right In October 2015, the Chinese government announced it was ending the One-Child Policy and replacing it with a Two-Child Policy. From January 1, 2016, all Chinese couples were allowed to have two children, ending a policy that endured for more than 35 years. Restrictions on births still remained and many critics argued that the loosening of restrictions did not go far enough and that all reproductive restrictions should end. Demographers have long warned that China’s low fertility rate — which is estimated to be between 1.2 and 1.5 children a woman — was driving the country towards a demographic and economic crisis. [Source: SupChina, December 30, 2016]

Tom Phillips wrote in The Guardian: “The announcement followed a four-day Communist party summit in Beijing where China’s top leaders debated financial reforms and how to maintain growth at a time of heightened concerns about the economy. “China will “fully implement a policy of allowing each couple to have two children as an active response to an ageing population”, the party said in a statement published by Xinhua, the official news agency. “The change of policy is intended to balance population development and address the challenge of an ageing population.” [Source: Tom Phillips, The Guardian, October 29, 2015]

“Since 2013, there has been a gradual relaxation of China’s family planning laws that already allowed minority ethnic families and rural couples whose firstborn was a girl to have more than one child. ““I’m shaking to be honest,” said Stuart Gietel-Basten, an University of Oxford demographer,“It’s one of those things that you have been working on and saying for years and recommending they should do something and it finally happened. It’s just a bit of a shock.”

“The Communist party credits the policy with preventing 400 million births and , thus contributing to China’s dramatic economic takeoff since the 1980s. But the human toll has been immense, with forced sterilisations, infanticide and sex-selective abortions that have caused a dramatic gender imbalance that means millions of men will never find female partners.Opponents say the policy has created a demographic “timebomb”, with China’s 1.3 billion-strong population ageing rapidly, and the country’s labour pool shrinking. The UN estimates that by 2050 China will have about 440 million people over 60. The working-age population — those between 15 and 59 — fell by 3.71 million last year, a trend that is expected to continue.

Good Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on the One Child Policy Wikipedia ; Family Planning in China china.org.cn ; Christian Science Monitor article on Too Many Boys csmonitor.com ; National Bureau of Statistics of the People's Republic of China stats.gov.cn; Trends in Chinese Demography afe.easia.columbia.edu ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Institute of Population and Labor Economics cass.cn

Reaction to the End of the One-Child Policy

Tom Phillips wrote in The Guardian: “Some celebrated the move as a positive step towards greater personal freedom in China. But human rights activists and critics said the loosening...means the Communist party continues to control the size of Chinese families.“The state has no business regulating how many children people have,” said William Nee, a Hong Kong-based activist for Amnesty International. Gietel-Basten said the policy change was good news for both China’s people and its leaders, who stood to gain from ending a highly unpopular rule. ““From a political, pragmatic perspective, loosening the policy is good for the party but also it is a good thing for individual couples who want to have that second child. It is a kind of win-win for everybody,” he said. “Millions of ordinary Chinese couples will be allowed to have a second child if they want to — this is clearly a very positive thing.” [Source: Tom Phillips, The Guardian, October 29, 2015]

“Others expressed concern that the announcement of the new two-child policy, which referred to Chinese couples, suggested children born outside of wedlock would continue to be penalised by the government. Liang Zhongtang, demographer, called on the Communist party to completely dismantle its unpopular and outdated family planning rules. “I think they should abolish the family planning [system] once for all and let people decide how many children they want to have. Only that way can they straighten out their relationship with the people.” “But Gietel-Basten said it would have been virtually unthinkable for Beijing to completely abandon its family planning rules. “That would in some ways imply that the policy was wrong … which of course would be a smack in the face of the last two generations of policymakers who stuck by it,” he said. “Getting rid of it completely probably wasn’t an option in the short term. But in the long term it’s certainly not inconceivable.

“As news that the notorious policy was coming to an end spread, Chinese citizens celebrated on social media, while also lamenting how long change had taken to arrive. Some government critics expressed their contempt for the policy by altering photographs of the red Communist party propaganda banners that adorn towns and villages across China urging residents to obey family planning rules. “We reward families with two children and fine those with only one,” read one spoof poster mocking Beijing’s change of heart. “Those who decide not to have children or who are infertile should be thrown in jail.”

