When Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Prime Minister, faced the cameras on Monday night with the news that there were no survivors from missing Flight MH370, families across the globe wept.
But for the parents of Wang Yonggang, a 27-year-old computer whiz from eastern China, the agony was particularly intense. (My comment: His CV is simply astounding! Only 27 and 20 publications! A real tragedy!)
Like many Chinese parents of their generation, the Wangs were permitted only one child by the Communist Party’s draconian family planning rules, implemented in 1979 amid fears of a population explosion.
Now, along with the missing Boeing 777, that son is gone.
“Both parents are in their fifties and Wang is their only child,” said Cao Kaifu, his former headmaster at Funing Middle School in Jiangsu province.
“It is so sad. Wang has always been the pride of his parents. They are heartbroken.”
Much has been written about the human rights abuses associated with China’s notorious one-child policy: the forced abortions, sterilisations and even cases of infanticide as rural families sought to rid themselves of girls they thought were less useful than boys.
But the disappearance of MH370 has cast light a less well-known but equally devastating phenomenon: that of the “orphaned” parents who, through accident or illness, lost the only child the Chinese government allowed them to have.
There are an estimated one million so-called “shidu” families in China, with state media reporting that around 76,000 new families are “orphaned” each year.
“When you lose your only child, it feels like the sky has fallen in,” said one bereaved Shanghai mother, who lost her only daughter and her husband to a 2012 car accident.
“Because of the one-child policy a million families have lost their offspring forever,” added the woman, who requested anonymity because of the politically sensitive nature of the subject. “It is an ethical tragedy. Nobody can take away the pain.”
Recent months have seen several major Chinese cities and provinces including Beijing and Shanghai start to change the controversial birth control policy, relaxing family planning rules so parents who are both only children can now have two children.
Xinhua, China’s official news agency, said the change was designed “to raise fertility rates and ease the financial burden on China's rapidly ageing population”.
However, the new rules will do nothing to soothe the pain of families such as the Wangs, who lost their only child when MH370 likely crashed into the Indian Ocean.
There were 153 Chinese passengers on the Boeing 777 when it set off from Kuala Lumpur international airport, around a third of them born in the 1980s, according to The Beijing News.
The majority of those young men and women, born in the first decade after the one-child policy was introduced, are likely to have been only children.
CLICK HERE for the rest of this very melancholic post that moved me so deeply...
My deepest condolences to all who lost their loved ones in MH370.