Confucius taught that not having children was the height of filial impiety. On the Internet you can get some sense of what that means. One person quoted by Reuters wrote on one chat line: “My parents threatened to never see me again or even to commit double suicide if I don’t have a baby soon...Many coworkers look at me like a jerk, an impotent, or a sick person, just because I’ve been married for two years and have no child yet.”

Chinese have traditionally considered it auspicious to conceive a child around the time of the Chinese New Year but unfortunately babies that are conceived in the winter, when food, particularly fruit and vegetables, have traditionally been in short supply are more likely to have birth defects. The problem is being combated today by giving out vitamin supplements with folic acid to children born on the winter. A shortage of folic acid, not found in the traditional winter time food, cabbage, cause many severe birth defects.

Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner wrote in “CultureShock! China”: Because for a long time in China “a woman was s only allowed to give birth to one child pregnancy is a very careful time for Chinese women. If she works in an office, she will immediately begin wearing a maternity apron to protect the child from any harmful radiation that may emit from computers of other business machines. That apron will become her work uniform all the way through her pregnancy. The Chinese government allows 90 days of maternity leave for a mother after the birth of a child, and three days of paternity leave for men. If the woman has had a difficult birth or is older than 23 years, she is allowed extra days. [Source: “CultureShock! China: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette” by Angie Eagan and Rebecca Weiner, Marshall Cavendish 2011]

"Many women are encouraged to schedule a cesarean birth, rather than deliver the child naturally. Because of the population size of major cities, maternity wards use scheduled births as a way to create some predictability in the doctor’s work schedule. Because of this, many Chinese women know in advance when they will give birth and can be clear about their work schedule. The ‘Seated Month’ Traditionally, Chinese women rest and eat healing foods immediately after a baby is born. This time is called zuoyuezi, which literally means the ‘seated month’. For the purists, this time allows no bathing, no exposure to fresh air, and no movement or effort. Families gather around and care for mother and child. A baby will not normally be allowed to leave the house during the first three to six months.

Good Websites and Sources: Busy Kids ; Precious Children PBS piece Young People ; Sheyla’s News blog / ; Human Trafficking Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in China International Labor Organization

Birth Customs in China

A Chinese baby usually is not washed for the first three days after birth. On the third day, he or she is bathed, and friends and relatives come to view the new addition to the family. The birth of a son has traditionally been greeted as a joyous occasion. Under the One-Child policy the birth of any child was regarded as a major event for a family. Following the old custom, eggs cooked and dyed red are often sent to relatives and friends for celebration. When a male child turns one month old, the parents throw a First Moon party. Traditionally, the boy's head was shaved, and the hair was wrapped in a red cloth, which, after a hundred days was thrown in the river. Some Chinese peasant families have traditionally shaved the heads of young boys, leaving a patch of long hair at the top, to trick evil spirits into confusing the boy for a girl, who is considered by spirits not worth the trouble to harm. In some places, a jade ring has traditionally been given as a gift to newborns.[Source: Eleanor Stanford, “Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001; C. Le Blanc, “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life,” Cengage Learning, 2009]

Teresa Rebecca Yeo wrote in Singapore Infopedia: “Chinese pre-natal birth observances involve both rituals of avoidance and protection so as to ensure the security of the mother and unborn child. Many rituals of avoidance are associated with the belief that the position of the fetus should not be disturbed in any way, and that failure to do so might result in a difficult birth, miscarriage or injury to the child. Expectant mothers are, therefore, strongly discouraged from moving furniture or renovating the house during their pregnancy. In addition, they are urged to avoid activities such as digging, slaughtering, hammering and looking at unsightly images as these would lead to undesirable consequences. Expectant mothers should also refrain from uttering words that are considered taboo or offensive to deities and spirits.

