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Pacific China's 30 Years One Child Policy


Apr 3, 2005

An only child, Vicky Zhang is almost as old as China's one-child policy that turned 30 this weekend. But when the married Shanghai native has children, she wants two. "I am a single child. It was a lonely childhood, really lonely without a brother or sister to play with," Zhang told the HT.

"If my finances permit, I will have a child after two years, and a second child after that." In Beijing, restaurant owner Samantha is eating tomatoes during her first pregnancy because of traditional Chinese belief that tomatoes will whiten her baby's skin. "The Chinese believe having one boy and one girl is hao (good)," said Samantha, declining to give her Chinese name. "In the old times, parents could lose their jobs for having two children. Now we just pay the fine. When I have a second child, I will pay up because I have no choice."

Faced with a skewed sex ratio and ageing workforce — by 2020, the average Indian will be 29 years old and the average Chinese 37 — Beijing is debating the rising social cost of limiting one child per family. But on the policy's thirtieth anniversary, China made no commitment to removing the rule that prevented 400 million births over three decades by forcing most urban Chinese to have only one child. Parents were recently warned to register ‘extra' births before November 1 during the ongoing census to prevent their children being stripped of citizenship benefits.

"The bottom line is that no relaxation is imminent," Susan Greenhalgh, author of Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng's China, told HT from the University of California, Irvine.

Since Zhang and her husband are both single children, they will be exempt from paying the penalty — up to 100,000 yuan (Rs 7 lakh) per extra child in Beijing — for violating China's controversial population control measure.
"Those who can't afford to pay hide in their hometowns for the delivery.

When the mother and baby return, the helpful neighbours don't ask questions," said an unmarried resident of rural Shunyi near Beijing.
Those who don't fit the exceptions for ethnic minorities or farmers who have a first girl child have the choice to flee to Hong Kong. State media estimates 78,000 mainland Chinese women had babies in Hong Kong from 2001-08.

"In China's smaller towns, we found that most families have two children," Shanghai-based Kunal Sinha, chief knowledge office for China at Ogilvy & Mather Asia Pacific, told HT.

"There's an overwhelming belief that they shouldn't place all their bets on one child, and a traditional preference for a male child," said Sinha. "Some families change their household registration from a city to a nearby village just to have another child."

Single child, single men

The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences estimates that by 2020, 24 million marriageable Chinese men may be wifeless because of the one-child policy and preference for male progeny that has created an imbalance of 119 Chinese boys to 100 girls.

"In Anhui, this pressure quite literally resulted in rural men going mad because they could not cope with the pressure of finding a bride," Graeme Smith of Sydney's University of Technology said.

The one-child generation that grows up pampered as ‘little emperors' and ‘little princesses' is also reeling under the responsibility of single-handedly care for ageing parents, grandparents and in-laws, thus putting off couples in cities like Shanghai from having even one child.

During the Chinese legislative session this year, some members suggested ‘encouraging the birth of one-child, allowing two children and forbidding three'. But this week, vice premier Li Keqiang only said that China would ‘stabilise an appropriately low birth rate, improve the quality...and rational distribution...of population'.

Greenhalgh said that small groups of demographers are lobbying to liberalise the policy. "A gradual phasing out has been flagged...but remains to be seen whether it will happen," said Smith. Guangdong province in south China said on Friday that all couples will be allowed to have two children — from 2030.

Young India, ageing China

On Saturday, the Chinese media headlined the 30th anniversary as an ‘ageing headache'.

By 2020, Indians will contribute 136 million people to the global labour pool, while China will contribute 23 million. Chinese people above 60 years will top 200 million in 2015 and China's working population may fall by 10 million per year after 2025. "The year 2015 will mark the beginning of the end of China's demographic dividend," said the Global Times this week.

The United Nations says India's population will outsize China's by 2045, with 1.501 billion compared to China's 1.496 billion.

There are lessons for Indian planners in getting the incentives right compared to China's experience, said Greenhalgh. "With government encouragement, most Chinese ardently desire to be modern, global citizens who own the latest gadgets, have cosmopolitan worldviews and only one child." Zhang admits her family plans are influenced by family pressure. "I worry that my upper middle-class quality of life will go down after having a child," she said, as she emerged from her piano class.