It’s so easy to judge people and countries and policies. Often we don’t have the complete story to make a balanced assessment; often situations are more complex than they seem.
Since 2003, I’ve gotten to go to China four times – first as a traveler and then to teach English at two universities there, so I’ve seen first-hand the results of the Chinese one-child policy. And I’ve liked it: each child is a treasure.
Each child is given all the attention and the support that his/her parents and grandparents can lavish on each. The results – from my perspective – are excellent. The children are wanted. They know their parents love them and each feels wanted and especially the boys feel needed.
The Chinese boys know that they will be responsible to take care of their parents, grandparents and if the girls have a good relationship with their parents, the young married man will be expected to care for her parents and grandparents too. Until recently in China, there has been no government support or pensions for seniors. Because there are so many people in China (one billion more than in the U.S.), factory workers are required to retire at 45, professional women at 55 and professional men at 60. These retirees each needs a well-educated son (or son-in-law) who has a good, well-paying job to take care of all of them.
When I asked one of my 19-year-old students would he agree to an arranged marriage, he said, “Yes, of course, my family wants the best for me.”
In the four times I was there (including once for a wonderful 12-month stretch), I can remember seeing only three instances of parents being mean to their children:
- A 10-year-old girl (in a designer dress) crying because her mother was yelling at her for having a poor grade.
- A three-year-old boy (getting into things as boy’s do) behind his father’s kiosk being yelled at harshly by his dad.
- Kids being screamed at in a park — by a Western father.
I learned a lot from my Chinese students each needing to write or say interesting things for their grades. Chinese students love and respect their parents and grandparents. I heard no whining or complaining about how badly they had been treated or how hard their lives were. From the hundreds of students I had there, I had only one essay that made me cringe and the girl wasn’t complaining just reporting on the results of her own bad behavior. The girl was supposed to be taking care of her pet bird; she wasn’t doing a good job of it; she’d been warned. She came home one night to find that her mother had cooked the bird for dinner!
And now, also at least in part because of the one-child policy, there is no starvation that I saw or heard of in China! Some of their current favorite dishes I think reflect back to the childhoods of my students’ parents and grandparents when food was very sparce: fish head soup (that’s it – the whole head with eyes in a broth); chicken claws; duck tongue . . .).
Now even the vegetable dishes like spicy eggplant have a bit of pork on top.
I’d heard that families were penalized by the government if they had more than one child. Micky, one of my cheerful students in China, was born to his family within two years of his older sister’s birth, which was against the law at that time, so the government destroyed his family’s furniture – something the family was certainly willing to give up – since Micky is a boy.
I’d heard of the forced abortions, but hadn’t seen evidence. Then, the friendly Chinese woman who was our secretary in the English Department of the university where I was working got pregnant. She and her husband were thrilled. She’d had a couple of miscarriages, so she was particularly hopeful. But when she went in for a routine checkup at five months, her doctor discovered something wrong with the fetus – and aborted it! She was devastated. It was explained to me that the government had to take such action since there are so many people in China; they don’t have the resources to pay for known birth defects of a child that will likely require special care for a lifetime. Also, the woman is still young and likely to be able to have a healthy baby in the future. Although sad, I could understand the reasoning behind the government’s action.
And repeatedly, I saw that the Chinese value what is best for the whole; not the individual rights that we cherish in the U.S. The Chinese I met actually have faith in their government and their leaders to create a better life and future for the Chinese citizens. Once while I was there, I wanted to protest about the unlit, dangerous access to the college while construction was going on. My students just laughed and said, “Ms. just wait. It will get fixed.” And they were right. When we came back from winter break, the road was safe, and no one had had to make an issue of it.
However, last week, Barry and I saw the documentary One-Child Nation (Available on Netflix – “From award-winning documentarian Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow, I Am Another You) and Jialing Zhang, the sweeping One Child Nation explores the ripple effect of this devastating social experiment, uncovering one shocking human rights violation after another – from abandoned newborns, to forced sterilizations and abortions, and government abductions.”
