One of the biggest influences on Chinese society and people during the last 30 years has been the one child policy. To help you understand this amazing and bewildering country and the people you'll meet during your travels here, I've put together below a travellers guide to China's one child policy.
From 1949 and 1976 China experienced explosive population growth where the population grew from 540 million to 940 million. Foreseeing serious social, economic and environmental problems, the Chinese government introduced the world’s largest and most extreme family planning policy in 1978, the One Child Policy. A master plan designed to stop China from busting at the seams.
What is China’s One Child Policy?
The one child policy allows married couples living in the city to have only one child. If they have a second child, they are breaking the law and in serious trouble. The policy also introduced and promoted the use of contraceptives and abortions which are both readily available and cheap or free.
The History Behind the One Child Policy
1949 & Mao - When Mao took over China in 1949 and proclaimed the Peoples Republic of China, China was the world’s most populous country with over half a billion people. Mao had a glorious future for China in the works and wanted a large population so birth control and contraceptives were banned and it was the patriotic and revolutionary duty of every woman to reproduce.
1958-1961 Great Leap Forward – Mao attempted to use China’s booming population transform the economy from an agrarian economy to a modern industrialized communist society. His method was banning private ownership, agricultural collectivization, taking manpower away from farming and setting up backyard smelters. The results were a disaster and between 18 to33 million people died of famine. The population of China actually decreased between 1960 and 1961, the third time in the last 600 years.
1961-1966 Mao is Sidelined – Deng Xiaping and Liu Shaoqi sideline Mao and bring a measure of sanity to China by easing state controls and importing grain from abroad to break the famine. The population growth takes off again with vengeance.
1966-1976 Cultural Revolution – Mao is back in power and makes up for lost time by removing any form of capitalism and attempts to destroy/weaken the traditional and cultural fundamentals of Chinese society. The result is chaos, factional struggles and an almost complete destruction of the Chinese economy and educational system. Attempts to control the population fail and the population continues to grow out of control
After 1976 Mao is Gone – After Mao is gone, Deng Zhaoping takes over and has the job of resurrecting the economy and improving standard of living. This means addressing the problem of China’s out of control population growth. In 1978 the One Child Policy was introduced and it was applied to all first born children in 1979.
Who Is Exempted from the One Child Policy?
The one child policy was not uniformly applied and according to the spokesperson for the Committee on the One Child Policy, only 36% of couples were affected by it. The other 64% of families were exempted for the following reasons
Rural families – Farmers needed sons to help them work in the fields so they were allowed more than one child in general and especially if the first child was a girl.
Ethnic Minorities – The one child policy only applies to Han Chinese who make up 91.5% of the population. The other 55 ethnic minorities such as the Zhuang, Miao and Manchu are exempt.
Twins – Self explanatory. If a couple have twins, they are allowed to keep both children with out any penalty.
Parents are Single Children – If both parents are single children and don’t have any siblings, they are allowed to have two children.
Foreigners – Foreigners living in China with a Chinese spouse
How is the One Child Policy Enforced?
The Chinese government uses a combination of incentives and penalties to enforce the one child policy, enforcement is at the provincial level not the state level and the type and severity of enforcement varies in different areas. Incentives range from longer maternity leave and interest free loans to better health care and pay bonuses. Penalties are harsh and the main methods are listed below.
Financial – Families are fined and the size of the fine depends on the family’s income. The fines are significant and not just a slap on the wrist for families on a normal income. Families may also lose workplace bonuses.
Education – Parents will have to pay for the legal first child and the illegal second child to go to school.
Forced abortions & sterilizations – Up until 2002 women in some areas of China women with a second child were physically forced to have abortions or be sterilization. Though extremely rare and possibly illegal, some local governments still do this.
Work – Parents can be black listed at their work, being denied promotion opportunities or lose their job.
Loss of property – For parents unwilling or unable to pay fines, their property may be seized by the government.
Due factors such as change of governments, change of policies, self compliance and international pressure, the Chinese government is much more moderate in enforcing the one child policy.
