Feminist Legal Studies

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 295–318 | Cite as

Exploring ‘Glorious Motherhood’ in Chinese Abortion Law and Policy



Currently, abortion can be lawfully performed in China at any gestational stage for a wide range of social and medical reasons. I critically explore the Chinese regulatory model of abortion in order to examine its practical effects on women. Although I focus on the post-Maoist abortion law, I also analyse the imperial Confucianism-dominated regulation and the Maoist ban on abortion in order to scrutinise the emergence of the notion of ‘glorious motherhood’. By examining how ‘glorious motherhood’ is constructed and reinforced in the Chinese family planning context, I argue that the post-Maoist government intentionally made abortion ‘law in the books’ unrestrictive in order to impose its control over female fertility. As a result of this, women are persuaded and even forced to lead a ‘glorious’ maternal life, which means sacrificing themselves for the purpose of achieving the state’s Malthusian and eugenic demographic goals. Furthermore, I argue that, in addition to exacerbating gender oppression, abortion law’s embrace of the idea of ‘glorious motherhood’ also produces ‘group oppression’ of unmarried women and working-class women.


Abortion law Family planning Glorious motherhood Politicisation Population policy State 



Many thanks are owed to Julie McCandless who provided many helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article, and the two anonymous peer referees at Feminist Legal Studies for their insightful contributions in improving the piece. This study was funded by China’s Ministry of Education Project in Humanities and Social Sciences (Project No. 13YJC820002), the Philosophy and Social Science Planning Funding Project of Hunan Province (Project No. 14YBA104). The Scientific Research Foundation for the Returned Overseas Chinese Scholars in China also supported this work.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law SchoolHunan UniversityChangshaChina

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