The documentary showed photos of the dumped bodies of fetuses and infants — likely all girls. A family shared their story of taking their newly born girl by dark to the next town and leaving her on a counter in the market in hopes that someone would take her. No one did. The infant died right there a few days later where she had been left. She was a girl. At the time, no one could have more than one child without grave penalties by the government. Some people who had more than one child had their house destroyed.
There were pictures of what the documentary said were women trussed up like pigs in mattresses; they were pregnant, had been kidnapped, and lined up to be sterilized. I can’t imagine the life-long trauma that would result for women who had suffered kidnapping and a forced abortion/sterilization — by their neighbors!
In the documentary, abortionists talked about how they had been doing the work of their beloved government that was trying to stop starvation in China. Some of those workers said that even now, they still feel pride in what they did. Others have had moral doubts. One woman who had done thousands of abortions said a monk told her that for every couple that she now helps with their infertility, the birth of a baby atones for 100 of those past forced abortions.
Today, China allows most couples two children. However, most families now choose to have only one since the cost is so great to support and educated each child. Also, if the child they already have is a boy, the parents will also be expected to help the second boy buy an apartment at least before any girl will consent to marry him. The girls today, at least the ones in university, say they are the lucky ones.
The exception is that minority Chinese (non-Han, which are only five percent of the total Chinese population) such as the Uyghurs can have as many children as they want. Wonderful, you may say, but I don’t think so. I think it is a way to keep the minorities down; they must apportion all their resources among their children – or at least their boys, not pour everything they have into their treasured one child.
Even such a source as Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School for Men,” Mma Ramotswe, owner of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, in the quite civil Botswana notes, “They [some men & women, the government, ministers . . . – not the pregnant women ], of course, did not have bear the children; they did not have to carry the babies around on their backs for the first few years; they did not have to attend to the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute needs of the baby, and yet they could have very strong views on the subject of babies” (p. 164).
Who should decide? The government? The woman involved?
And in general, what can be done to help people look at their unexamined traditions and make positive changes themselves instead of being forced?
Melinda Gates in The Moment of Lift notes how getting cultures to change from within (not mandated nor forced) is being done in some countries where female genital mutilation and early child marriage for girls have been the tradition. For the past 20 years, Bill and Melinda Gates have used their foundation to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs. . .
[It’s important to address the] incentives strongly favor[ing] early marriage. And every year a girl doesn’t marry, there’s a greater chance that she will be sexually assaulted—and then considered unclean and unfit for marriage. So it’s also with the girl’s honor and the family’s honor in mind that parents often marry their girls young, so they can avoid that trauma.. . .
[The] heartbreaking reality . . . is that girls are forced into the abusive situation of child marriage to protect them from other abusive situations. The World Health Organization says that one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused.
Gender-based violence is one of the most common human rights abuses in the world. It’s also the most obvious and aggressive way men try to control women—whether it’s rape as a tool of war, or a husband beating his wife, or men in workplaces using sexual violence or bullying to belittle women who are gaining power. . . .
In the case of early marriage, the social options of girls are so constrained by the culture that parents who marry off their girls often believe they are doing the best they can for their daughters and families. That means that fighting child marriage by itself isn’t enough. We have to change the culture that makes child marriage a smart option for the poorest families . .
Melinda Gates reports, “It’s important to be able to save [10- or 13-year-old] girls from marriage, but it’s more important to address the incentives that prompt parents to marry off their underage daughters in the first place.
A Quiet Hero
Molly Melching has spent her life proving that point. Molly is another one of my teachers. . . . she showed me one of the best approaches I’ve ever seen for challenging long-standing cultural practices. . . .
Molly . . . [came] to Senegal as an exchange student [from the University of Illinois at Champagne/Urbana] to refine her French in the 1970s. She quickly fell in love with the Senegalese people and culture—so much so that she decided to learn the local language, Wolof, as well.
Even while she loved the country, though, she noticed how difficult it was to be a girl there. Many girls in Senegal have their genitals cut very young —usually between 3 and 5 years of age. Many are married very young and are encouraged to have children quickly and often. Outside groups had tried to change these practices, but no one succeeded, and Molly found herself in a position to see why.
