Call it “capitalism gone mad”, as a conservative writer for the Telegraph just did.
In Shenzhen, the booming city in southern China that borders Hong Kong, young women from poor rural areas who have just given birth (to what is often their only child, given China’s one-child policy, and increasingly a boy, due to the practices of fetal sex determination and abortion of female fetuses) are being recruited to feed their breast milk, not to their newborn, but to wealthy, grown Chinese men.
A Chinese writer blasted what is referred to as “adult nannying”, calling it “the moral degradation of China’s rich”. No wonder, for in a nation with low breastfeeding rates (because of limited maternity leave and formula manufacturers’ pushiness, only 28% of Chinese women feed their babies human milk), these women are not only depriving their own infants of the healthiest and cleanest nourishment available, but are giving it to wealthy men who frequently demand to suckle.
That’s right. They’re not drinking human milk from cup or bottle or breastpump, but directly from the women’s breast.
You notice I wrote these women were giving their milk. No, not quite. They are selling the entire breastfeeding/wet-nursing experience for what in China are big bucks.
From The International Business Times: “Lactating mothers are hired by wealthy families for six to eight months and can earn up to 16,000 yuan (£1,700) a month [in US terms, about $2,500 per month], vastly more than a factory job pays.”
Families hire these women as wet nurses in part because of a 2008 formula contamination scare in China, during which six babies died and hundreds more were made ill by tainted artificial milk.
But who is hiring, from the same services agency, lactating women for adults? According to the IBTimes, the clients include wealthy businessmen from Hong Kong and “overworked company directors”.
Oh, poor things. So much stress, so much money. So much creepiness.
For the young mothers, the money seems like a godsend. It supplements their husbands’ pay (no single mums in China), and is saved for the child’s education. But while children may be benefited later, they lose out on all the nutrients and immunological pluses of mother’s milk, while the milk goes down the throats of lubricious fat cats, where it is not needed. No adult, especially not a company director – overworked or not – needs to boost their immune system, unless it is compromised (by AIDS, for example).
The proof that this practice is less about health than about sex and unrestrained capitalism comes from an interview of the Shenzhen domestic services agency that supplies wet nurses, Xinxinyu. Young women who are “healthy and good-looking” can earn even more than the average monthly pay-packet.
What are the Chinese saying about this?
Largely, they’re appalled. The breastfeeding of royal children over the age of five has a long history in China – the last emperor, Pu Yi, was allowed access to the breasts of wet nurses into his teens – but the practice was banned by Mao Zedong and has long been regarded as immoral. Chinese on social media have condemned the current revival, calling it corrupt and unethical. Said one writer, Cao Baoyin, “This adds to China’s problem of treating women as consumer goods, and the moral degradation of China’s rich.”
And Western capitalists? Are they of the same mind? Here is Tim Stanley, for the Telegraph: “When you take the profit motive and strip it of old-fashioned concepts like shame or natural law, it becomes rational in the minds of nihilists to treat the human body as yet another product to packaged, priced up and put on the market . . . If China’s oligarchs treat their people like cattle, that’s exactly where capitalism without morality ends. Don’t be surprised if rich Chinese businessmen start wearing clothes taken from the hair of the poor, or jewelry made from fingers. Perhaps an amputated foot as a doorstop? . . . The world’s reached a pretty poor state when a rich man can request breast milk on his cornflakes. As species go, we’re a sick bunch of bunnies alright.”
I think we need a better analogy, Tim. Even bunnies’ milk goes to their own offspring.