After the End of the One-Child Policy

After the end of the One-Child Policy, birth rates in 2016 increased as many couples with one child had a second but total births fell in 2017 because fewer had any at all. From 2016 to 2019, the annual birth rate mostly declined with the exception of 2016. In, 2016, 18.4 million babies were born, an increase of 1.3 million over the previous year, but only half of what was expected. In 2017, the birth rate fell to 17.2 million, far below the official forecast of more than 20 million. In 2020, about 12 million babies were born, down 18 percent from 2019’s 14.6 million. In 2016, China set a target of increasing its population to about 1.42 billion by 2020, from 1.34 billion in 2010. But it barely topped 4.1 billion and many experts believe the true population has actually declined. [Source: Wikipedia, Associated Press, CIA World Factbook, 2021]

Tom Phillips wrote in The Guardian: “Experts said the relaxation of family planning rules is unlikely to have a lasting demographic impact, particularly in urban areas where couples were now reluctant to have two children because of the high cost. “Just because the government says you can have another child, it doesn’t mean the people will immediately follow,” said Liang Zhongtang, a demographer at the Shanghai Academy of Social Science. Gietel-Basten said: “In the short term, probably there will be a little baby boom particularly in some of the poorer provinces where the rules have been very strict, like in Sichuan or in parts of the south. But in the long term I don’t think it’s going to make an enormous amount of difference.” [Source:Tom Phillips, The Guardian, October 29, 2015]

China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission said 18.46 million babies were born in mainland China in 2016 — 11.5 per cent more than 2015 and the most since 2000, China’s National Statistics Bureau reported that 17.86 million babies were born in 2016 based on a 1/1,000 sample survey. Both numbers were lower than previously estimated.. [Source:South China Morning Post, January 23, 2017]

Yang Wenzhuang, a division director at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said: “The annual number of births between 2003 and 2013 had stayed at around 16 million, but the number of newborns had increased sharply after the birth policy change. The number of women of child-bearing age [between 15 and 49 years old] would fall to about five million each year between 2016 to 2020. But thanks to the adjustment and improvement of the birth policy, the birth rate is growing steadily, even while the number of women of child-bearing age is dropping. The policy change shows that it has been effective.”

Many demographers have said that replacing the one-child policy with a two-child policy is ‘too little, too late’ The South China Morning Post reported: “The number of second children born to couples accounted for 30 per cent of the total number of births before 2013, and had risen steadily since the two-child policy was introduced.” In 2016 “the number of second children born on the mainland had accounted for more than 45 per cent of total births, which was mainly due to the implementation of the two-child policy, Yang said. “Demographer Yuan Xin, of Nankai University, estimated that the number of annual births would peak in 2017 and 2018 at about 20 million, as women born in the late 1970s and early 1980s rushed to have a second child before they grew too old. “We believe those who are eligible for the universal two-child policy have not given birth to a second child yet because the change started only early last year, Yuan said. But they turned out to be wrong. The birth rate fell to 17.2 million in In 2017.

China Allows Couples to Have Three Children

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In August 2021, the Chinese government announced that couples could legally have a third child as part of its effort to avoid a demographic crisis that could threaten it economic growth and global influence. Associated Press reported: “The ceremonial legislature amended the Population and Family Planning Law as part of a decades-long effort by the ruling Communist Party to dictate the size of families in keeping with political directives. It comes just six years after the last change” the end of the One-Child Policy in 2015. [Source: Associated Press, August 21, 2021]

“The shift to the two-child rule led to a temporary bump in the numbers of births but its effects soon wore off and total births continued to fall because many women continued to decide against starting families. At its session, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress canceled the leveling of fines for breaking the earlier restrictions and called for additional parental leave and childcare resources. New measures in finance, taxation, schooling, housing and employment should be introduced to “to ease the burden on families," the amendment said.

“It also seeks to address longstanding discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace that is considered one of the chief disincentives to having additional children, along with high costs and cramped housing. While female representation in the labor force is high, women, especially those with children, are severely underrepresented at the higher levels, holding just 8.4 percent of leadership positions at the central and provincial levels. Among the young party leaders who will take the reins in the coming decades, only 11 percent are women

“The total fertility rate has fallen below the warning line, and population development has entered a critical transition period,” wrote Li Jiheng, the civil affairs minister, in December 2020. He said the government would make child-care and education more affordable. And in January 2021, the party-controlled national legislature urged local governments to stop imposing “excessively severe penalties” for the violation of birth limits. [Source: Sui-Lee Wee, New York Times, May 13, 2021]

“In a poll on Xinhua's Weibo account asking #AreYouReady for the three-child policy, about 29,000 of 31,000 respondents said they would “never think of it” while the remainder chose among the options: "I'm ready and very eager to do so", "it's on my agenda", or “I'm hesitating and there's lot to consider”. “"I am willing to have three children if you give me 5 million yuan ($785,650)," one user posted. [Source: Tony Munroe and David Stanway, Reuters, May 31, 2021]