She became a translator for development programs, serving as the link between villagers and outsiders who wanted to help. She quickly saw that there was more than a language barrier dividing these two groups. There was an empathy barrier. The outsiders showed little skill in projecting themselves into the lives of the people they wanted to help, and they had little interest in trying to understand why something was being done in a certain way. They didn’t even have the patience to explain to villagers why they thought something should change.
. . . Molly explained to me that the empathy barrier stymies all effort in development. Agricultural equipment that had been donated was rusting out, health clinics were sitting empty, and customs like female genital cutting and child marriage continued unchanged. Molly told me that people often get outraged by certain practices in developing countries and want to rush in and say, ‘This is harmful! Stop it!’ But that’s the wrong approach. Outrage can save one girl or two, she told me. Only empathy can change the system.
That insight prompted Molly to launch an organization called Tostan and develop a new approach to social change. No one from her organization would tell a villager that something they were doing was wrong or bad. In fact, Molly told me that she never uses the term ‘female genital mutilation’ because it’s heavy with judgment, and people won’t listen to you if you’re judging them. She uses ‘female genital cutting’ because it doesn’t offend the people she wants to persuade.
The Subtle Art of Change
Tostan’s approach is not to judge from there outside but to discuss from the inside. Trained facilitators fluent in the local language live in the village for three years and guide a community-wide conversation. They host sessions three times a week, several hours each, and the process begins by asking people to come up with their ideal village, their so-called Island of Tomorrow. Everything Tostan does is geared toward achieving the future the villagers say they want.
To help the villagers achieve that future, facilitators teach about health and hygiene. They teach reading and math and problem solving. And they teach that every person has fundamental rights —to learn and to work, to have their health, to voice their opinions, and to be free from discrimination and violence.
These rights were far from reality even where they were being taught—particularly in communities where a woman speaking in public was considered a ‘good reason’ for her husband to hit her. The idea that men and women were equal seemed absurd. But over time the women could see how certain changes —men doing ’women’s work,’ women earning an income—were moves toward equality, and those changes were helping. People were healthier. More of them could read. Maybe there was something to this idea.
After lessons on fundamental rights and the equality of men and women, the class started talking about women’s health. It was taboo to even talk about female genital cutting —a practice they considered so old and sacred it was simply called ‘the tradition.’ Even so, the facilitator laid out its health consequences, including the risk of infection and hemorrhaging. She was met with stony silence.
At the next class, however, the village midwife raised her hand and stood up. Her heart racing, she said she’d seen firsthand how women who were cut had more difficult births. Then other women started sharing their stories, too. They recalled the pain it caused them when they were cut, the way their daughters lost so much blood, the deaths of some girls from hemorrhaging. If all girls had a right to their health, wouldn’t cutting violate that right? Was it something they had to do. They debated intensely for months. Finally, they decided that when the time came to cut their daughters that year, they wouldn’t do it. . . .
As Molly recalls, ‘We were witnessing something so significant—the act of people coming together to collectively reflect on their deepest values, to question if current attitudes and behaviors were, in fact, violating those values. . . .
But if the other villages kept the practice of female genital cutting and insisted on it for marriage, then the village Molly was working with would be isolated; its young people might find no marriage partners, and they’d probably return to the practice. Somehow, all the villages had to agree—none could change all alone.
The imam in the village and Molly discussed this worry, and he said that change needed to happen. ‘I will get this done,’ he said. . . .
He convinced all the villages to abandon female genital cutting—all together and all at once. In that region of Senegal, parents no longer faced a choice between cutting their daughters or forcing them to live as outcasts.
The movement quickly spread to other villages, and even other nations—led in large part by villagers whose lives the program had touched. Before long, people were questions other harmful practices, too.
In one Senegalese village where Tostan [a Wolof word; the English translation is ‘breakthrough’] had created a program, parents had forced their daughters to marry when they were as young as 10. People there began talking in their Tostan class about how early marriages were affecting girls. . . .
