I just recently had an open discussion in my Cultural Diversity class at the Suzhou International Foreign Language School in Suzhou, China. The discussion centered on the ending of China’s immensely unpopular ‘one child policy.’
The one child policy went into effect in 1979 and those born after the policy was enacted are now aging. The aging population is of great concern for the Chinese government because those who are nearing their senior years will need to be cared for in the not too distant future. The policy has also caused a gender imbalance; there are now 33 million more male citizens than females living in China.
The Chinese government estimates that the one child policy prevented over 400 million births. It has also resulted in hundreds of millions of people rising out of poverty in a nation with 1.35 billion people. A Billion more people than the entire U.S. population.
China’s one child policy, however, has been highly criticized, especially, in the U.S. with horrific media stories of huge government fines, forced abortions, and sterilizations. China’s decision, however, to abolish the policy, allowing couples to have two children was done for practical reasons not due to criticism from the western media.
The government hopes that there will be enough willing couples to turn the ageing tide but the one-child family has now become the norm in China. Working parents and house-bound grandparents helping to raise a child is a custom deeply embedded in China’s culture. The cost of living has also risen in China, and the economy, in relative terms, is less buoyant, so having a second child is a huge economic burden for the average Chinese family.
For many in China, opinions, about their government allowing couples to have two children are mixed. I spoke to a Chinese teacher here at the school where I work. She has a three-year-old son and she was not surprised about the change in policy. She told me changing the one-child policy has been discussed in China for quite some-time.
She went on to say, that many in China knew the government would have to abandon the one-child policy and there needs to be encouragement by the government for young couples to have more children.
She also told me that she would not have another child in the near future. Because, she does not want to be faced with the high pressure from her second child’s education needs it’s a big sum of money. She also doesn’t think it would be affordable for people like her to have more children.
There are, however, many couples in China that have a strong economic foundation and they would like the opportunity to have a second child. Many feel having more two-child households would benefit their society and it would be better for the next generation.
There are still those, however, who feel it’s not necessary for their child to have a brother or sister. In school, their child can get along and socialize with other children without feeling lonely.
The Chinese Government is predicting that 35 per cent of China’s population will be over the age of 60 by 2050. In the changing demographics, for every 2 people in China there will be approximately 4 senior citizens who will have to be cared for in the latter-half of this century. The two child policy is an attempt to address the future aging crises. There is also a fear that China will have less of a labor force as the aging population increases and people become too old to work.
Many of China’s internet users feel China’s change in policy comes too late to make a lasting difference. Many remain unsure if the policy will prove successful. “It won’t help,” one user of Weibo, China’s Twitter, wrote. “Rocketing house prices, medical and childcare costs drive people to work harder. Women who work after having a second baby have a difficult time.”
Couples in the past who broke the one child policy rule were forced to pay a fee in proportion to their entire year income. In some cases, rural families saw their livelihood in the form of their pigs and chickens taken away.
In very poor rural areas of China girls who gave birth out of wedlock had to pay 43,910 RMB ($6,925.86 USD) known as a “social maintenance fee.” Those who have unlawful births outside the policy, including unmarried parents, must pay an amount to be determined by the authorities.
One comment on China’s social media about the change in policy wrote, “I’m not sure if the policy will affect us [single mothers]”, and another person wrote, “I wonder how it will affect births out of wedlock.”
China does pride itself and credits the one-child policy with preventing 400 million births and helping lift countless families out of poverty. But, many westerners feel there should be no limit to the number of children a couple chooses to have, and until the Chinese government removes itself entirely from their citizens most personal choices, the two child policy can only be considered a partial victory for the Chinese people.
Most couples in developed Nations throughout the world have already chosen to have no more than two children for economic reasons. Many couples in China will limit their number of children not out of fear of a large government fine but out of economic necessity. It’s very expensive for an average couple to raise a child in today’s world and China is certainly no exception.
Only time will tell whether China’s two-child policy will be successful or not. But, hopefully, I will still be around to enjoy my stay here with my youthful fresh faced students.
- Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O’Neill
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