20,000 Yuan for a Human Life

I reprint a line item from Jay Nordlinger’s column, along with the link:

You may have been wondering: “Where are Chinese men going to get wives, what with female infanticide leaving such an imbalance between men and women?” One answer, as this article tells us, is Burma: Burmese girls are sold into slavery, or “marriage,” or whatever you wish to call how they end up.

Bear in mind that the U.S. vice president recently extolled the one-child policy on his visit to China. The White House’s backtracking cannot really efface that.

Here is the lede paragraphs from the linked article:

Aba was just 12-years-old when she left her hometown of Muse in Burma to visit Yunnan Province in China’s far southwest. When she crossed the border, she was expecting to spend only a few hours away from home.

But it would be three long years before Aba saw her family again. Like thousands of other young girls and women from Burma, she had been duped into coming to China so she could be sold into a forced marriage to one of the growing number of Chinese men who – because there are not enough girl babies born in China – cannot find wives any other way.

During her time in China, Aba endured routine beatings, while never being able to communicate with her family or even go outside on her own. Above all, she lived with the knowledge that she was destined to be married to the son of the family that had bought her – as if she was one of the pigs or chickens that ran around their farm.

“I was sold for 20,000 Yuan (£1,880),” said Aba.

And the article continues:

No one knows how many thousands of women are trafficked into China each year to be the wives of the men known as guang gun, or bare branches, the bachelors in rural areas who cannot find brides by conventional means.

[…]

Prices for the women range from 6,000 to 40,000 Yuan (£560-£3750), depending on their age and appearance. … around 25 per cent of the women sold in China are under 18.

[The young women are]… paraded in public in front of potential buyers, which is the fate of many trafficked women. It is a brutal and dehumanising experience.

“Sometimes they’ll be sold in markets that are held in parks. The traffickers will put the women in nice dresses and make-up. It’s very cruel, because the women are happy to be wearing nice clothes, which they’ve never had before, and then they are sold like vegetables.”

My comment: I challenge anyone who wishes to attempt it to put forward an argument, one that does not use any unspoken Christian assumptions about the innate and divine sanctity of the human life, but which instead is based on the secular humanist assumptions behind the philosophy of Communist China, to show any logical reason why women should not be enslaved to serve as brides to lonely Chinese men?

Again, is there any logical reason why, once we accept the logical implication of the one-child policy, including the implication that you life as well as your sex life rightfully may be curtailed and controlled by the collective, we are not likewise forced to accept the institution of the state-arranged marriages, coercive marriages, the harem, the slavemarket?

In other words, once we agree with the secular humanist premise that our lives, our work, and the reproduction of our children are legitimately controlled and owned by the state, why should not be abducting and coercing women into the marriage bed be not likewise legitimate?

If all men are already abject slaves of Caesar, why should not pretty young maidens become slaves of their husbands?

I will point out that, as a matter of historical fact, only in the Christian religion is it a doctrinal truth that marriage is a sacrament, is monogamous, and is voluntary on the part of the women.

Those who regard Christianity as repressive of the rights of women tend to forget that those rights do not exist anywhere outside Christianity: no bride of Asia nor Africa nor America before the coming of the Missionary could legally forestall a marriage arrangement by refusing to consent to it; nor could legally forestall the marriage by her husband of additional wives or concubines; nor could legally forestall a divorce.

It seems odd, in the days when all industrial nations are not reproducing at replacement rates, to continue fretting about overpopulation, but those of you who are true believers in Erlichism, riddle me this: if the threat of overpopulation gives Caesar the right to control your childbearing activities, saying when a man may and may not couple with his wife (which is what is done in China, so I have heard first hand) on what grounds can you deny Caesar the right to control your childbearer, that is, your bride?

If your babies belong to Caesar, then so does the rest of the body and mind and soul of the mother.

If you can coerce her into sterility when the population is high, and forbid childbearing, the same logic allows you to coerce her into fertility when the population is low, or young men need women.

