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The Economist hosts a jarring story of a mother in rural China forced to endure a coerced abortion while seven months pregnant at the hands of government family-planning officials. But why the magazine reports on this particular case, which in some ways is tragically not unique at all, is that it seems to have resulted in something of a moderate domestic uproar over not only the brutal mistreatment of the woman involved but over the whole mentality behind the one-child policy. The public scandal it’s caused, with the aid of social media, is unprecedented in the history of the policy, the  Economist  says:

Chinese citizens expressed their outrage online. It is not just the treatment of Ms. Feng that they deplore. It is the one-child policy itself.

Prominent voices joined in the criticism. “The outrageous and violent forced-abortion incident in June is not unique to Shaanxi”, wrote Liang Jianzhang, on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. Mr Liang is chief executive of Ctrip, one of China’s most successful travel companies. “Abolition of the absurd family-planning policy is the only way to root out this kind of evil,” he went on. Mr Liang’s post has been retweeted more than 18,000 times.

The scandal is a blow to the one-child policy’s public image, says He Yafu, a demographer and critic of the policy. That image has never been good, even if in recent years many learned to live with it.

Sometimes all it takes for a sea-change in mass opinion is a single, memorable case or heart-rending narrative vaulting itself above the rest of the popular chatter. Is this an ideal or calmly logical way of rousing consciousnesses? No. But if a ‘viral’ story succeeds at imparting a much-ignored reality (as opposed to perpetuating a deception, which appeals to emotion often aim at), it’s unquestionably a positive development.

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