Hesitancy about Changing China’s Birth Policies and Losing Control

There is still some hesitancy about changing China’s birth policies too quickly or radically. Kevin Yao of Reuters wrote: “Removing birth restrictions could have unintended consequences: a limited impact on city dwellers, who are reluctant to have more children due to high costs, while rural families could expand faster, adding to poverty and employment pressures, Chinese sources said. "If we free up policy, people in the countryside could be more willing to give birth than those in the cities, and there could be other problems," said a policy source who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter. “Liu Huan, an adviser to the Chinese cabinet, said China's main population challenge is not size but ageing, which will put heavy pressure on government finances. "It's hard to resolve the birth problem given high housing, medical and education costs," he told Reuters, . "So we should have comprehensive policies." .[Source: Reuters, May 17, 2021]

Sui-Lee Wee wrote in the New York Times: “Beijing’s reluctance to abandon birth restrictions stems in part from the view that not all Chinese people can be trusted to know how many children they should have. “We found in some impoverished areas in the west that people are still obsessed with having more children,” Yuan Xin, vice president of the state-backed China Population Association, told the official China Daily newspaper. “So a more relaxed family-planning policy may mean more children for them and make it more difficult for them to escape poverty.” In China’s far western region of Xinjiang, authorities have more harshly enforced family-planning rules in what Beijing has depicted as a fight against religious extremism. The campaign has led in recent years to a rise in sterilizations and contraceptive procedures — forcibly imposed in some cases — in the region’s Muslim-dominated areas. [Source: Sui-Lee Wee, New York Times, May 13, 2021]

“China’s family-planning policy has long given local officials a powerful weapon of control — one that may be hard, or costly, to wrest back. Before they were unwound, family-planning agencies hired around 8 million people, down to the village level, who corralled women to be fitted with intrauterine devices or coerced them into abortions. “In recent years, the government has been reassigning family-planning employees to roles including in population research and tackling COVID-19. But local governments retain the power to enforce birth limits as they see fit, which has led to inconsistencies. The central government said in May last year that civil servants did not have to lose their jobs for violating birth limits, yet months later, a village committee in the eastern city of Hangzhou fired a woman after she had a third child — prompting a public outcry. The officials also collected large fines from couples who broke the rules. One senior researcher at the Central Party School estimated in 2015 that the fees amounted to between $3 billion and $5 billion annually.

End of China’s One-Child Policy Comes Too Late for Many

Emma Graham-Harrison and Tom Phillips wrote in The Guardian: “Liu Guofa lost his only child in 2010. The boy was only 17 when he died, but by then it was too late for his parents to try for another baby. Liu, now 46 and unemployed, is bracing himself for a lonely and impoverished old age, without the support and love his son was expected by society and tradition to provide. “Liu is one of millions of people whose lives were scarred by the Chinese government’s one-child policy. They include “orphaned” parents, who feel abandoned by the state after losing their only offspring, and “illegal” children, born into a life of legal limbo. [Source: Emma Graham-Harrison and Tom Phillips, The Guardian, October 29, 2015

“For many of them, the abrupt end to the 35-year-long policy came too late to stir up anything more than bitter memories. “It is too late for us now,” said Liu, who lives in central Henan province. “We can’t have another child. I feel helpless.” China has always allowed bereaved parents to have a second baby, but many lost their son or daughter at an age when that was no longer possible. Liu and his wife had decided years before their bereavement that having a second baby was too risky in their home area, where family planning officials applied the policy ruthlessly. “The enforcement was merciless,” he said. “When we were young, we didn’t dare to have a second child. We would have been fired from our jobs and our houses would have been torn down if we had dared to violate the one-child policy.”

“Many others in a similar position say they feel forgotten by a state driven more by the economic imperative to tackle the problem of an ageing population than compassion for those whose lives have been ruined by the rules. The One-Child Policy system deterred parents from having a second child by levying heavy fines and punishments on so-called illegal children “It is unfair. We obeyed the policy and they didn’t even mention us — the parents who have lost their only children,” said Li Qin, 49, from southern Yunnan province. “My son died this year when he was 25 years old … What will happen to us? How will we support ourselves in old age?”

Step by Step Easing of the One-Child Policy

The one-child policy was never meant to be permanent. When it was started in 1979, officials promised to revisit the issue in 30 years and over the years regulations were eased and loopholes were created that allowed couples to have more than one child. Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: In 1983, the government relaxed the one-child policy to allow rural families a second child if the first was a girl. But in the years that followed, the one-child policy came to occupy an awkward position in the public consciousness: reviled on a personal level, but passively tolerated on a national level because the blunt fact was that people were glad not to have more people among them, more competition for food and jobs and college admissions. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, June 15, 2012]