Today, 8,500 communities where Tostan works have promised that girls will not become child brides. According to Tostan, more than 3 million people in eight nations have said that they will no longer practice female genital cutting” [my emphasis] (p. 162-168).
Go to <https://www.tostan.org> to see more of what Tostan: Dignity for All is accomplishing.
And what’s happened to the Chinese one-child policy? Although it is now legal to have two children, most are happy with one child. They have assessed the costs, the reality of two working parents, the need to use their resources to the best in to one child instead of dividing the assets. The Chinese seem to have made that change from within now. Each couple is deciding themselves. 🙂
I’ve reassessed my glowing appraisal of the Chinese one-child policy now that I’m clear about what the government did to the women and babies. However, I still think the Chinese have very valued children.
We could use Tostan types of group discussions wherever we live. We too could consider and then work toward our ideal communities. What unexamined traditions do we practice that don’t really support our values?
Do we really need the “God-given right” to have guns? Is it really a reflection of our values when we separate children from their parents at our border? Do we really need huge houses when many people are homeless and many don’t have medical coverage? Is it okay to send your child to a private school since you can afford it while other children live in dangerous neighborhoods and have the least equipped schools? And really, do we need to be spending a majority of our tax dollars on the military? I’m sure you can think of other practices that would change if we had honest, inclusive discussions with everyone involved. What would you like discussed in your community? We could use Tostan facilitators everywhere in the world.
We could all be evolving to live in better ways.
Based on the latest United Nations estimates, China has a total population of 1,387,380,040 (the U.S. 326,131,191) as of Wednesday, May 10, 2017. Thus, China needs to deal with challenges such as employment for over a billion more people than we have in the U.S.
According to “A Job in Hand” in Beijing Review, Vol. 60, China continues measures to create employment throughout the country.
|A Job in Hand|
|By Lan Xinzhen | NO. 17 APRIL 27, 2017|
As China’s college graduates swarm to all kinds of employment fairs in this job-seeking season, the government is set to give them a leg up. A guideline on employment promotion recently released by the State Council, China’s cabinet, lays out measures for creating diversified job opportunities for college graduates. The document also details steps to be taken to boost job creation in all sectors of society.
Employment is vital to people’s livelihoods and forms the foundation for economic growth and social stability. Therefore, employment and unemployment rates are important indicators for gauging a country’s economy.
The unemployment rate in 31 major Chinese cities stands at the low level of around 5 percent, according to surveys of the National Bureau of Statistics. A review of statistics from 100 cities conducted by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security (MHRSS) shows the number of new jobs increased 7.8 percent and the number of applicants grew 2.1 percent in the first quarter over the same period last year. The figures show that China’s job market remained stable, as the increase of new positions surpassed the rise in applicants.
However, in spite of this stability, challenges are not to be underestimated. First, around 7.95 million college graduates will enter the job market this year, an increase of some 300,000 year on year. Ensuring employment for the record number of graduates is an issue the government faces [my emphasis].
Second, workers laid off from sectors with overcapacity—such as the iron, steel and coal industries—require resettlement. Last year, resettlement was carried out smoothly, with 726,000 workers from these industries being reemployed. The government faces daunting challenges this year, as more workers will have to find new jobs as a result of the furthering of supply-side reform, which focuses on cutting overcapacity, destocking, deleveraging, reducing corporate costs and improving weak links. Only when laid-off workers are properly resettled can this crucial reform be considered successful.
Another challenge is to guarantee employment for surplus labor from rural areas. In the past, surplus rural labor was primarily employed in export-oriented factories in the coastal areas of east and south China. However, many migrant workers lost their jobs as a large number of export-oriented enterprises closed down due to sluggish demand for exports in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008.
The government has introduced a series of measures to meet these challenges and will continue to launch new initiatives to address the issues.
