one’s community and family. China’s hukou system, amongst others, separates rural from urban citizens and is essential to access social services, including education and healthcare.
Without a hukou, the child cannot attend kindergarten, and will not be able to go to school – she will be a heihaizi (黑孩子, lit. ‘black child’), an ‘illegal child’ not registered anywhere.
In December of 2020, as reported by The Paper, Wu traveled from Chengdu to Inner Mongolia in search of her daughter’s biological parents.
The girl’s intended parents turned out to have twin sons now. Spending approximately 700,000 yuan ($108,000) for the process to get their twins through another surrogate mother, the family allegedly could not afford to also be legally responsible for Xiao Rang. Afraid of the consequences, the 50-year-old biological father initially also seemed unwilling to formally arrange adoption papers for his daughter, Wu told Time Weekly.
Banned Baby Business
On Weibo, a hashtag page about Xiao Rang’s story received over 550 million views on Tuesday, making it one of the most-discussed topics on January 12 (#首个遭代孕客户退单女童无法上户#).
Due to the media attention, and the biological father’s identity being exposed, the case was still developing while Chinese netizens looked on.
According to the latest reports, Xiao Rang’s biological father will now provide assistance in arranging registration papers for the little girl while Wu Chuanchuan will still raise the child.
The fact that the father himself came forward to tell his side of the story also became a trending topic (#遭退单代孕女童生物学父亲现身#), garnering over 260 million views by Tuesday night Beijing time. The biological father confirms that they gave up on the baby once they were informed of Wu’s syphilis infection, and that they did not expect Wu to have the baby after all.
Meanwhile, on social media, there seems to have been a shift in sentiments regarding this story. Netizens initially sided with the surrogate mother and her tragic story.
But as the media continue to report on this story, more and more people are starting to doubt Wu’s sincerity, wondering if she used media exposure to portray herself as a victim to gain the public’s sympathy.
Online commenters criticize Wu for being part of the surrogacy agreement, for choosing to have the child despite her syphilis, and for selling the child’s birth certificate. Many call her ‘immoral’ and ‘irresponsible.’
“Surrogacy exploits women, and it is a serious violation of social ethics and morals. Taking part in surrogacy should be severely punished.”
Surrogacy has been a hot topic on Chinese social media recently. Just a month ago, a short film titled “10 Months With You” (‘宝贝儿’) by famous Chinese director Chen Kaige (陈凯歌) also stirred controversy for supposedly presenting surrogacy in China in a relatively positive light.
The 30-minute film revolves around a young girl who signs a surrogacy contract with intended parents without telling her boyfriend. When she gets emotionally attached to the baby during her pregnancy, things get complicated. But she eventually is persuaded by her boyfriend that the child is not intended to be with them, after which she is willing to part with the baby.
Chinese state media outlets, including Global Times and China Daily emphasized that surrogacy is illegal in China and that those who take part in surrogacy will face fines or even criminal prosecution.
Nevertheless, the practice of surrogacy is a somewhat legislative grey area in China. China’s Ministry of Health introduced regulations in 2001 that made it illegal for medical staff to offer surrogacy services. In 2015, there were official plans to completely curb surrogate pregnancies. But that strict ban on surrogacy pregnancies was later reversed.
In 2017, People’s Daily even published a controversial article that suggested a loosening of surrogacy bans to boost China’s birth rates. Meanwhile, there have been ongoing reports about China’s booming underground surrogacy market (here, here ).
In 2018, state media outlet Global Times quoted Qiu Renzong, a bioethics expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Science in saying: “The Chinese government should consider setting some rules to allow surrogacy in certain circumstances.”
With discussions on Xiao Rang’s case and surrogacy in China being a major topic on Weibo, the legal side is also receiving much attention. Law expert Zhang San (@普法达人张三) uses the hashtag “Criminalize Surrogacy” (#建议代孕入刑#) when he writes:
“Although surrogacy is illegal, it is a blank space in the criminal law. Surrogacy exploits women, and it is a serious violation of social ethics and morals. Taking part in surrogacy should be severely punished. If the freedom is not restricted, it will surely lead to exploitation of the weak by the strong.”
Some people on Weibo argue that most of the people involved in Xiao Rang’s story are filthy and immoral, and that they need to be punished. But virtually everyone agrees that the little girl needs to be registered in order to still have a chance to lead a normal life: “The child is innocent.”