Jonathan Kaiman wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “In the mid-1980s a rumor that the Chinese government was going to change its one child policy caused the birthrate to skyrocket. By the late 1990s the draconian aspects of the one-child policy had largely ended. Second children were no longer banned from hospitals and schools. Reports of forced abortions, infanticide and forced sterilization which much fewer in number. The government took a softer approach to convincing women to have one child: expanding health services, offering a choice of contraceptives. The unstated rule was that couples have two chances to get a son and third chance can be obtained by paying a bribe or a fine.[Source: Jonathan Kaiman, Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2012]

In the early 2000s, couple with extra children were no longer forced to pay “fines”: they paid ‘social compensation fees.” Forced sterilizations and abortions were banned. In Shanghai, 11exemptions were added to the one-child policy, including easy approval for a second child and removal of long waiting periods and financial rewards for having one child. In some places rules have been changed to make it easier for married couples to have children. In other places the penalties having second children have been sharply reduced. The introduction of private schools has made rules preventing second children from obtaining places in school no longer such a dire threat.

By the mid 2000s many upper class and nouveau riche families were routinely having two or even three children. The trend verged on becoming a fashion as a number of celebrities were photographed with two or three children. Even fines of $65,000 for extra children that exist in some cities are no problem for parents with lots of cash. A trend in rural areas is also producing more children. As farmers make more money they are marrying sooner and producing more children and giving birth to more daughters as the try to harder to have sons. In December 2008, China announced it would raise the payments to one-child families in rural areas to $105 a year for $84 a year. The payments are given to parents who reach the age of 60 with either only one child or two daughters. In 2010, advertisements with two-child families began appearing.

Ending the One Child Policy in Shanghai in 2009

Beginning in 2009, eligible couples in Shanghai were encouraged to have two children in part to address concerns about taking care of an aging population. In Shanghai, at that time, people over 60 already made up 21.6 percent of the population, and were expected to make up 34 percent in 2020, while the birthrate was less than one child per couple.

In Shanghai, one-child policy posters were torn down and replaced with details about the new regulations and how to apply for permits. City officials are planning to visit homes, slip leaflets under doors and offer emotional counseling and financial incentives. Xie Linli, director of Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission, said, “We advocate eligible couples to have two kids because it can help reduce the proportion of the ageing people and alleviate the workforce shortage in the future.

At the time the policy affected only Shanghai and the one-child policy which still largely on effect in urban areas but was more relaxed in rural areas. The response to rule change was very disappointing. Few people registered for the program and few additional babies were born. Officials in Shanghai told the Washington Post they thought that financial considerations were probably the main reason couples didn’t want more children.

Many attribute the lack of interest in having additional children to selfishness. A human resources manager and single child told the Washington Post, “We were at the center of our families and used to everyone taking care of us. We are not used to taking care of others and don’t really want to take care of others.” The owner of a translation company said, “Our is the first generation with higher living standards. We do not want to make too many sacrifices.”

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Most Chinese Couples Allowed to Have Two Children

In November 2013, the Chinese government announced that couples would be allowed to have two children if one of the parents was an only child. Xinhua cited a "key decision" made an important meeting known as the Third Plenum. The Wall Street Journal called it “the most significant adjustment in a policy that has defined Chinese family life for more than three decades and perhaps the most dramatic policy change out of leaders' recent party conclave.”

"The birth policy will be adjusted and improved step by step to promote 'long-term balanced development of the population in China'," Xinhua reported, citing the party decision. The law before that restricted most couples to one child, with one of the exceptions allowing a second if both parents are only children. Others exempted include ethnic minorities and farmers whose first child is a girl and couples with a disabled child. China's provinces often enforced the policy differently. However, the underlying law has not been substantially amended at the national level for years. . Laurie Burkitt wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “The new move expands exemptions to many more couples, chiefly urban ones who have seen their living standards improve and increasingly chafed under social controls. The shift comes after years of high-level debates and was greeted by those who have been pushing Beijing for change as game-changing. "It's a historic moment in the life of this infamous policy," said Wang Feng, a demographer at Fudan University in Shanghai. He and other experts said Chinese leaders also realized that this reform—which comes amid increasingly vocal criticism of Beijing's handling of a number of social issues—was easier to deliver than concrete change on problems such as poor medical care and pollution that have developed amid the country's breakneck growth. "This is the only concrete policy change," said Cheng Li, an expert on China's elite politics at the Brookings Institution. For the authorities, he said, "It's a very good story."[Source: Laurie Burkitt, Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2013 ]

“There are many people in China like Cui Min, who has long wanted to have several children. "I know how lonely it is to be a single child," said Ms. Cui, a 31-year-old Beijing teacher and the mother of a one year-old girl. "I don't want my daughter to feel the loneliness I did," she said. Still, many others lament that neither they nor their parents were given this opportunity earlier. One user on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo said, "So many years later, after a generation under the policy are already dying, then you can have another child."