Ways around the One Child Policy
May couples who are not exempt from the one child policy do have more than one child through a combination of money, connections and loopholes.
Pay the Fines – For China’s wealthy families, the fines are a joke and they just have their extra children, pay the fines and are completely unfazed by financial penalties.
Connections – Many families have members who are in the local government and get permission. Other families bribe local government members for permission.
Twins – A lot of families will have a doctor fiddle the birth paperwork and say their second child is the twin of the first child even though they may be years apart.
Birth Tourism – Many cashed out families go to Hong Kong or even overseas to give birth to their second child. This problem is so severe, Hong Kong hospitals talk of having bans on births for mainland Chinese parents.
Giving Children Away – A lot of parents send their second child to live with friends or family who don’t have a child or are allowed a second child.
Does the One Child Policy Work?
The fertility rate in China has dropped from more than 6 in the 60’s and early 70’s to 1.55 in 2012 and authorities also claim that the one child policy has prevented more than 400 million births from 1979 to 2011. So on the surface, the one child policy does work but these figures cannot be taken literally.
A joint Chinese-US study and a separate US study puts the number of births prevented at 100 to 200 million. Another factor for decline in Chinese fertility rates is the increased education of women, higher costs of living and increased quality of live. A trend in modern families is for the parents are going to university and work on their careers so they have children much later and have less time and inclination for large families. They are also choosing to only have one child to avoid the financial burden of larger families.
The High Cost of China’s One Child Policy
Apart from gross violation of human rights, the one child policy has caused a number of severe problems for China.
In traditional Chinese society having sons is much better than having daughters and this is clearly illustrated in this verse from the ancient “Book of Songs” written in 1000-700BC.
"When a son is born,
Let him sleep on the bed,
Clothe him with fine clothes,
And give him jade to play…
When a daughter is born,
Let her sleep on the ground,
Wrap her in common wrappings,
And give broken tiles to play…"
As a consequence of this tradition and the one child policy, there are now more men than women in China. The overall ratio of men to women was estimated in 2011 to be 1.06. The ration in the under 15 age group is even more extreme at 1.17.
This gender imbalance promotes social instability with an expected 30 million men going without wives by 2020. It will also cause a number of other problems such as gender inequality and increased materialism in women where men of low status/wage have little hope of finding wives.
This gender imbalance was caused by
-sex selective abortions
-infanticide and abandonment of female babies
-less health care and nutrition for female babies and less care in general
The use of ultrasound to determine a child’s sex has been widely banned to prevent sex selective abortions but they are still common in China now. Most parents are happy to have a girl but more traditional parents and especially grandparents still do have a strong preference for male babies and don’t hold back with their opinions.
In many Chinese families, children grow up with no siblings, two doting parents and four even more doting grandparents who tend to spoil them rotten and fulfil their every wish. This has led to a generation of children that tend to be over indulged and spoilt with reduced communication and cooperation skills, false expectations, unrealistic views of life, a lack of independence and a lack of adaptability.
These children don’t leave home till they are married and even then still expect their aging parents to look after them and provide for them financially. One consequence of the little emperor problem is increased obesity in children that is clearly visible and a loss of the Confucian value of filial loyalty which has been a pillar of Chinese culture for thousands of years. Foreigners are often regarded as been very independent by Chinese but it is more a matter of modern Chinese being very dependent.
Due to the one child policy and increased life expectancies in China, the number of people in the work force is becoming much less than the number of retired people depending on them. Many countries face the same problem of an aging population but no where near as severe as the problem China faces. For example in 2007 there were 6 people working to support each retired person where as by 2040 there is expected to be 2 workers for each retired person. This will have an enormous impact on China’s labour force and manufacturing competitiveness and social welfare system and many other areas.
What is the Future of the One Child Policy?
The was a lot of talk by the National Population and Family Planning Commission between 2008 and 2011 regarding the future of the One Child Policy. The end result was that the one child policy would continue in it’s current form until at least 2015. With Xi Jinping as the new boss (General Secretary) and a reshuffle of the central committee in late 2012, there are likely to be major changes to the one child policy in 2015.