For instance, given that non-profit organizations are becoming increasingly attractive for college graduates, the government will grant them incentive policies equal to those enjoyed by enterprises, including tax reduction and exemption and social insurance subsidies. It also provides job-hunting allowances to college graduates from impoverished families. Where conditions permit, the government encourages the setting up of foundations, with the support of local government finance and private investors, to provide funding for college graduates seeking employment or starting their own businesses.
The government also subsidizes enterprises that resettle laid-off workers within their organization. It grants tax relief to enterprises that take on laid-off workers. Those who start their own businesses will be given priority to set up shop in business start-up incubators, where they will enjoy favorable tax and financing policies. Finally, as part of its public welfare program, the government will provide job opportunities to workers who have difficulty finding new work.
For surplus rural labor, the government encourages them to go back to their hometowns to make a new start. There have been many successful cases of migrant workers, having accumulated capital and acquired skills and knowledge in larger cities, returning to their hometowns to start their own businesses. In this year’s annual survey of 500 villages in China conducted by the MHRSS, the number of migrant workers working away from their hometowns was 279,000 at the end of the first quarter, down 2.1 percent year on year, while those employed in local non-agricultural sectors totaled 60,000, up 7.1 percent year on year.
These measures taken by the government conform to China’s national conditions and will have positive effects in promoting employment. With these measures in place, it is believed that China’s unemployment rate will continue to stay at a low level this year, in spite of mounting challenges.
Copyedited by Chris Surtees
Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Population figures: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/china-population/
Aloha, Barry (& Renée)
A few months ago, our “Barry’s Gleaning” post reported good news about Angola and the building going on there to create good housing for those who had been living in slums near the capital city of Luanda. The source was the China Daily, a Nov. 17, 2014 article, “Changing the face of real estate in Angola” by Li Jing in the business section. What the Chinese have accomplished in Angola was presented in glowing terms.
The China Daily article notes:
“With its abundance of resources that include crude oil, diamonds and gold, the southern African nation has seen scores of China’s State-owned enterprises and private companies enter its borders hoping for an economic opportunity.
In 2008, CITIC Construction Co, a State-owned enterprise and one of the largest construction companies in the world, joined the nation’s reconstruction efforts. [See the CITIC website:<http://www.cici.citic.com/iwcm/cici/en/ns:LHQ6MTc1LGY6NDM5LGM6LHA6LGE6LG06/channel.vsml]
‘We are an active and responsible player in the country’s post-war reconstruction process,’ says Liu Guigen, president of the African regional division of CITIC Construction . . .
That year, the company won a bid to build housing in Kilamba Kiaxi, one of the capital city of Luanda’s six urban districts that is located 30 kilometers from downtown. . . .
Last year, the $10 billion project was completed with a total of 20,000 residential homes, 200 retail stores, 24 kindergartens, nine primary schools and eight middle schools. CITIC claims 90 percent of the homes are already occupied.”
That article sounds wonderful and a win-win situation for the Chinese company and the people of Angola.
However, we’ve found another view that emphasizes the importance of questioning all your sources and not being too sure about what you read.
Travel writer Paul Theroux has quite damning things to say about the Chinese builders in his book The Last Train to Zona Verde:
In a book review for The Guardian, Robin McKie says The Last Train to Zona Verde is “uncompromising and unsettling.” <http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/01/train-zone-verde-theroux-review> This accurately describes Theroux’s look at the Chinese in Angola:
“The first Chinese workers to arrive in Angola were criminals, prisoners of the Chinese justice system–thieves, rapists, dissidents, deserters, and worse, an echo of the earliest immigration from Portugal. . . . The first workers the Chinese sent were convicts shipped in chains, to work off their sentences in forced labor. Angola, having begun as a penal colony of the Portuguese, became just recently a penal colony for the Chinese. These Chinese convicts were the labor force for China-Angola development projects–the ugly oversized pastel buildings, the coastal roads, the dredging of the del-water port of Lobito–and after they had served their sentences, the agreement was that they would remain in Angola. Presumably, like the Portuguese degredados, they would elevate themselves to the bourgeoisie or a higher class of parvenu.