“Chinese mothers also abstain from certain types of food during their pregnancy that are believed to be harmful to the baby. For example, pregnant Cantonese women are warned against consuming mutton as the Cantonese word for the meat has the same pronunciation as the word for epilepsy. On the other hand, Hokkien mothers are advised to avoid crabs as it is believed that doing so will result in the birth of a naughty child – literally born with as many “hands” as a crab. “Cooling” foods, which are associated with the reduction of heat or vitality, are also avoided as they may weaken the womb. At the same time, it is believed that certain foods should be taken to help strengthen the womb and ensure a smooth delivery. To give the child a smooth and fair complexion, expected mothers are recommended to take gingko fruits and strips of dried soya paste. Rituals of protection practised by some Chinese families is the offering of prayers to the goddesses Bodhisattva Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) and Jin Hua Fu Ren (Lady Golden Flower) to ensure the well-being of both mother and child.

“The birth of a baby is usually followed by three customary rituals: confinement of the mother for a period of 30 days, ensuring that she is fed an appropriate and nutritious confinement diet, and making offerings to ancestors and deities. Upon the birth of the baby, the mother is expected to remain at home during the zuo yue ( ) or “30-day confinement period”. Complete rest facilitates her recuperation and she is encouraged to consume certain foods, in particular a dish of braised pig’s trotters with ginger and vinegar. These supposedly help the mother regain her strength, regulate her body temperature and dispel air from the womb.

“The Chinese regard the completion of the full 30 days since birth as the first birthday of the child or its “full moon”. While the practice of rituals and scale of celebration may vary, most families still celebrate the 30th day or man yue of the baby’s birth. As man yue marks the beginning of the child’s life in the community, his impending good health, happiness and success are paramount concerns of the celebrations. The belief is that these goals are attainable only if the appropriate words are spoken, the right behaviour exemplified, and the necessary ritual symbols used. This milestone also marks the time that the mother is allowed to take her first bath and wash her hair, while the ritual of hair shaving is also performed on the baby on this day. In some families, the baby would be dressed in new clothes, preferably red, as well as adorned with gold accessories to be presented to ancestors and deities at home. This is to inform the ancestors of the new addition to the household and to appeal to the spirits to protect the newborn.

“The baby is also shown to relatives and friends for the first time during man yue. To indicate the completion of the child’s "full moon", relatives and friends are presented with gifts. The types of gifts vary according to dialect group, and range from hard-boiled eggs, cakes and chicken to pickled ginger, savoury glutinous rice and pig’s trotters. The eggs, which have been dyed red for good luck, are an indispensable item as they symbolise the renewal of life. The shape of the egg is also associated with harmony and unity. Recipients are in turn expected to present the baby with gifts, usually gold jewellery or cash placed within hongbao or red packets. Some families choose to hold the man yue celebrations in a restaurant in the form of a dinner. The restaurant will prepare the red eggs and pickled ginger for guests

Choosing the Name of a Chinese Child

Cindy Chang wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Traditionally, an elder such as a grandfather or a great-grandfather chooses the name. The pressure is off the parents, but they must live with the results. A friend of mine asked her father-in-law to come up with her daughter's Chinese name. He took a character from her name and one from her husband's name to form a strange amalgam with one hyper-masculine word and one hyper-feminine word. Other grandparents come up with hopelessly old-fashioned names, the Chinese equivalent of Doris or Mabel. Some families rely on fortune tellers to vet the names. I have a friend who changed his Chinese name in his 30s after one convinced his mother that his birth name was unlucky. [Source: Cindy Chang, Los Angeles Times. September 11, 2013 \=/]

In 1899, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote in “Village Life in China”:“The names given to Chinese children are frequently suggested by whatever happens first to attract the father’s attention, such as Basket, Cart, etc. Each year of the cycle of twelve has an animal which “belongs to” it, as Dog, Cat, Chicken, Tiger, Horse or Monkey, and all these names are constantly employed. If when the child is born an old grandmother happens to be three score and ten, he is not improbably dubbed “Seventy.” Many have no other appellation than a numerical one such as Three, Five, or Six, to the hopeless confusion of an inquirer. If the child seems to be of a good constitution he may receive the title of Stone, or Solid. Should he be plump, he is likely to be styled Little Fat One; if dark coloured, Little Black One. Bad Temper, and Little Idiot are common, and if all the previous children have died, the last one may go by the name of Great Repairs. [Source: “Village Life in China” by Arthur Henderson Smith, Fleming H. Revell Company, 1899, The Project Gutenberg]

