Monday, November 09, 2009

China's New 'One Child' Policy.

When I arrived in my hotel in Hangzhou I was greeted by several people: Shawn who was organising the Silk Forum; a couple of more administrators and Lisa who is a third year undergraduate at Hangzhou university studying English, and a volunteer helper at the forum.

After a little bit of consternation over my payment (apparently not many people pay for themselves - usually my 'firm' would have transferred monies) they accompanied me to my room and made me feel thoroughly welcome.

"If you would like, I shall accompany you through the Forum. Would you like that?"

Lisa was a gracious and helpful companion. Through her I learnt a lot about Chinese life today. Lisa is about the same age as my sons and so grew up in a China where all the pupils in the school were only children. I have heard that through the one-child policy some people have thought that China is raising a nation of 'little emperors' with that child the focus of six adults' (two parents and four grandparents) aspirations and hopes. The responsibilities of that child are onerous - and likely to become more so as the parents and grandparents age and become dependent.

When I asked Lisa what she thought about the policy she didn't have much of an opinion. As she said, everyone in her class at school had no siblings so no one thought very much about it. I suppose if everyone around you is an only child it becomes the norm.

"I once asked my mother if she would have liked more children," Lisa said. "But she told me I was quite enough! Bringing up a child is expensive..." And I suppose Lisa's mother would have been born about the same time as me - when China had suffered such drought and flooding that there had been a famine and many had died of starvation. Lisa's mother would have grown up in a period of deprivation, and I expect 'one child' would have seemed eminently sensible in a country with too many mouths to feed.

Overpopulation is a difficult problem, and China's one-child solution has led to problems of its own. Since sons and their wives are the ones that traditionally look after the parents, daughters are seen by some as less desirable and this has led to stories of baby girls being abandoned or killed and, recently, to clinics which allow parents to select male foetuses (and discard the female ones). This in turn has led to an imbalance of more males than females, and there are stories of the difficulties of rural males finding a wife. Eligible females are in danger of being kidnapped according to one guide I read (China A to Z), and it warned marriageable lone females of Asiatic origin to be on their guard when travelling alone.

But recently things have changed, Lisa told me. In fact I was told this fact whenever I asked anyone about the one child policy. Now, in China, if both marriage partners are only children they are now allowed to have two offspring. Two, I suppose, is a better answer. Not all of those offspring will have children of their own, and so the population might level out and even decrease - but without all the problems experienced by the harsher 'one child' of the past. I suppose this will also go some way to ease the burden on the future young - looking after aging parents is so much easier when there is a sibling to share the burden.


Blogger N.L. Lumiere said...

Thirty years of one-child policy must mean that there are a lot of wifeless young men in China. Are they finding mates in nearby Asian countries or coming to get the Chinese girls adopted in the West? I’ve always thought a population with few females would present quite a problem.

Mon Nov 09, 09:57:00 pm  
Blogger Paul Halpern said...

Interesting piece. I would imagine that the generation of only children would be more likely to have small families themselves, even if the policy were changed. So the population may reach a natural equilibrium someday.

Mon Nov 09, 11:26:00 pm  
Blogger Sue Guiney said...

Another interesting aspect of that policy, as we were told by our guide, is that some people who could aford it, could choose to "pay" to have additional children - not exactly a bribe but a subsidiary policy. Also, some people in very rural areas could also request more than 1 child s o that these children could help with the farm work. Clearly, these people couldn't pay extra, but there was /is some sort of regulatory process involved as well. Have you heard anything like this?

Tue Nov 10, 09:24:00 am  
Blogger Clare Dudman said...

Yes, I think that is the case, Nora. And yes, I think they are finding wives elsewhere- there's a lot of internal redistribution too, I understand.

Paul: Yes, good point. I think most women wouldn't choose to have large families but are expected to do so by tradition - once that is broken then maybe the trend will be for smaller families anyway. Once children survive with good healthcare then there is no need to have many.

Yes, Sue, I heard that too - the wealthy could arrange to have more. I also heard that there was a fine if a couple did have more than one - so I suppose that amounts to the same thing.

I understand that in some areas, especially in those that have one of the 52 ethnic minorities, the rule didn't ever apply because the populations were so small it would amount to ethnic cleansing to impose the one child policy.

And yes, I'd heard that about rural areas too. In general there has been such a migration from rural areas to the cities (because people can earn so much more there) that the government are having to pay farmers to produce crops - so it would make sense to allow farmers to have more children.

Tue Nov 10, 09:47:00 am  

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