Reuters reported: “The plan to ease the policy was envisioned by the government around 2008 as officials worried that the strict controls were undermining economic growth and contributing to a rapidly ageing population the country had no hope of supporting financially. Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “During a briefing on the plenum, a senior Communist Party academic told a mournful anecdote about his daughter's loneliness growing up as an only child in a Beijing apartment compound with few other children. "I feel we could have provided her with a better life. That is a regret I hope we will make up in the future," said Zhang Yansheng, general secretary of the academic committee of the National Development and Reform Commission, the central planning agency. "We came to this moment when the one-child policy had to be adjusted for the economy, society and for the renewal of the Chinese nation." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2013; [Source: Reuters, November 16, 2013]

Behind Closed Doors Debate on the One-Child Policy

Adam Minter of Bloomberg wrote:“The most serious discussions on population issues typically happen each spring during the annual “two sessions” of China’s top legislature and legislative advisory body, when Beijing is flooded with local officials with time on their hands (in between rubber-stamping new proposals and leaders). Invariably, these discussions and reform proposals amount to little more than topics for the media to cover. “Arguably, a bigger impediment to the reform of China’s population policy is that China’s National Population and Family Planning Commission, the agency in charge of enforcing population control, reportedly employs more than 500,000 people. This makes it a particularly potent political force in a country where public-sector employment remains an important means of patronage and economic development. Outright abolition of the agency and its policies would create more problems than it would solve — at least, from the perspective of Chinese leaders primarily concerned with stability. [Source: Adam Minter, Bloomberg, March 20, 2013]

In April 2013, Sui-Lee Wee and Hui Li of Reuters wrote: “Two retired senior Chinese officials are engaged in a battle with one another to sway Beijing's new leadership over the future of the one-child policy. Former State Councilors Song Jian and Peng Peiyun, who once ranked above cabinet ministers and remain influential, have been lobbying China's top leaders, mainly behind closed doors: Song wants them to keep the policy while Peng urges them to phase it out, people familiar with the matter said. [Source: Sui-Lee Wee and Hui Li, Reuters, April 8, 2013 ]

“For decades, Peng and Song — both octogenarians — have helped shape China's family-planning policy, which has seen only gradual change in the face of a rapidly aging population that now bears little resemblance to the youthful China of the 1970s. They have starkly different views of China's demographics. From 1988 to 1998 Peng, 83, was in charge of implementing the one-child policy as head of the Family Planning Commission. In the mid-1990s she became Beijing's highest-ranking woman, serving as state councilor, a position superior to a minister. Like many scholars, she now believes it is time to relax the one-child policy. She first revealed publicly that her views had shifted at an academic conference in Beijing in 2012. a change rooted partly in economic concerns. By contrast, Song, 81, whose population projections formed the basis of the one-child policy, argues that China has limited resources and still needs a low birth rate to continue economic development. Otherwise, he has written, China's population would skyrocket, triggering food and other resource shortages.

“A source close to Peng quoted her as saying that she recently wrote a letter to top officials in the new government, including Premier Li Keqiang, expressing her views. She sent the letter around the same time that Song had sent one of his own to the senior leadership, just before the 18th Communist Party Congress last November, the source added. Peng's push for reform is buttressed by evidence from two-child pilot programs in four regions of the country. In none of them has there been a surge in births.

“Song became interested in the issue of population control during his years as a Moscow-trained missile scientist. "When I was thinking about this, I took Malthus's book to research the study of population," Song said in a 2005 interview with China Youth Magazine, referring to the English writer Thomas Malthus, who predicted in the 18th century that population growth would outstrip food production. Song was a protégé of Qian Xuesen, a science advisor to former Chinese leaders Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. During the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, Song was among scientists sent by Zhou to a remote northwest province for their protection. Those ties to the party's founding members give Song clout with today's leaders that few scholars or bureaucrats can match. "His influence comes from the more direct and open channels of communication (he has) with the central government," said Li Jianmin, a population professor in Nankai University. In 2011, in an essay prepared for the Chinese Journal of Population Science but never published, Song described concerns over China's aging population as "an unfounded worry." “He forecast that China's population, unchecked, would balloon to 2.2 billion in a century, according to a copy of the essay obtained by Reuters.

“During his career, President Jinping has stressed that the population should be controlled. And many officials in China's most heavily populated provinces — such as Henan and Shandong — believe the one-child policy is still necessary. Many scholars and former family planning officials believe Xi will have no choice but to move to a two-child policy. "This situation cannot remain unchanged," Tian said. "As such there's reason, a need and a possibility that there will be an appropriate adjustment to the policy."

