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Chinese viewers divided over film about surrogacy, illegal in China but which thrives via underground networks

A short film about surrogacy has been denounced by Chinese viewers for "beautifying" the practice that is banned in China, but praised by others for raising awareness about the issue.

Directed by Chen Kaige, who is best known for his masterpiece Farewell My Concubine (1993), 10 Months With You has sparked uproar on social media since its release in early December.

"I oppose legalising surrogacy. If it is legal, does it mean the organ trade will also be legal in the near future? Under this logic, will human trade be legal?" one user wrote on Weibo, China's Twitter-like service.

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But there were some who objected, and praised the film's director for shining a light on the issue of surrogacy.

A poster for 10 Months With You. alt=A poster for 10 Months With You.

"I don't understand why I can't have the absolute right to decide for my own body? Why is this right infringed?" wrote a female user on Weibo.

Surrogacy is banned in China, but underground networks continue to thrive, as depicted in the film.

Although the film, which stars Hong Kong actress Myolie Wu Hang-yee, mentions several times that surrogacy is illegal, many viewers believe it does not condemn the activity fiercely enough. Instead, they say it romanticises surrogacy by depicting the protagonists' feelings in a delicate way and presenting a happy ending.

In the movie, a young woman played by Chinese actress Ren Min agrees to be a surrogate after she is offered a large amount of money. The woman's boyfriend at first thinks it is his baby. After he learns the truth, he persuades the woman, who develops an emotional connection to the growing fetus, to complete the transaction.

No one is arrested or fined in the film for their actions, which is what most angered Chinese viewers.

Film director Kaige Chen. Photo: AFP alt=Film director Kaige Chen. Photo: AFP

"They did something illegal but didn't receive any punishment. What kind of values does this film convey?" wrote a user on Weibo.

The People's Court Daily, the mouthpiece of China's Supreme People's Court, joined the mounting wave of critics posting on Weibo. "We'd like to remind the public that China firmly bans surrogate activities. Please don't challenge the law," it wrote.

A film reviewer said films such as this were designed to prompt discussion and debate.

"Chinese movies are doomed! Previously you [the public] complained that no Chinese movies talk about reality, trailing South Korea in this aspect. But now there is a movie [about reality], but you say it has the wrong values. Wake up, public! Films are meant to inspire people to think and discuss."

Because of mounting pressure, the full version of the film was pulled from the internet, and only short clips remain.

A scene from 10 Months With You. alt=A scene from 10 Months With You.

Statistics from China's National Health Commission showed that the infertility rate of married couples in China surged from between 2.5 and 3 per cent in the 1990s to 12 to 15 per cent in 2018, The Beijing News reported. The rise in infertility was due in part to women postponing motherhood until they were older, workplace stress, and environmental pollution, the commission said.

China banned all forms of surrogacy in 2001. Medical staff and institutions who violate the rule face fines of up to 30,000 yuan (US$4,600).

Wang Yunling, a medical ethics professor from China's Shandong University, said the state authorities' determined opposition to surrogacy is based on concerns about the economic and emotional conflicts it can cause and the health risks for surrogate mothers.

"I support banning commercial surrogacy, but I suggest opening voluntary surrogacy, carried by family members, for a very small number of couples. Of course, there should be strict management for voluntary surrogacy," Wang said.

It would be similar to organ donations in China, he said. While the organ trade there is illegal, people can do live donations of organs to their relatives.

"Right now I don't see any hints that the authorities are loosening the surrogacy prohibition," Wang said.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.