There is no such thing in life as a moderate amount of tyranny or a little bit of inhumanity. Once you grant the inhuman premise of the secular humanists that men are merely beasts, or merely biomachines, you cannot reach the mystical conclusion of the Christians that all men are born equal, and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights.

If Albany can redefine marriage from the voluntary sexual union of man and wife to now be the voluntary pseudo-sexual union of man and man, nothing prevents Peking from redefining marriage to the involuntary union of man and concubine.

If rights are manmade, they can be man-unmade. If rights are evolved by nature, they can be ignored by men who conquer nature.

30 Comments

  1. Ping from Side-Lines:

    “I was sold for 20,000 Yuan (£1,880),” said Aba….

    I challenge anyone who wishes to attempt it to put forward an argument, one that does not use any unspoken Christian assumptions about the innate and divine sanctity of the human life, but which instead is based on the secular……

  2. Comment by False_Keraptis:

    “I challenge anyone who wishes to attempt it to put forward an argument, one that does not use any unspoken Christian assumptions about the innate and divine sanctity of the human life, but which instead is based on the secular humanist assumptions behind the philosophy of Communist China, to show any logical reason why women should not be enslaved to serve as brides to lonely Chinese men?”

    The first and easiest objection is that mighty Caesar himself, the all-encompassing state that carries out the collective will of the populace, has forbidden it. From the telegraph article:

    “During a routine identity card check in her area, the police discovered that she was a foreigner and she was taken away, just weeks before she was due to be wed. “I explained what had happened to me and the police went to see the family. They told them, ‘You can’t buy people, they’re not animals’. They asked me if I wanted to prosecute them but I said, ‘no’. I just wanted to forget it and go home,” said Aba.”

    People can’t be allowed to decide which laws to follow and which to ignore; it would cause chaos.

    Of course the state could just as easily mandate forced marriage as forbid it, but I think they have good reasons for this policy. These women are foreigners, who will impart alien language, culture, and genes to their offspring. Compared to local women’s children, they will probably support the government less and contribute less to society, while committing more crime and dissent. There’s a good reason the Old Testament warns again and again about the dangers foreign women, even slaves and concubines, pose to a cohesive society. Enslaving local women brings its own issues, and the whole problem is there aren’t enough of them to start with. Forced marriage could also harm China’s foreign relations; I imagine the Burmese aren’t too happy about this development, and a lot of the world does believe in “unspoken Christian assumptions about the innate and divine sanctity of the human life.”

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “The first and easiest objection is that mighty Caesar himself, the all-encompassing state that carries out the collective will of the populace, has forbidden it.”

      This is irrelevant to what was asked, which is not whether the act is criminal in China, but whether a coherent and logical argument can be made as to why it is illegal. That it may just so happen to be the whim of the tyrant to forbid it is an historical cause, like saying “because I said so” not a formal cause, like saying, “because the following moral principle is offended….”

    • Comment by Mary:

      Of course the state could just as easily mandate forced marriage as forbid it,

      Which is what underscores that it is only the whim of Caesar. He could as easily find good reason to mandate it — suppression of genetic disease, for instance.

  3. Comment by Stephen J.:

    Purely for devil’s advocate purposes, in an effort to understand the thinking rather than defend it.

    “…once we agree with the secular humanist premise that our lives, our work, and the reproduction of our children are legitimately controlled and owned by the state, why should not be abducting and coercing women into the marriage bed be not likewise legitimate?”

    Because if done without state sanction it is a private transaction, which by definition is antagonistic to the collective if adopted by everyone. Only the designated State body may decide which women should marry which men and when they should have children.

    “…as a matter of historical fact, only in the Christian religion is it a doctrinal truth that marriage is a sacrament, is monogamous, and is voluntary on the part of the women… no bride of Asia nor Africa nor America before the coming of the Missionary could legally forestall a marriage arrangement by refusing to consent to it; nor could legally forestall the marriage by her husband of additional wives or concubines; nor could legally forestall a divorce.”