“When the parents are peculiarly fearful lest an only boy should be made away with by malicious spirits, they often call him by a girl’s name in order to deceive the powers of evil, and thus beat them at their own game. Another plan with the same end in view is a nominal adoption into another family, where the children spend at least a portion of their time, the spirits being thus hopelessly perplexed as to which family really owns the child! Slave Girl, and Old Woman are names sometimes given to boys under these conditions. A man who had more girls than he desired, called one of them Enough Hawks (Kou Ying), while another little maid was outfitted with3 the happy title “Ought-to-have-been-a-Boy” (Kai Tzŭ). Girls are frequently named for birds, fruits, and flowers.

“All the preceding are “milk-names,” or “small names,” which strangers must be careful even should they know them, never to employ. No greater insult can be put upon an adult Chinese than to revile him in public by his “small name” — a by no means infrequent occurrence — which seems to convey the implication that the reviler knows all about his antecedents and holds them in supreme contempt.

Healthier Births and “Preventing Birth Defects”

According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality, published in the early 1990s, every year in China, 13 infants per 1,000 are found to suffer from physical defects. The death rate is 26.7 per 1,000 and the deformity rate is 35.7 per 1,000. Most are the victims of inbreeding and such hereditary diseases as some mental illnesses, hemophilia, and chromosome defects. This is a big burden to society and the families that have a child with a serious birth defect. In the early 1980s, the concept of healthier birth, or prevention of birth defects, had already become an important component of China’s policy of population control. In 1986, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Civil Administration stipulated that a medical examination would be a national requirement for marriage approval.[Source: Zhonghua Renmin Gonghe Guo, Fang-fu Ruan, M.D., Ph.D., and M.P. Lau, M.D. Encyclopedia of Sexuality =]

Gansu province is one of the poorer provinces in China. Out of its population of 23 million in million in the early 1990s, more than 260,000 were mentally retarded. This became a very severe social burden for the province. In 1988, Gansu province adopted a law to force persons who have severe hereditary or congenital mental retardation (I.Q. 1) to be sterilized before marriage, or abort any fetuses conceived, in order to prevent severe birth defects. From January 1989 to June 1991, 6,271 mentally retarded persons were sterilized. Later, several other provinces, including Fujian, Guangdong (Canton), Henan, Liaoning, and Sichuan, adopted the same law. Premier Li Peng and Ms. Peng Peiyun, the minister in charge of the State Family Planning Commission, have spoken out in support of this local law.” The sterilization of mentally retarded persons later became national law. =

In January 1994, a new family law went into effect that banned sex-screening of fetuses and forbade couples carrying serious genetic diseases to have children. Marriage was prohibited for persons diagnosed with diseases that “may totally or partially deprive the victim of the ability to live independently, that are highly possible to recur in generations to come, and that are medically considered inappropriate for reproduction.” A list of the applicable diseases was published shortly after the law went into effect (Reuters 1994). =

Caesareans Preferred Over Natural Birth in China

Tom Hancock of AFP wrote: “As an automatic piano chimed a wedding march, new mother Wang Dan walked down a red carpet towards a hospital room called the "White House", minutes after giving birth in a candlelit water pool. The suite is adorned with an enormous rococo style sofa and a Mona Lisa portrait, and 28-year-old Wang, who gave birth to a son, said: "I wanted to stay in the White House because it's large and well decorated." But Wang's presidentially-themed chamber at Beijing's Antai hospital — an expensive private facility aimed at the capital's wealthy middle class — was not the only unusual thing about the birth of her first child. In a country where most urban professionals choose caesarean sections, she stands out for choosing to give birth naturally.” [Source: Tom Hancock, AFP, January 3, 2013 ^*^]

“The proportion of Chinese mothers choosing caesareans more than doubled in less than a decade, from around 20 percent in 2001 to above 46 percent in 2008 — and approaching two-thirds in cities, according to the latest World Health Organization figures for the country. Across Asia caesarean rates have reached "epidemic levels", it said in a 2010 report. Experts say that caesareans are necessary in many cases when a mother or baby has a health condition which would make a natural birth risky, but that the risks of elective operations are often greater than the benefits. ^*^

