What to do if you’ve had a girl? Turn your body alkaline for your second child.
Change your pH, have a boy, say Chinese online ads
So reads an eye-catching line placed prominently in an ad on the front page of China’s biggest e-commerce site Taobao.com, which ignited public anger last Friday.
The product being advertised was “jianyunbao,” which translates to “alkaline pregnancy treasure.” The tablet claims to adjust the pH level of women’s bodies from acidic to alkaline to create a favorable environment to conceive male babies.
There is no scientific evidence that this actually works.
The advertisement drew instant criticism from social media users, who accused Taobao of endorsing gender discrimination in a society that already values male children over female.
The e-commerce site pulled the advertisement after mounting public pressure and shut down the shop selling the product.
“It is our oversight that an advertisement with gender discrimination elements appeared,” said Alimama, the company’s digital marketing branch, in an apology letter. “We will fine the business owner and strengthen our content review for other similar problems.”
Unconvinced by Alimama’s apology, many accused Alimama of disregarding ethics in its lucrative advertisement business. Alimama sells prime advertisement space on Taobao.com and charges sellers by the number of clicks they get from customers.
“This is not only gender discrimination,” said a user on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media. “It’s also Alimama selling fake medicine flagrantly.”
“Sellers pay to publish their ad. Alimama is an accomplice, but they claimed it’s just an ‘oversight’.”
The Alibaba Group, which owns Taobao and Alimama, also owns Inkstone.
Complete the “goodness”
Although Taobao.com quickly eliminated the “jianyunbao” product from on their site, there are still dozens of other similar products under search terms like “pregnancy” and “alkaline” – a sign of the popularity of these products among customers.
There are “natural” recipes which claim to lower the chance of having a girl to 1%, and alkaline soda powder products branded for “female use” as vaginal douches.
The products target couples who are preparing to have a second child, after China introduced its two-child policy in 2016.
“Passing on the bloodline is an important matter,” the seller of another alkaline product writes in bold characters in its product description.
The description says it “complete the ‘goodness’ in the era of ‘two babies’.”
In Chinese, the characters for “son” and “daughter” combined make up the character “goodness.”
Many Chinese believe only sons can pass on the bloodline of a family tree, so these products are particularly appealing to those who have had a girl as their first child.
The idea of adjusting the pH levels of women’s bodies is that higher acidity levels kill off sperm carrying the male Y chromosome, whereas a more alkaline environment favors them.
There’s no evidence that this in fact works, and products like alkaline pills are not recommended by doctors.
“The claim of body pH on sperm selection is not supported by physiology,” Dr. Ernest Ng at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology of the University of Hong Kong told Inkstone.
“They are sold as health foods only, not as medical products. They claim they have specific effects without proof of scientific evidence,” Dr. Ng said.
He added that although many consumers are aware that these products are not effective, some try it anyway, thinking it causes no harm.
“It is difficult to track the harm of a product unless a large observation study is performed,” Dr. Ng warns.
The idea of gender selection is by no means unique to China.
But although it is banned in the nation, gender imbalance has been a serious problem ever since the one-child policy was rolled out in the the 1980s.
The nation’s ratio of men to women reached a high point of 121 in 2004, meaning that there were 121 boys born for every 100 girls.
Much of the gender selection is carried out through selective abortions, especially in rural areas.
The relaxation of the one-child policy in 2016 helped, but just by a little.
This year, China’s sex ratio dropped to 104.81, the lowest in decades. But men still outnumber women – by more than 30 million.