    This is true, but I do feel obliged to note that a freedom available in principle to women as a cultural ideal can nonetheless be, and all too often was, quite effectively denied in the majority of actual practice. Yes, the Sacrament could not be enacted if the bride simply refused to speak the words of consent before the priest, but with the familial, cultural and economic stakes that rode on the vast majority of potential marriages, how many in practice dared?

    I sometimes think the appeal of totalitarian family control is its purported “honesty” in making the economic pressures of marriage the explicit and exclusive deciding factors; the relief (which is a form of despair) that comes from giving up on even bothering to try to live up to ideals, and instead simply act as seems profitable without caring.

    “Once you grant the inhuman premise of the secular humanists that men are merely beasts, or merely biomachines, you cannot reach the mystical conclusion of the Christians that all men are born equal, and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights.”

    No, but as I’ve noted before, the temptation of secular humanism is to believe that you don’t need to always be reaching for the Perfect Ideal in order to achieve the Good Enough; even if rights are treated, in practice, as mere privileges granted primacy only by how fervently and frequently they’re desired, as long as most people agree on what’s wanted you can gain most of their benefits while still retaining the prerogative of dispensing with them whenever necessary or convenient (e.g. to euthanize burdensome invalids, abort inconvenient children, or penalize troublesome movements or factions, all of whom can be deprived of their privileges on the grounds of the threat they pose to others’ privileges).

    The desire, as always, is for the ability to have it both ways.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      “This is true, but I do feel obliged to note that a freedom available in principle to women as a cultural ideal can nonetheless be, and all too often was, quite effectively denied in the majority of actual practice. Yes, the Sacrament could not be enacted if the bride simply refused to speak the words of consent before the priest, but with the familial, cultural and economic stakes that rode on the vast majority of potential marriages, how many in practice dared?”

      You are mistaken. You are under no obligation to draw a moral equivalence between a situation where brides consent need not be asked, as she had no rights, and a situation where her family pressured her not to exercise a right which could not be alienated from her.

      It is on the same level as Marxists who claim that working for a wage is the same as slavery on the grounds that a man with no real option but to work under dirty or dangerous conditions for low pay, but is afraid to exercise his right to quit, is just the same as a slave who, if he fails to work, shall be beaten or killed.

      You are equating two opposite things that are alike only in an accidental and trivial surface similarity: a man who climbs into a boxing ring and a man mugged in an alleyway might both get punched in the face, but one is a crime, and the other is not.

      • Comment by Stephen J.:

        “You are under no obligation to draw a moral equivalence between a situation where brides consent need not be asked, as she had no rights, and a situation where her family pressured her not to exercise a right which could not be alienated from her.”

        I agree, but I’m not drawing a moral equivalence; I’m drawing a practical equivalence, and observing that a moral difference which appears to make no effective practical difference (cf. Mr. Spock, “A difference which makes no difference is no difference”) is extremely easy to discard as irrelevant, for motives both noble and venal.

        The problem, of course, is that if you start discarding the moral dimension in situations where it appears to make no difference, it becomes fatally easy to discard it also in situations where it does make a difference — at least in situations where you, or the group you’re part of, or (in fairness to the few who do think this way) the numerical majority even if that doesn’t include you personally, benefit from that difference.

    • Comment by Mary:

      “…once we agree with the secular humanist premise that our lives, our work, and the reproduction of our children are legitimately controlled and owned by the state, why should not be abducting and coercing women into the marriage bed be not likewise legitimate?”

      Because if done without state sanction it is a private transaction, which by definition is antagonistic to the collective if adopted by everyone. Only the designated State body may decide which women should marry which men and when they should have children.

      Mere happenstance. Is it fine if the state approves and blesses it as proof of enterprise on the men’s part?