Reasons Why Caesareans Are So Common in China

Tom Hancock of AFP wrote: “China's caesarean rate is "definitely too high", said Shenlang Tang, a researcher into Chinese healthcare at Duke University in the US, adding that "the key factor is hospital financing". China has made huge strides in maternity care over the past decades, slashing its newborn death rate by almost two-thirds since the mid-nineties, largely by promoting hospital births. But Chinese hospitals receive little government funding and generate almost half their incomes from selling operations such as caesareans, with other revenues coming mainly from diagnostic tests and medicines. "The price of caesarean section based delivery can be up to three or four times that of a natural birth... which helps the hospital generate more revenue," Tang said.[Source: Tom Hancock, AFP, January 3, 2013 ^*^]

“China's "one child" family planning policy also plays a role, as parents with more money to invest in their only childbirth are more likely to splash out on the procedure, which they see as safer, Tang said. "There are a lot of perceptions that if you have natural delivery it will affect your sex life," he added. ^*^

"Our major problem is that pregnant women in China are very scared of pain," Antai's director Chen Fenglin told AFP. "We found that even water birth couldn't reduce our patients' fear, which is why we introduced hypnosis," he said. Chen doubts China's caesarean rate will fall significantly, because of the financial incentives hospitals face. "No matter how much you promote natural birth, it's ultimately a matter of economics," he said. ^*^

Promoting Natural Birth in China

Tom Hancock of AFP wrote: “Some local governments in China have launched campaigns to promote natural birth, he said, but there is no clear central government policy on the issue. In an attempt to encourage women to choose a natural birth, the Antai hospital offers water births and teaches expectant mothers hypnosis techniques to deal with the pain of labour. It also charges just as much for natural childbirth as it does for a caesarean, removing incentives for doctors to promote the operation.[Source: Tom Hancock, AFP, January 3, 2013 ^*^]

“A red carpet runs from Antai's delivery room towards a series of recovery suites, including the western-themed White House, a room aimed at Muslims called the "Islamabad Palace," and a chamber inspired by Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan. "Parents hope that their child can grow up to be an emperor or princess, or a president, so the rooms give the parents a beautiful dream," said Chen, who says his hospital has carried out more than 2,000 water births. ^*^

“An automated piano outside the delivery room plays a wedding march when mothers walk past with their newborn baby. "We want to express that a birth is as joyful as a wedding," Chen said. Its innovations have proved a hit with mothers such as Wang Dan, who are willing to pay its hefty fees. "I felt really happy when the wedding music played, because some people are in a lot of pain after giving birth, but I was simply excited," she said, adding that she did not use an anaesthetic. But downstairs from Antai's water-birth suite, the hospital's doctors are still busy performing caesareans. ^*^

Breast-Feeding in China

China's rates of breast-feeding are among the world's lowest. Only about 28 percent of Chinese infants younger than 6 months are breast-fed exclusively, well below the global average of about 40 percent, according to UNICEF China. Didi Tang of Associated Press wrote: “Health experts say breast-feeding is the best source of nutrition for newborns, increasing babies' immune systems and reducing their chances of obesity in adulthood. They also say breast-fed children have higher IQs and are less likely to have chronic diseases such as diabetes.” [Source: Didi Tang, Associated Press, August 9, 2013 +|+]

“Breast-feeding rates in China began to drop in the 1970s with the introduction of baby formula and hit a low in the '80s, according to a study by Dr. Colin Binns of Australia's Curtin University and his Chinese colleagues published in the International Breastfeeding Journal in 2009. "Probably because of aggressive marketing of imported baby milk powder, people thought the baby formula was more nutritious," said nurse Yang Xiaoping, a 24-year veteran of Tiantan Hospital's maternity ward.+|+

“China's exclusive breast-feeding rates might have declined in recent years, Dr. Robert Scherpbier, chief of health and nutrition for UNICEF China, said. However, data that would make the trend clear are not available. Many Chinese workplaces give new mothers no way to nurse. Urban mothers usually get no more than four months of maternity leave. Women from the countryside who move to the city to work leave babies with grandparents who have no choice but to use powdered formula. +|+

