Children in Yangshou, China
“Every two years a cohort of infants roughly equal to the population of Canada crawls on to the world stage. . .
‘I know people in the West don’t like our one-child policy,’ smiles Mei Yu, a university-graduated bureaucrat who works for the central government. ‘But our resources are limited and I understand it: we shouldn’t be thinking about what’s best for us, but what’s best for society,’ notes an article in the Toronto Star.
With a population of 1.3 billion, China is still the most populous country. But it has significantly fewer citizens because of its one-child policy. “Since its introduction in the late 1970s, the nation’s family planning regulations have resulted in an estimated 400 million of fewer births” (Shanghai Daily, 6 Nov. 2014, A3). The 2014 total population of the U.S., by the way, is just over 319 million!
“Song Shuli, a spokesman for the family planning commission, said that managing birth rates has been a key issue in China for generations.
‘As the world’s most populous country, population control is a long-term challenge as it is closely linked with sustainable development,’ he said” in “Applications to have 2nd child fall short of forecast” by Cai Wenjun (Shanghai Daily, 6 Nov. 2014, A3).
After-school pick-up, Yangshou, China
In 1979, the Chinese government recognizing its uncontrolled birth rate caused many problems imposed what we in the West often see as the draconian one-child policy. But over the years, the policy has been relaxed. Minorities could have more children. Also if the first child was a girl, farmers could wait for four years and have another child.
If couples did have more children without permission, penalties were imposed. Some penalties were more harsh than others: both partners would lose their jobs, forced abortions, the unapproved child would not be allowed to go to school or later get a regular job, high fines, and more. Mickey, a student of mine from ZAFU is now about 24. He was an unapproved 2nd child. Although his parents were farmers, they hadn’t waited the four years after his sister had been born to have another child. When he was born, Mickey told me with a smile, the government took all his family’s furniture. He said that his family didn’t really care because he was a boy!
Having a boy has been essential because until the last few years, the Chinese have had no pensions or any Social Security system. And the basic rule for retirement in China has been 45 years old for factory workers; for professionals, it’s 55 for women and 60 for men. The retired parents have had to have a boy to provide for them. This fact is likely the reason we have darling Chinese girls who have been adopted in the West.
However today, family responsibility has placed a huge burden on the young Chinese males. Not only does he have to buy a condo before he can get married, he has to provide for his parents, grandparents, and if he is kind and able for his wife’s family as well. The Chinese government has realized the one-child policy causes problems too and has been adjusting its rules.
Besides fewer people in this already crowded country, another result of the one-child policy is that every child I’ve seen here in China seems wanted and loved. (Well, except for the Western dad I heard yelling at his kid and a Chinese mom unhappy over her daughter’s grades grumbling at her cute and well-dressed but crying 10-year-old). Parks are filled with cheerful, often stylishly dressed children and doting parents and grandparents – who may be accused of being too attentive but never of being neglectful. Each child I’ve seen is treated as a treasure. Limiting each family to one child means that child has the attention and the resources of the whole family! Each child is born into a two-parent family that wants and can care for the child.
A girl and her parents in Guilin, China
Chinese friends say my view of all treasured children is too rosy. They think many Chinese children are neglected because they are left in the villages in the care of their grandparents (many in their 40s & 50s) while the parents are away in the city working long hours. The children have the constant attention of two loving adults and other extended family and are in the countryside and can go outside and play in a basically unpolluted environment. Hummm – and that is neglect! One of my students, “Molly” – a second girl in her family — did say that when she was an infant, her mom had to take her to work since her grandmother refused to take care of her – because she was a girl. Molly said she did love her grandmother and understood. I wish we had just such complaints about neglect in the U.S.
Mom, grandpa, grandma, and child in Kunming, China
A treasured girl in Kunming, China
But even with the “reduced population” in China, competition is intense for everything: schools, jobs, housing, health care, transportation, clean water, safe food, and resources of all kinds.
Waiting for a bus in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China
Kunming, China – crowds everywhere
Sunday in Green Lake Park, Kunming, Yunnan Province, China
In the evolution of the family planning laws, a few years ago some Chinese provinces allowed a second child if each partner in the marriage was an only child. In November 2013, some Chinese provinces started allowing couples in which one spouse was a single child to apply to have a second child.
However, according to the article, “Application to have 2nd child fall short of forecast,” by Cai Wenjun, “Of the 11 million couples now eligible to have a second child, just 6 percent, or about 700,000 have registered applications and 620,000 of them got a permit, the National Health and Family Planning Commission said” (Shanghai Daily, 6 Nov, 2014, A3).