Fewer Chinese than Expected Apply to Have Second Child

A year after the November 2013 rule change — allowing couples to have two children if one of the parents was an only child — far fewer couples than expected applied for permission to have a second child. "China's second-child push falls short," the People's Daily newspaper said, noting that authorities had anticipated 2 million applications in 2014 but received fewer than half that number. Still, the paper quoted a government spokesman as calling the numbers "in line with expectations," in part because different provinces relaxed their policies at different times in 2014. [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2015 *]

Patti Waldmeir of the Financial Times wrote: “China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission announced that “nearly 1 million” couples had applied to have a second child after Beijing decided to allow families where either parent is an only child to bear two. The government said at the time that about 11 million families would become eligible to bear a second child under the relaxed rules, which were implemented province by province from January last year. It estimated that 2 million extra children would be born each year under the new policy. [Source: Patti Waldmeir, Financial Times, January 13, 2015 */]

“Even with nearly 1 million couples applying to have a second child, however, demographic experts point out that not all of them will actually have one. A spokesman for the commission told a press conference that the number of applicants was “in line with expert estimation that there would be no more than 2 million babies born per year under the new policy”. He Yafu, an expert on the one-child policy, said “the actual number of newborn second babies is even lower, I estimate it at 600,000 to 700,000, which means it is just one-third of the family planning commission’s estimate”. “This proves the policy relaxation will not spur rapid population growth and the demographic problem in China is continuing to worsen,” he said, adding: “We will see more proposals . . . this year to urge the government to banish the family planning policy.” */

“Opinion polls often show a willingness in principle among Chinese parents to bear a second child, but this is often not matched by actual births, demographers say. The revised policy affects many parents in large urban centres, where the cost of bearing an extra child, in terms of both time and money, has become prohibitive.” Zheng Zizhen, former director of Guangdong Social Sciences, who is familiar with population issues, is one such skeptic. "The issue now is not about having children, but about not having children," he said. */

Demand for Soothsayers Increases as China Eases One-Child Law

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In December 2013, Reuters reported: “In a dimly-lit arcade in downtown Shanghai, shopkeeper Xia Zihan holds out a glinting, yellow-glass carving of the fertility goddess Guanyin, a range she says is starting to sell well after China relaxed its single-child policy. "Since the news allowing a second child, we've already asked our factory to increase production of the Guanyin statues," said Xia, adding she expected to see around a 10-20 percent increase in demand for the figurines that cost around one thousand yuan ($160) each. [Source: Adam Jourdan, Reuters, December 2, 2013]

“The fertility market, especially at the value-end of the scale, could see a short-term spike. The main demographic likely to benefit from the policy change is urban mothers in their late thirties, a group more likely to seek methods to boost their chances of having a second baby, said Peng. Some families will turn to Guanyin figurines, fertility-boosting foods or China's $13 billion traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) market to give birth quickly. Medicine men who promise to ensure the birth of a boy child are also in demand.

“Analysts said the more mainstream market for pregnancy-related supplements could receive a $40-50 million boost. "The two child policy could bring a wave of women having babies, which would have a positive effect on our sales," said Snow Jin, manager of a herbal store that sells ingredients for "fertility soup" on China's eBay-like online market Taobao. "Parents having a second child are usually older, and so will likely have greater demand for fertility products." The soup, filled with herbs such as Chinese angelica and honeysuckle, as well as red dates, black beans and eggs, is thought to help boost the chances of conception.

“The increased demand will be focused on major coastal cities such as Shanghai and Shenzhen, and will affect public sector workers most, a demographic for whom the one-child policy has traditionally been more strictly enforced. "If the policy hadn't changed I would not have been able to have a second baby. My husband isn't an only child and as I work in the state sector, if I break the rules and have a second child then I would lose my job," said Lily Cai, 30, a civil servant in Shanghai who has a 16-month-old baby girl.

“Cai said her husband and his family were keen to have a second child, and have often said it would be better to have a boy, a traditional preference in China. "Almost all my clients are people looking to have a child. Perhaps they've already had a girl, but now want to have a boy to continue the family line," said medicine man Sun Daoguo, who runs a Shanghai store. Parents pay up to one thousand yuan for him to help raise the chances of a boy being born, he said. Sun said he advises mothers-to-be on how to adjust their feng shui, the traditional Chinese concept of balance between a person and the environment, to increase the likelihood of giving birth to a son. More conventional medicines, over-the-counter supplements and treatments such as In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) could also see a surge in sales, although analysts said high-cost procedures like IVF would see the least benefit.