  4. Comment by John Hutchins:

    “put forward an argument, one that does not use any unspoken Christian assumptions about the innate and divine sanctity of the human life, but which instead is based on the secular humanist assumptions behind the philosophy of Communist China, to show any logical reason why women should not be enslaved to serve as brides to lonely Chinese men?”

    If such slavery were legalized trade relations with other countries that frown on such things could fall apart hurting the Chinese economy. Further, the sanctioned stealing of subjects from one state by the citizens of another state is an act of war and should therefore be used only when war as an outcome is desirable or acceptable. The thus enslaved females may also be subpar for the rearing of children in the traditions and culture of the state. Willing brides are preferable in terms of cultural indoctrination and social stability, a bridal market might be recommendable with strict state regulation to ensure quality, health, language acquisition, and willingness of participants. Unfortunately, such a market may still have trade repercussions with key trading partners.

    The likelihood of a collapse in trade relations under the various options and the resulting social unrest from not meeting growth targets needs to be carefully considered against the certain social unrest caused by societal gender imbalance. The practice of enslaving brides or creating a market for brides should be put on hold until such time as the trade offs are worth the risks. A conventional war that is justifiable to the outside trading partners should also be considered as a method for bringing the gender gap into balance, but that has its own costs that need to be considered.

    How is that?

    • Comment by Patrick:

      “If such slavery were legalized trade relations with other countries that frown on such things could fall apart hurting the Chinese economy.”

      Countries that frown on such things tend to do so for religious reasons though, and particularly under the persuasion of Christian teachings, no? When slavery tended so frequently to be the victor’s economic benefit from conquest and displacing people, equivalency tends to set it rapidly. Without a moral absolute, live and let live tends to prevail, doesn’t it?

    • Comment by Mary:

      War! Yes, that would clear out the surplus males in China nicely. And if they killed enough Burmese men in the process, it would free up Burmese women.

      What would you argue if the country wanted war?

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        Would I be arguing in favor or against it?

        Basically there are four groups that need to be addressed in any argument for war. First, the citizens internally need to be sold on the war. Second, Bordering countries need to be neutral toward the war, or preferably desire that the targeted country be changed. Third, Foreign trading partners need to be okay with the war, a UN resolution seems to work best for this one. Fourth, the citizens of the targeted country need to not be loyal to the current government.

        Arguing in favor of a war with Burma would be insanely easy as all those conditions are met, in excess, with the exception of China’s citizens, which if the country is in favor of war would be easily met. The best way to start the war would be to have China’s intelligence services help escalate the current fighting inside Burma into a full civil war and have the fighting spill over into Thailand, both of which would require minimal effort on the part of China to accomplish.

        Arguing against a war with Burma is actually relatively harder to do, especially if the Chinese people (or government) desires such a war. The arguments based on other countries and trade that would be negatively impacted by the commoditization of brides and/or slavery wouldn’t work as everyone already wishes that someone would step into Burma.

        • Comment by Mary:

          You would, of course, being arguing that the kidnapping of brides is wrong, even if it brings about a desired war, without having recourse to Christian notions about the sanctity of human life and dignity. That side.

          • Comment by John Hutchins:

            Even if war is desired there is still the issue that Europe and the Americas are major Chinese trading partners and due to the unnatural system of slavery that developed in Europe there is a strong aversion towards any type of thing that is seen as slavery (although selling yourself into virtual slavery by use of debt instruments is lauded and promoted by the governments of those states). Trade relations would certainly collapse if anything that is easily called slavery were put into place and unwanted intervention by the U.S. may occur. It is therefore in the States interest to avoid sanctioning such slavery, although the illegal practice may be overlooked except in the case that specific complaints arise.