A happy Chinese girl
In a China Daily article, “Fewer couples want second child,” Shan Juan quotes Lu Jiehua, a professor of demography at Peking University. Lu says, “The lower-than-expected number of applications might reflect a changing perception of reproduction, particularly in urban settings, among those with a high education level. . . .
The latest relaxation [of the one-child policy] aims to address a rapidly aging society and to maintain a sustainable labor supply, Lu said.
In reality, childbirth for some is more of an economic issue.
Liu Yulin and his wife, both in their early 30s, are still trying to decide whether to have a second child.
‘My first is a boy. I don’t think I can afford to have another boy, for whom I have to buy housing, ‘ said Liu . . .
Guilin Airport – treasured boy
The couple are white-collar workers in Beijing, where quality education and housing remain expensive “ (30 Oct. 2014, p. 1).
For instance, “In Shanghai, 8,000 couples applied to have a second child between March – when the city adopted the new regulations—and June. The rule change made an extra 400,000 couples eligible to extend their families,” noted Cai Wenjun (Shanghai Daily, 6 Nov, 2014, A3).
A boy and his family are expected to provide a condo for the young couple before a young woman (and her family) will even consider accepting a marriage proposal.
The Chinese I’ve talked to say the average monthly salary for a college-educated guy is now around the equivalent of $666 U.S. a month (4,000 yuan) in Shanghai. A two-bedroom condo in Shanghai in a good, but not the very best neighborhood, is over a million U.S. (6,000,000 yuan)! To get a loan, buyers must be able to make a down payment of 30%! To be able to buy real estate like that is impossible for a young guy. He has to rely on his family.
A boy and his dad, Mu Shan, Yunnan Province, China. The boy will rely on his parents for many years to come.
If two boys are in a family, their parents would have to be very wealthy in order to provide for them both.
However another factor besides economics may be involved. In a Toronto Star article, “A child is born in China, 18 million times a year,” Bill Schiller and Liang Lili note, “As with so many categories of human development, China has come a long way in a short time in the science of childbirth.
Not long ago, giving birth in this country was dangerous. As recently as 1996 almost 25 of every 1,000 newborns died in the process.
Today, that figure [of infant mortality] is down to 8.3, according to government data. The comparable number for the U.S. is 4 — and for Canada, just 3. While China might not be on a par with the West yet, this is a huge gain for the country. The Lancet, the British medical journal, recently wrote, “Other countries can learn from China’s substantial progress” (Published on Sun Dec 11 2011. http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2011/12/11/a_child_is_born_in_china_18_million_times_a_year.html)
“Lu said that a careful analysis of new births next year under the new policy is required to assist future decision-making, primarily when to introduce a comprehensive two-child policy” (Shan, China Daily, 30 Oct. 2014, p. 1).
The issue is complex and many sided. What’s worrisome (at least to me) about the two-child policy is if one child is a girl and the other a boy, will most of the family’s resources go for the boy? In China, men usually get paid more than women for the same job. Traditionally, the men are expected to earn most of the money. In a more than one-child family, will the family use its money to give the boy the best figuring a girl will just get married and be taken care of by the husband?
Many of my students here in China these last four years have been lovely girls whose parents have put all their resources into that one child to help her get as much education and training as possible. We just met a young Chinese woman whose parents gave her the money to open a boutique hotel near Dali. Will that change now that the second child could be a boy? Even Mao said, “Women hold up half the sky.” He also rewarded women for having many children. During Mao’s leadership, China’s population grew from around 550 to over 900 million (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mao_Zedong). All those children born without restraint is a major reason China has such a big population now.
Waiting for another bus in Kunming, China
In the future, shouldn’t every child have the best opportunities his or her parents can provide? Could governments help shape guidelines? What is best for a family? What is best for society? What is best for each child? What can actually be sustainable population growth? The Chinese National Health and Family Planning Commission is making that consideration and so are Chinese couples.
But what about the rest of us on Earth? What is sustainable population growth? Could we too have guidelines to help insure that each child in the future is wanted and can have good opportunities? Perhaps we too could be considering a sustainable population growth so that each child in the world can actually have hope of a good future.
The children of the future need us to make good decisions now.
Aloha & Zaì Jiàn, Renée
A bicycle made for three. Mu Shan Village, Yunnan Province, China. How many can fit on your bicycle?