“But Li’s paintings of children were not just a recreation of his own childhood identity, but an exploration of what was happening in China. The one-child policy, he says, has had unimagined consequences. “There are the hidden children,” he says.
“They can’t go to school, because they don’t officially exist. In the big cities, there’s a market. Children can be bought and sold. They disappear.”
Li still finds it surprising in France, he says, “when a child goes missing, and it’s in the newspapers and a poster goes up, and stays for months! In China, nothing like that happens.”
Fines and punishments for having a second child are harsh: “You will be denied promotion. You may have a 20% pay cut. Your apartment can be taken away from you, your benefits cut. In the private sector, the fines can go up to six years of salary.”
The longer-term economic consequences, Li says, are dramatic. “Traditionally, the Chinese have at least two children to provide for them in old age. But by 2030 in China – the third generation of the one-child policy – every young couple will have 12 old people to provide for. The whole thing will just explode.”