            In the case that trade relations would not be affected due to enslavement:

            For the brides, if enslavement were used then there would be no incentive for the women to make themselves be more desirable wives and no incentive for their families to have girls. By creating a market the desire for wives gets passed on so that families may be able to make a decently large amount of money by selling their unwanted daughters to bridal houses that raise them to be brides and then sell them off at a profit, or some other mechanism. This would cut the female abortion and infanticide rates in the surrounding countries, as well as alleviate some of the pressure on the yuan and help prevent some of the internal social unrest that is likely to occur due to the imbalance in the genders, even in the case of war, should gdp growth rate targets not be met. The girls thus raised would not be considered slaves in that their situation is only minimally different from an arranged marriage with a bride price involved, which is still decently common in many parts of the world.

            Therefore, for the purposes of social and regional stability, now and over the next ~50 years, a bride market should be promoted and enslavement kept illegal. It is important for the purpose of stability for the men to believe that with enough hard work they will be able to eventually obtain marriage, even if the bride is extremely young and they middle age, which outcome is again not uncommon in the world.

  5. Comment by Rolf Andreassen:

    When you were an atheist, how would you have answered the question?

  6. Comment by Gian:

    Mr Wright,
    If she is a bride then she is not a slave.
    If she is a slave, she can be a sex slave but not a bride or a wife.
    So these reports use imprecise language that may mislead us.

    By the way, the ancient Hindu law allowed for marriage by abduction. Many famous (semi) historical and mythological marriages were of this type. However, abduction does not imply that the girl does not consent, only that her father does not.
    That is, typically a hero abducts a willing girl against the wishes of her father (rather like an elopement).

    • Comment by DGDDavidson:

      According to the article, the twelve-year-old girl was kidnapped, sold, beaten regularly, and kept in reserve to be the unwilling bride of one of the sons of the family. “Slave” seems an appropriate description of her predicament, even if she was not (yet) a “sex slave.”

      If she is a bride then she is not a slave.

      This statement appears to assume the Christian teaching that marriage must be freely consented to, but that very teaching is what is at issue here.

      Not long ago I read the gut-wrenching autobiography of Nujood Ali, a Yemeni girl who was forced at age ten to marry a man in his thirties, and who was beaten and raped regularly. She was “married” to him, though she did no personally want the marriage, and her status in her husband’s family appears to have been that of a slave, specifically a sex slave.

      We can see that Ali’s marriage was illegitimate because she was underage and didn’t give her consent, but that is because we evaluate it from the Christian standpoint that insists a marriage is invalid unless the bride freely consents (which implies also that she must be of an age at which she is capable of freely consenting). The question is, apart from this Christian paradigm, what basis is there for distinguishing a bride from a sex slave?

      • Comment by John Hutchins:

        ” what basis is there for distinguishing a bride from a sex slave?”

        A brides sons are the legal inheritors of the father. A sex slaves sons are not able to inherit. Also, a bride creates a close contractual relationship between the father of the bride and the husband, which is why treaties often included marriage. With sex slaves (or concubines) there is no such relationship.

        • Comment by DGDDavidson:

          I think I understand the distinction you’re making, but then my question is the same as Wright’s below: “You can, of course, define a bride as being different from a slave, but then what word does one use to refer to girls kidnapped, beaten into submission, sold for money, and forced to wed their purchaser, particularly if the children are legitimate, and inherit?”

          It certainly sounds like slavery. Nujood Ali’s predicament sounded like slavery. The predicament of the girl in the article linked in the post sounds like slavery. If she’s sold, beaten, and raped, how can we call it anything other than slavery when it sounds so much like slavery, just because her children inherit?

          • Comment by Gian:

            A lot of traditional societies have the custom of bride-price e.g the story of Rachael and Leah. In modern terms Rachael was sold by her father but that does not mean that Rachael was a slave.

            “forced to wed their purchaser”

            So you are obliged to use the word “wed”.

            For feminists, any woman in a traditional marriage is a slave since she is subject to her husband.

            I have no solution to the problem. Traditionally, a marriage is a marriage and a lot of communities will not take a violated girl back.

