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You Can't Freeze Your Ova Without A Husband, State Media Warns Chinese Women

After a celebrity revealed she'd frozen nine of her eggs in the United States, state media ruled out the domestic option for Chinese single women.

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Forty-one-year-old Chinese actress and filmmaker Xu Jinglei visited the U.S. in 2013 to freeze nine of her eggs, she recently revealed. "Probably this is the only cure for regrets in the world," she told national news magazine Vista in early July.

She was punning an old Chinese saying, "There's no medicine for regrets in the world."

By that, she meant that although life doesn't have an undo key, there are exceptions. Preserving a woman's eggs when they are still young allows women the possibility to have children even if they are past the age where doctors start citing concerns about the viability of pregnancy.

But she didn't undergo the procedure because she's eager to have children. "I just hope to maximize my reproductive rights with new and safe technologies in this new age," Xu said.

Kin Cheung / AP

It wasn't a hard decision, Xu said. It occurred to her that she could take advantage of a vacation for the operation and she did it.

"My doctor was a beautiful and small lady with blonde hair and blue eyes," she recalled. "She reminded me of the American TV drama Grey's Anatomy."

For her, it just meant one fewer thing to worry about.

But for state-owned China Central Television (CCTV), Xu's choice set off alarm bells regarding China's birth rate.

news.cntv.cn

In order to prevent a potential increased demand for egg freezing, CCTV published a six-minute long video story on the procedure. In brief, the segment argued:

a) The technology of egg freezing is "fairly new thus awaits more medical research."

b) It is not as secure as "some female celebrity" said, as the success rate of having a baby via a frozen egg is pretty low in reality.

c) Most important, CCTV said that the law bans single women from executing operations related to assisted reproductive techniques: "Egg freezing is out of the reach of family-planning policy, ethical principles and laws." But confusingly, CCTV also said that while egg freezing is against the law, some domestic hospitals have started to accept single women for the procedure.

"[W]hen it comes to the time of using the eggs, three certificates are needed at the same time: ID card, marriage certificate, as well as the permission card to give birth," posted CCTV on Sina Weibo on Sunday as a follow-up. The backlash was fierce.

Among more than 30,000 comments, the one that received the most likes came from "Killerwal": "Women cannot use their reproductive rights independently ... in your country, women are men's reproductive machines and nannies, in short, uteruses and slaves."

weibo.com

Note: "In your country" — according to bilingual news website China Digital Times' e-book Decoding the Chinese Internet: A Glossary of Political Slang — is an expression used often by “politically liberal, pro-human rights” and "pro-democracy netizens" in the use of "battling the propaganda that assumes a Chinese citizen is a party supporter."

Some commenters do support the law, though. Their main argument is that a child will be miserable without an intact family or father's teaching. The supporters got popular writer Han Han speaking up and dragged into the conversation.

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Han argued that things change, a married family could divorce, a single mother could meet the love of her life, and "we need to give the social minority rights to choose."

The law also doesn't seem to take those who don't want to get married into consideration. One user commented with disgust, "I'm just fucking frustrated, why must women marry guys to be considered normal? I really hate marriage and prefer being alone."

One user asked on behalf of her fellow women, "What is the basis and rationality of the ban?"

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The ambiguous CCTV report sparked debate among professionals on China's equivalent of Quora, Zhihu. Referring to the same document — Regulations on Human Beings' Assisted Reproductive Techniques, one of the only legal bases available for the ban — lawyer Ji Hongwei and law student Shenjin Nailiu reached different conclusions. One said just "freezing eggs" was fine, while the other found a specific clause against the practice.

But according to explanations from other state media such as CRI and Xinhua, a Chinese Ministry of Health law issued in 2001 "bans unmarried Chinese women from freezing their eggs" due to a booming black market for eggs.

Pichi Chuang / Reuters

(It is noteworthy that at the same time, single Chinese men are not subject to any similar ban. Just last month, China's online giant Alibaba just summoned more than 20,000 men for sperm donation, to help face a national sperm shortage.)

"But what if single women need to have an operation that might endanger their reproductive functions?" one user asked. "If they aren't allowed to freeze their eggs, how can we ensure their reproductive rights?"

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Xu Ben, verified on Weibo as a surgeon from Beijing University First Hospital, also pointed out the imbalance of rights between the sexes. In his experience, hospitals help single men freeze their sperm before a surgery that might put a man's reproductivity at risk.

So despite the risk of having to face the authorities' displeasure at waiting to have children, accentuating issues the one-child policy has caused, more and more women are traveling overseas to have their eggs frozen, reported state media CRI.

Kim Kyung Hoon / Reuters

In the face of a rising gender imbalance and looming labor shortage, China loosened its family planning policy in the beginning of 2014 by allowing couples to have two children as long as one of the parents is a single child. However, the revision of the policy hasn't allowed large numbers of couples to conceive a second child. Recently word spread that China was reportedly considering further loosening the policy by allowing all couples a second child, but Beijing denied on Friday that it would happen within the current year, according to state-owned People.cn.

Beimeng Fu is a BuzzFeed News World Reporter covering China and is based in New York.

Contact Beimeng Fu at beimeng.fu@buzzfeed.com.

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