Even Without the One-Child Policy Chinese Are Having less Children

Laurie Burkitt wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Even with the right to have more children, recent research on the impact of the one-child policy's various exemptions suggests fewer Chinese want them. The Shanghai government found in a 2012 survey that couples born after 1980 are willing to have only 1.2 children on average. The average number of children born per couple in the city is 0.7, well below the rate of population replacement, according to census data. [Source: Laurie Burkitt, Wall Street Journal, November 15, 2013 ]

“Better educated Chinese, like Shanghai bank employee Sun Wei, cite higher costs of living and raising a child as reasons for not having a second. The 28-year-old and his wife are allowed to have another child under the new policy, but likely they won't. "Having another kid means extra financial pressure," said Mr. Sun. He says imported baby formula, which is considered safer than domestic products, cost 200 yuan per can, eating into his 2,000-yuan-per-month paycheck. "As the cost of raising a child increases dramatically, people care more about the quality of a child's life, not the number," said Mao Zhuoyan, a researcher at the National Health and Family Planning Commission, which enforces the policy.

"I am so busy with one child, I can't imagine taking care of two children," Feng Zhilan, a 32-year-old saleswoman, told the Los Angeles Times. "And I'm spending about $490 to $655 a month on him for kindergarten, clothes, activities. It is not possible."

Feng Xiaotian, a demographer at Nanjing University who has tracked changing attitudes to family size, told the Christian Science Monitor over the past three decades of the “one-child policy,” he says, “the social desire to have children has decreased. A single child is no longer considered unusual or creepy but quite normal.”Prof. Feng’s studies suggest that only 30 to 40 percent of couples now allowed to have another child will actually choose to do so. In Henan Province, for example, the last place to allow couples to have two children if both parents were themselves single children, officials had predicted an extra 18,000 births in the wake of the relaxation. In fact, according to the provincial family planning bureau, only about 600 couples applied for permission to have a second child in the two years since the rule change.” [Source: Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, November 27, 2013 \^]

Resistance to Having Two Children in China

By the mid 2000s, most couples were eligible to have two children, either because they lived in rural areas or were offspring from single-child homes. There was discussion of moving towards a two-child policy, seen by many as a sign that the Chinese were worrying more about the consequences of too few births than too many births.

There were concerns that Chinese parents had become happy with the one-child policy and didn’t want to have extra children. A survey in Shanghai in 2004, found that 80 percent of the young people interviewed preferred to have just one child and 5 percent didn’t want any children at all. A 30-year-old editor told the Los Angeles Times, that she didn’t want to have any children because wanted to focus on her career and enjoy her free time. “Of course I may feel lonely when I’m old and be envious of people with children. But I will have earned much more happiness when I was young.”

A survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Science of 18,638 women in Jiangsu Province found that 69 percent of those eligible to have second child wouldn’t have one, citing economic concerns as the primary reason why.

Explaining why she doesn’t want to have a second child even if she were allowed to have one, a woman who works as a cleaning lady and runs a small mah jongg parlor in her house told AP, “With just one, we can give him nicer things. But if you tried to split what we have between two or three, they all end up with nothing.”

A 31-year-old career woman in Shanghai with one child told the Times of London, “It’s such a burden on your time to have two children, Plus it’s expensive, We’re a different generation from our parents. I really want to develop my career and to enjoy my life, If I have two children, how can I afford that? We want to pay off our mortgage and maybe buy a second, bigger apartment. Having two children would slow us down.”

There are a fair number of young urbanites that don’t want to have any children at all. One man in media in Beijing told the Times of London, “Yes, parents put pressure on people like us, But I’m not going to change my mind.”

In China's largest metropolitan areas, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, women today may be averaging less than one birth per lifetime.

High Cost of Raising a Child in China

Ben Blanchard and Sally Huang of Reuters wrote: With ever-rising costs in cities such as Beijing, the question for many is not whether they want another child but whether they can bear the cost. "I can't even get this one into kindergarten," complained Beijing housewife Li Tong, 29."Education is a real concern for us. I have many friends who don't want children at all. One is enough for me."[Source: Ben Blanchard and Sally Huang, Reuters, April 28, 2011]

Like the residents of Hong Kong and Singapore, which have among the world's lowest birthrates, China's urbanites are starting to believe that the expense of maintaining larger families outweighs the benefits. Wang Gui, 35 and father of a four-year-old boy, told Reuters: "We actually would like another, and according to current rules we can. But I think the cost would be prohibitive. It's too much pressure to expect us to cope with.”

"One child is enough," a 29-year-old woman working for a media organization in Shenzhen, told the Yomiuri Shimbun. "The environment in China today is unsuitable for bringing up children." Her 29-year-old husband, who works at the same media organization, nods in agreement beside her. The couple married two years ago and had their first child, a boy, last year. The financial burdens that await already loom large in their minds. [Source: Kenichi Yoshida and Takahiro Suzuki, Yomiuri Shimbun, December 31, 2013]

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun: To start with, they must pay for kindergarten. Suburban kindergarten expenses are about 10,000 yuan (about 160,000 yen) a year, a figure that jumps to about 24,000 yuan (about 384,000 yen) for kindergartens in the center of the city. Sending their son to university will cost more than 2 million yuan (about 32 million yen) in total. Soaring real estate prices also have hit household budgets hard. In such large cities as Shenzhen, buying a house costs the equivalent of up to 25 years of salary, according to estimates. "We'd rather do the best we can for one child than cut our living expenses to afford two children," the couple said. The wife heaved a deep sigh. She also expressed anxiety over environmental pollution, lack of medical services and ongoing concerns about food safety. "I keep asking my son why he had to be born in this country in this age," she said.