Possibly, again like the Portuguese convicts, the Chinese would become the loudest racists, and for the same reason. ‘The inferiority complex of the uneducated criminal settler population contributed to a virulent form of white racism among the Portuguese, which affected all classes from top to bottom,’ the political historian Lawrence Henderson wrote of the early settlers. The Portuguese convicts became the most brutal employers and the laziest farmers, and a sizable number turned furiously respectable, in the way atoning whores become sermonizing and pitiless nuns.
After the first wave of Chinese convicts (‘We started seeing them around 2006, a man in Luanda was later to tell me), more shiploads of semiskilled Chinese workers arrived. As with the early Portuguese convicts, they were all men. Then, a few years later, women were allowed to work in Angola” (282-283).
. . . “Some Africa watchers and Western economists have observed that the Chinese presence in Africa–a sudden intrusion–is salutary and will result in greater development and more opportunities for Africans. Seeing Chinese digging into Africa, isolated in their enterprises, offhand with Africans to the point of rudeness and deaf to any suggestion that they moderate their self-serving ways, I tend to regard this positive view as a crock. My own feeling is that like the other adventurers in Africa, the Chinese are exploiters. They have no compact or agreement or involvement with the African people; third is an alliance with the dictators and bureaucrats whom they pay off and allow to govern abusively–a conspiracy.
Theirs is a racket like those of all the previous colonizers, and it will end badly–maybe worse, because the Chinese are tenacious, richer, and for them there is no going back and no surrender. As they walked into Tibet and took over (with not a voice of protest raised by anyone in the West), they are walking into the continent and, outspending any other adventurer, subverting Africans, with a mission to plunder” (265).
Theroux’s view is a good reminder to question everything. Is the China Daily’s glowing view correct or Theroux’s point of view? Obviously, we need more than those two accounts.
Have you been there? What do you know?
Barry and I traveled to Dali, Yunnan Province, home of many Chinese ethnic minorities; we found sunny blue skies, friendly colorful people, and interesting history. Because we liked it so much, we got stuck there, staying longer than we had intended.
We awoke to see snow on the mountain tops and warm sunshine.
The food was varied and good.
The Lovely Lotus Delicious Vegetarian Restaurant was a favorite.
We loved walking the narrow streets of the Old City Dali.
Catholics, Christians, and Buddhists have centers in Old City Dali.
Although this site is now strictly a cultural destination, we heard chanting from other buildings in Dali and learned that the Buddhist community provides a free daily meal to those in need.
The Dali residents dress in a variety of ways.
Many shopping choices line the Old City Dali streets.
Cafés, coffee bars, and restaurants line the walking streets.
Cool doorways –
Some entrances are humble.
Old City Dali gates:
Old City Dali offers entertainment of many types.
Would Jonny Hawaii do a dramatic reading? I was hopeful his presentation would be in English.
We were warned that Jonny’s presentation would be loud.
Innovative Education in Old City Dali:
We discovered “The Living School” when we met Joy, a teacher, and his students selling challa bread one afternoon in Dali. Fourteen Dali families have joined together to “homeschool” their children. Instead of the traditional Chinese school of long hours of memorization, these children study academics in the morning and then develop their own passions (music, art, crafts) during the afternoons. The school encourages innovation and hands-on learning. The students learn to cook and garden and make mud bricks and develop new skills.
The school also invites Couch Surfers to stay at the school and share their experiences. One evening I saw a program presented by Eurate & Sam who have been traveling for 2 1/2 years – by bicycle! Coming overland from the Basque region of Spain, they are on their way to New Zealand – and they have had many adventures.
Eunate says all you need to travel is a smile. She says money causes trouble, so she and Sam have traded work for places to stay and food wherever they have gone. I love their spirits and sense of adventure.
Barry and I loved our stay in Old City Dali. Our Dragonfly Hostel with its friendly staff, comfortable rooms, rooftop garden, and reading/music room became our home in Dali.
Zaì jiàn, Renée
The parks in China brim with life. One Sunday, Barry and I found ourselves in Green Lake Park in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China.