Use of wet nurses — women who breast-feed other families' children — also is on the rise. These women are sought out by young mothers who don't want to use formula but cannot produce enough milk of their own or worry about the impact of nursing on their figures. "It's been growing at 20 percent every year," said Jia Xixian, an agent in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen who helps clients find wet nurses.” +|+

Breastfeeding become more desirable after the baby formula scares (See Below). “With her 1-day-old son propped against her in a hospital bed nursing, Qi Wenjuan says she has no desire to feed her child with infant formula. "I don't trust baby formula," the first-time mother said, lying in the maternity ward of Beijing's Tiantan Hospital. "There are too many quality problems." Qi, however, is in the minority in China, where most newborns are fed — sometimes exclusively — with infant formula within the first six months of their lives. Qi breast-fed her baby for the first time shortly after birth. "I let him find the nipple, and he found it instinctively," Qi recalled. "There was a little pain, but I could take it. It was an oddly nice feeling, and all of a sudden I felt like a mother and that I could not be separated from the child." A tiny bolster propped up the newborn as Qi described what she saw as other benefits of breast-feeding: It saves money and will help her recover from childbirth, and she believes it will help the baby to grow better. But Qi, an intensive care nurse at the same hospital, worries about what will happen when she returns to work about four months from now. "I think it will be more troublesome to feed him after that," Qi said. +|+

Encouraging Breast-Feeding in China

Didi Tang of Associated Press wrote: “Health workers and the government are trying to revive the practice of breastfeeding, and a drumbeat of safety scares over commercially produced milk is giving them new leverage. Visitors to Internet forums for new parents are posting comments about the benefits of breast-feeding and the potential hazards with formula. [Source: Didi Tang, Associated Press, August 9, 2013 +|+]

China's Cabinet has announced a goal of raising that to at least 50 percent by 2020. Official initiatives include a joint effort by UNICEF and the government's National Center for Women's and Children's Health to encourage Chinese employers to add rooms for new mothers to breast-feed in hopes of encouraging the practice. "Breast-feeding is safe, universally available and free," Scherpbier said. "So there is no reason why mothers should use infant formula when they can breast-feed."+|+

“Tiantan Hospital encourages breast-feeding by putting mothers and their newborns in the same room instead of putting infants in a nursery. The nurses' station has pamphlets promoting breast-feeding, and diagrams on the walls of patient rooms show postures for nursing. Each morning, nurses using dolls show mothers how to breast-feed in one-on-one sessions. "No mother can get it right on their first try, so our nurses always adjust postures by hand to make sure they do it right," Yang said. Elsewhere, many Chinese hospitals fail to encourage breast-feeding. +|+

China Tightens Rules on Baby Formula to Promote Breast Feeding

In October 2013, reported “The Chinese government will tighten rules again on makers of infant formula to promote the use of breast feeding, banning pictures of children on packaging and formula companies from promoting their wares in hospitals. The new rules state that infant feed should bear labels promoting the use of breast feeding and have no pictures of children, the official Xinhua news agency said, citing a notice from the food and drug watchdog, health ministry and State Administration of Industry and Commerce. [Source: Reuters, October 29, 2013 ==]

“International guidelines, used in China, say doctors should promote breastfeeding unless there are medical reasons not to, but new mothers are often pressured to use formula, in the belief that it is better than breast milk. Hospitals and other medical facilities can receive no gifts or inducements from formula companies, which cannot push their products inside them, it said. Violators will face punishment. ==

“Separately, the food watchdog will step up requirements ensure milk powder is safe, according to a draft law published by the government. Formula manufacturers will have to report the raw materials, ingredients and labels of their products to food safety administrations, and will not allow them to contract production out, or repackage products under other labels, the draft states. China also plans to tighten restrictions on the publication of news about food safety issues to prevent the spread of untrue information which could cause alarm, according to the draft. Organizations and individuals "must not fabricate or spread phony food safety information", the draft said. "The news media must ... be objective, and fairly report on food safety issues." ==