Affluence Serves the Same Purpose as the One-Child Policy

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Some demographers argue that China's fertility rate would have fallen sharply even without the one-child policy because economic growth tends to reduce family size. In that scenario, Chinese girls may have gotten more access to education anyway, though the gains may have been more gradual. [Source: The Economist July 21, 2011]

Yang Juhua, who works at the Center for Population and Development Studies at Renmin University. Ideally, she said, China should relax the policy while also investing more in education so that fewer families will be forced to choose which child to favor when it comes to schooling.

According to The Economist: “Chinese officials are fiercely attached to the one-child policy. They attribute to it almost every drop in fertility and every averted birth: some 400 million more people, they claim, would have been born without it. This is patent nonsense. Chinese fertility was falling for decades before the one-child policy took effect in 1979. Fertility has gone down almost as far and as fast without coercion in neighbouring countries, including those with large Chinese populations. The spread of birth control and a desire for smaller families tend to accompany economic growth and development almost everywhere. “

On whether China’s one-child policy has been a boost to the Chinese economy, Nicholas Eberstadt wrote in the Washington Post, “China’s economic boom has coincided with the promulgation of its one-child policy, which has used state muscle in an effort to limit births. Both this restrictive policy and the Chinese tilt toward pro-market reforms began in the late 1970s, and since then China’s per capita income has risen more than eightfold. But that doesn’t mean the two are linked. [Source: Nicholas Eberstadt, Washington Post November 4, 2011]

Just before the one-child policy was enacted, China’s total fertility rate (births per woman per lifetime) was about 2.7; today it is believed to be around 1.6, or roughly 40 percent lower. But between the late 1960s and the late 1970s , China’s total fertility rate fell from about 5.9 to 2.9 births per woman per lifetime — a sharper drop. Yet China’s per capita economic growth was much slower back in the pre-Deng Xiopeng decade of 1968-78. China’s fertility trajectory in the one-child era does not look strikingly different from those of many other East Asian and Southeast Asian societies. Much poorer countries, such as Burma, have very low fertility rates nowadays, even without state birth restrictions.

Late Marriage, Late Birth Policy in China

Since 1985 a program has existed in Yicheng area of Shanxi Province that allows couples who would normally only be allowed to have one child to have two children as long as they follow a “late marriage, late birth” policy. Although the Yicheng “two child” experiment has yielded some happy mothers with two sons it has also produced some surprising statistics: the birth rate is lower in Yicheng than in the rest of the country (9 per 1,000 compared to 12 per 1,000) and the gender gaps is lower than the rest of China (106 boys to 100 girls compared to 119 boys to 100 girls). [Source: Jane Macartney, Times of London, October 3, 2010]

A mother from Yicheng with a daughter and son told the Times of London, “If you ban people from doing something then they will want to do it even more. But if we we’re allowed to have two children, so the pressure is off. Many of my neighbors didn’t bother again after the first.” She said she almost didn’t have the second child,, “My second pregnancy was an accident and I thought about not keeping it because I thought it would be a lot of trouble, But now I’m happy when I see my two children playing together. I feel very lucky.”

A mother with two sons said, “Actually I didn’t mind if my second child was a boy or girl, I wanted another baby to keep the first one company.” Her father in law said, “people in the rest of China worry that if something happens to their only baby then a couple will have nothing. There will be no one to carry on the family line to take care of them in old age. Here we don’t have that worry. Once you have a second child, then you can feel secure.”

The architect of the “late marriage, late birth” program, Professor Liang Zhingtang, worried back in the 1980s about the implications of the one-child policy. He told the Times of London, “I was worried that we would see an aging population with not enough young people to support them, and China would also run up against labor shortages if the one-child policy was enforced. His experiment was approved by the reformist Prime Minister Zhao Ziyang who was purged after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

According to the terms of the Yicheng experiment couples must marry later than others and have at least a six year gap between the first and second children or face a fine of $180. Most people in Yicheng have played by the rules and agreed to be sterilized after the second baby. An official in Yicheng said, “It’s not for me to say, but I don’t see why this policy wouldn’t work everywhere in China.”

Image Sources: Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ ; Wiki Commons : Laogai Museum

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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