The men with the poison-filled syringe arrived two days before Li Juan’s due date. They pinned her down on a bed in a local clinic, she says, and drove the needle into her abdomen until it entered the 9-month-old fetus. “At first, I could feel my child kicking a lot,” says the 23-year-old. “Then, after a while, I couldn’t feel her moving anymore.” Ten hours later, Li delivered the girl she had intended to name Shuang . The baby was dead. To be absolutely sure, says Li, the officials–from the Linyi region, where she lives, in China’s eastern Shandong province–dunked the infant’s body for several minutes in a bucket of water beside the bed. All she could think about on that day last spring, recalls Li, was how she would hire a gang of thugs to take revenge on the people who killed her baby because the birth, they said, would have violated China’s family-planning scheme. Since 1980, when China began fully carrying out what is commonly known as the one-child policy, officials in the provinces have often resorted to draconian measures–forced sterilizations and late-term abortions among them–to prevent the country’s population of 1.3 billion from expanding into a Malthusian nightmare. Government leaders credit China’s stringent population control with helping spur economic growth by reducing the number of mouths that must be fed. But in 2002, as personal freedoms proliferated in other areas of life, parliament voted to ease the deeply unpopular policy. Instead of forbidding extra children outright, the new law, among other reforms, allowed couples to have multiple offspring if they were willing to pay big fines. The costs can be exorbitant for peasants like Li–$365 or more for the first additional child in Linyi, around four times the average annual net income in this impoverished region. But at least the Chinese now possess a modicum of choice in family matters, which they lacked a few years ago. The Communist Party bureaucracy, however, doesn’t seem to have caught up with the new law. Despite laxer regulation, the career advancement of local leaders, especially in rural areas, still often depends on keeping birthrates low. “One set of bad population figures can stop an official from getting promoted,” says Tu Bisheng, a Beijing legal activist who has helped document abuses related to the one-child policy. At a provincial meeting last year, Linyi officials were castigated for having the highest rate of extra births in all of Shandong, according to lawyers familiar with the situation. The dressing-down galvanized what appears to be one of the most brutal mass sterilization and abortion campaigns in years. Starting in March, family-planning officials in Linyi’s nine counties and three districts trawled villages, looking to force women pregnant with illegal children to abort, and to sterilize those who already had the maximum allotment of children under the local family-planning policy. According to that regulation, which exists in a similar form in most rural areas, women with a son are not allowed to bear more children, whereas mothers whose first child is handicapped or a girl are allowed to have a second baby.