People play music of various kinds throughout the park.
Zaì jiàn, Renée
A great way to spend a few hours near Yangshou, Yunnan Province, China, is to take a bamboo raft down the Yulong River. That is what Barry and I did one overcast but mild November afternoon.
Barry and I had a great, relaxing afternoon on the Yulong River. You would like it here too.
Aloha & Zaì jiàn, Renée
“A famous Chinese saying goes, ‘All the land under heaven belongs to the emperor and everyone is his servant.” China has the longest continuous civilization on Earth, so in the Shanghai Museum, for instance, you can see pottery from the 5th century B.C.
However, until the 20 century, much of that civilization was based on a feudal system. The Chinese have lived for centuries having to follow what their leaders have said to do.
But now, the Chinese central government is placing a priority on “the rule of law.” It’s a challenging process in part because of Chinese customs and traditions. Some laws have already benefitted the general population in China.
In 1949, for instance, the Chinese Communists outlawed and stopped the 1,000 year old brutal practice of foot binding. According to the Wūzhèn Museum, “Starting when the child was five, the girl’s feet were broken at the arch, their toes fractured and folded over toes to heels. The broken feet were bound tightly so the feet would remain in a tight small shape. It usually took three years to remold the feet into a shape and size that many males of the time admired” – the “perfect” three-inch lotus foot. About two billion girls (estimates vary) suffered this fate – but no more.
Photo from: http://cdn2-b.examiner.com/sites/default/files/styles/image_full_width/hash/2a/33/2a33d7119ce520b6b031581493060da2.jpg
Another traditional practice that shows how much the Chinese are changing is reported in a Shanghai Daily “ News Feature, “An arduous journey toward the rule of law.” During the feudal society, common people “had no right to choose their spouse. This situation didn’t change until 1950, when the New Marriage Law was enacted as China’s first basic law after liberation. It banned marriage by proxy and stipulated both parties should agree to the marriage.
This couple on a street in Kunming, Yunnan Provence, China are very likely to have had an arranged marriage. Have they been happy together?
Did they just accept their fate?
About 90 percent of marriages were arranged in 1950 and this declined to 10 percent seven years after the law as passed” (15 Nov. 2014, p.10).
That may be true, but arranged marriages are still happening and not just among the poorest people in China. One of our favorite Zhejiang Agricultural and Forestry University students who has graduated and has been doing a LED light business in Dubei just came back to China in October to get married to a girl selected by his parents. He did not seem thrilled. But he feels he owes his parents much, and they wanted to see him settled. So even some successful, educated young Chinese are still entering into arranged marriages.
When the topic came up in one of my oral English classes in China, students had a range of opinions. Some said they would marry for love someone they met; others said they would consider their parents’ suggestion. One 19-year-old student said he would marry whomever his parents selected, “Because I am a good boy.” It’s not likely that anyone raised in the West would say such a thing. If Barry and I selected someone for our son, I’m sure that John would just laugh.
There’s much evidence that many young Chinese do not rely on their parents to find them a suitable spouse. According to Hu Min’s, “216 weddings from singles event,” “ More than 200 couples who met through the city’s largest matchmaking event have gone on to tie the knot, according to organizers.
Almost 200,000 singles have attended five massive gatherings since November, 2011, the Shanghai Matchmaking Association said this week” (Shanghai Daily, 15 Nov. 2014, Metro 4).
But another China Daily story notes, “A 30-year-old man in Cangnan county took drugs on Singles’ Day and called police to take him away because he believed that staying in a detention house was preferable to being bothered by his parents about not having a girlfriend. The man’s parents are always telling him to get married soon” (11/13/14 p. 4).
In contrast, I got an e-mail recently from another past English class student, Kris. He says, “ I had a great 4-year college education in ZAFU . . . and I also met my girlfriend in college. She is still enrolled postgraduate. We are going to get married after her graduation.”
Such reports show that times times are changing in China. The “Rule of Law” is likely to bring many benefits and changes to what was once a feudal society.