            We are not stranger to this problem. Many old Hindi movies had the theme of a villain kidnapping a wealthy heiress and forcibly marry her to get the property. Unless the hero rescued her from the wedding itself, the wedding was recognized and the property would go the villain, girl’s wishes totally disregarded. All assumed as a matter of course among Indians.
            Perhaps in England too in 19C or earlier?

            • Comment by Foxfier:

              The Christian version is also well known– probably the most common example is the Robin Hood version, where either John or the Sheriff tell Maid Marian that if they don’t wed him, he’ll kill Robin. Snidley Whiplash characters do the same thing, although sometimes they just threaten to kill her unless she marries them. Oh, and the whole Gaston subplot in Beauty and the Beast….

              Usual dialog: “Marry me!” “NEVER!” “Then suffer!”

              Can’t be married without her saying “yes.”

              There are a lot of saint-stories that revolve around this detail, too– in many cases, the parents try to force the girl to wed, and she refuses. (Sometimes because the guy is immoral, sometimes because she’s consecrated herself to God.)

            • Comment by Foxfier:

              *headsmack* How could I forget!

              The Princess Bride has it, too!
              from a script
              Buttercup: Oh, Westley, will you ever forgive me?

              Westley: What hideous sin have you committed lately?

              Buttercup: I got married. I didn’t want to. It all happened so
              fast.

              Westley: Never happened.

              Buttercup: What?

              Westley: Never happened.

              Buttercup: But it did. I was there. This old man said “man and
              wife”.

              Westley: Did you say “I do”?

              Buttercup: Uh, no. We sort of skipped that part.

              Westley: Then you’re not married. If you didn’t say it, you
              didn’t do it.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      You use words that are not related to the objects they purpose to represent. You can, of course, define a bride as being different from a slave, but then what word does one use to refer to girls kidnapped, beaten into submission, sold for money, and force to wed their purchaser, particularly if the children are legitimate, and inherit?

      Once she is pregnant, of course, the woman has no hope of escape. The wife need not be beaten if beating the child will do.

  7. Comment by Stephen J.:

    “I challenge anyone who wishes to attempt it to put forward an argument, one that does not use any unspoken Christian assumptions about the innate and divine sanctity of the human life, but which instead is based on the secular humanist assumptions behind the philosophy of Communist China, to show any logical reason why women should not be enslaved to serve as brides to lonely Chinese men?”

    This is, of course, a trick question: since one of secularism’s premises is precisely the inadmissibility of absolute “shoulds/should nots”, you cannot logically derive a “should not” conclusion from premises that do not start with them.

    That said, I can see a secular utilitarian totalitarian (say that three times fast!) arguing as follows: One does not need to logically establish an absolute prohibitive imperative in principle to demonstrate that in practice, the suffering caused by these actions — both directly to the women involved, and indirectly to the citizens of both countries from the repercussions — outweighs the social good they may bring in virtually any conceivable circumstance; the male-female imbalance (the only society-scale good it might be argued to address) cannot be resolved by such operations without expanding them to such a scale as to cause war. Therefore such enslavement is to be proscribed and punished so far as is possible, as causing more suffering than it alleviates.

    Chinese law and government do proscribe this practice, even if out of xenophobia rather than humanitarianism, and even if the resources allocated to fighting it are less than they could be (but of what civic service in China is that not true?). So even if one cannot construct a logical reason, one can nonetheless demonstrate a number of practical ones; and if those practical reasons do depend on circumstances, those circumstances still seem unlikely to change soon.

  8. Comment by David_Ellis:

    I was tempted to write a post pointing out all the ways that the Chinese communist regime is at odds with the ethical principles of secular humanism and showing the irony of the poster’s question by quoting Biblical passages endorsing slavery, authorizing punishment for raping a slave who has been promised in marriage but none for one who hasn’t and the places in which soldiers were ordered to kill a whole population except for the girls who they could keep for themselves.

    Then I remembered this cartoon:

    http://xkcd.com/386/

    And saved myself a lot of wasted time.

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