In effect from 1979 to 2015, China’s policy placed strict guidelines on reproduction in order to curb population growth, which Wang’s mother proclaims (parroting the Communist Party line) might otherwise have led to famine and potential cannibalism. Urban citizens were limited to a single child, while rural inhabitants were, in the mid-1980s, granted the opportunity to have a second kid. The law outlined strict punishment for non-compliance: the destruction of homes, forfeiture of property and valuables, and steep fines. Those who suffered those penalties, however, got off easy, since local Family Planning Officials—empowered by the Nationalist Party—also had the authority to abduct women, tie them up, and force them to undergo sterilizations and abortions as late as 8-9 months into their pregnancies.

As the filmmakers detail in a series of stunning conversations with residents of Wang’s hometown (and similar provinces), those procedures often entailed murdering infants after they’d been born. Artist Peng Wang presents photos of discarded fetuses he found in trash dumps, wrapped in yellow “medical waste” bags, as well as one deceased newborn that he kept in a formaldehyde-filled jar. Even in a doc rife with horror stories, these images are difficult to shake, underlining the unthinkably callous consequences of a strategy that the Chinese government proclaimed would double everyone’s standard of living.