Zaì jiàn, Renée
One reason we like to travel is we see the daily news from different perspectives than we find at home in the U.S. The China English language CCTV, for instance, has a daily news report from Africa – of mainly good news – not just Ebola, HIV, war, and strife. An example is a Nov. 17, 2014, news article, “Changing the face of real estate in Angola,” by Li Jing in the business section of the China Daily.
“Since Angola’s civil war ended in 2002, Africa’s second-biggest oil producer has surged economically, with a 5.1 percent growth rate in 2013.
The government has invested heavily to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, in an effort dubbed by the leaders as ‘national reconstruction.’ Construction of new roads, railways, schools and hospitals has cost tens of billions of dollars.
With its abundance of resources that include crude oil, diamonds and gold, the southern African nation has seen scores of China’s State-owned enterprises and private companies enter its borders hoping for an economic opportunity.
In 2008, CITIC Construction Co, a State-owned enterprise and one of the largest construction companies in the world, joined the nation’s reconstruction efforts.
‘We are an active and responsible player in the country’s post-war reconstruction process,’ says Liu Guigen, president of the African regional division of CITIC Construction . . .
That year, the company won a bid to build housing in Kilamba Kiaxi, one of the capital city of Luanda’s six urban districts that is located 30 kilometers from downtown. . . .
Last year, the $10 billion project was completed with a total of 20,000 residential homes, 200 retail stores, 24 kindergartens, nine primary schools and eight middle schools. CITIC claims 90 percent of the homes are already occupied.
Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos hailed the satellite city project as a model for the country’s post-war reconstruction.
CITIC Construction, which was tasked with mapping out the satellite city’s overall development strategy, worked with about 40 other enterprises from China to install water, sewage and electricity systems.
The companies then set up a 300-strong team to train Angolans on maintenance and security work for the neighborhoods. . . .
Backed by the success in Kilamba Kiaxi, the company is now working with other Angolan city governments to build similar housing projects. It is also exploring opportunities in the nation’s farming sector to help reduce Angola’s dependence on food imports to feed its population of 18 million.
‘Angola has so much fertile land, but it is also a large food importer,’ Liu says. . . .
The company has also invested heavily in the country’s school system.
In May 2014, the CITIC BN Vocational School was founded in Luanda to provide free vocational training for impoverished city youths from ages of 16 to 25. The students can learn skills in electrical and mechanical engineering and will eventually be recruited by the Chinese company after graduation. . . .
Since 1999, when China encouraged its State-owned companies to invest overseas, CITIC Construction has conducted almost 95 percent of its work abroad. It says that 60 percent of its business is in the African market.
‘We are confident that we will expand projects across Africa in 2016,’ Liu says.
CITIC Construction plans to kick off new projects in Kenya and Cameroon at the end of this year” (p. 14).
It’s wonderful to know that good things are happening in Africa.
Aloha & Zaì jiàn, Barry & Renée
“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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
Aloha & Zaì Jiàn, Renée
Barry and I are traveling again in China and have come to Yangshou, near Guilin, an area of fantastic topographical limestone karsts, the subject of many paintings since ancient times.
n. An area of irregular limestone in which erosion has produced fissures, sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns.
Here, the karats rise up from the land in fantastic shapes.
Besides the karats, today we saw our first cormorants. I’d see photos of these huge birds that fishermen use to catch fish. The fisherman usually goes out at night with a lantern to lure the fish toward the surface. He tethers the cormorant’s leg and ties off its throat, so the bird can neither fly away nor swallow the fish he’s dived in for and caught. Fishing with cormorants must be slow and unreliable – and in November, it would be cold at night.
On this November afternoon, Barry and I came across the birds and their keeper relaxing at the edge of the Li River in Yangshou.
This fisherman charges for photos. He took a look at Barry and me and, sizing us up, charged us 5 yuan (75cent U.S.). We laughed and gave him the money.
We think this “modern” business person cormorant fisherman is doing well although his birds would likely prefer to be flying and diving on their own.
Zaì jiàn, Renée