Reuters reported: “Corruption is widespread in the health care system, fuelled in part by low salaries for doctors and nurses. State television last month said Danone SA had bribed hospital staff to give its milk powder to newborn babies, allegations which the French group investigated immediately. China is a magnet for foreign infant milk formula makers, with the $12.4 billion market expected to double by 2017. But foreign firms have come under pressure amid a crackdown on pricing and as authorities look to consolidate the dairy sector and promote breast feeding. In August 2013, the National Development and Reform Commission fined a group of mostly foreign milk powder producers, including Danone, a total of $110 million for price-fixing. Japan's Meiji Holdings Co Ltd, Nestle and Zhejiang Beingmate Scientific Technology Industry and Trade Co Ltd were also implicated, but escaped punishment for cooperating with the investigation. Meiji said it would pull out of China's baby formula market, the first international firm to do so following the pricing crackdown.

Marketing of Baby Formula in China

China is one of the world's largest markets for baby milk products. China's infant formula market has grown from about $1 billion in 2002 to $9 billion this year, according to UNICEF. That is forecast to rise to $13 billion by 2015. Rising rates of obesity among Chinese children also might be linked to use of infant formula, said Binns. [Source: Didi Tang, Associated Press, August 9, 2013 +|+]

Foreign brands are particularly popular because of scandals about contamination of domestically made products. Demand for domestically produced formula has fallen dramatically since 2008, when melamine-tainted milk powder left six babies dead and more than 300,000 sick. The incident seriously damaged consumer confidence in local firms and led to international competitors gaining market share. The demand for foreign brands has also jacked up prices. A can of Karicare Gold 3 infant milk powder from Nutricia, a unit of Danone, retails in New Zealand and Australia for around $19. In China, the official Nutricia store on the online Taobao Mall sells one can for 190 yuan ($31). [Source: Wall Street Journal, Reuters, October 29, 2013]

Didi Tang of Associated Press wrote: “Dairy companies energetically promote formula. Free samples are widely available in maternity wards despite laws prohibiting the practice. Advertising encourages parents to see it as helping children become stronger and smarter. A report this year by Save the Children, a British charity, said 40 percent of the Chinese mothers it interviewed had been contacted directly by salespeople for baby food companies. Binns said, "They are bombarded with baby formula ads, and the mothers want the best for their children," he said.[Source: Didi Tang, Associated Press, August 9, 2013 +|+]

Baby Formula Scares in China

Didi Tang of Associated Press wrote: “Parents who could afford it switched to more expensive imported formula after six babies died in 2008 and thousands were sickened due to Chinese-produced milk that was tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. But confidence in foreign supplies was shaken this week after Beijing ordered a recall of formula from Fonterra Co-operative Group after the New Zealand supplier said it might be tainted with bacteria that can cause botulism. The recall has sent shockwaves through New Zealand. The dairy industry is a key part of the country's economy, and China is its biggest milk export market. [Source: Didi Tang, Associated Press, August 9, 2013 +|+]

"The risks of formula feeding are increasingly clear to the Chinese public,"Dr. Robert Scherpbier, chief of health and nutrition for UNICEF China, said in an email this week. His comment came after China's government ordered a recall of formula imported from New Zealand because of contamination fears. "How many infant formula crises do we still need to convince mothers and policy makers that breast is best?" Scherpbier said. +|+

Chinese Dealers Strip Shelves of Baby Formula Worldwide

Melanie Lee of Reuters wrote: “For many Chinese and expatriates living in China going to Hong Kong or overseas for holidays, the shopping list includes diapers and infant formula, and they buy in bulk. In March, Hong Kong passed a law that classified milk powder as a restricted export, alongside items like rough diamonds, mandating that anyone without a license caught exporting more 1.8 kilograms. about two cans of milk powder, will be fined or jailed. Security guards patrol shops at Hong Kong's international airport to make sure the rule is not broken. In Britain, shops are rationing sales of baby milk after Chinese visitors and bulk buyers cleared their shelves to send the goods to China. Boxes of baby milk costing around 10 pounds ($15) in Britain are on sale on Chinese websites for up to three times as much. [Source: Melanie Lee, Reuters, July 6, 2013 |::|]

In April 2013, AFP reported; “Blamed for empty shop shelves from Europe to Australia, networks of baby formula traffickers are shipping milk powder to Chinese parents fearful of local products, and working ever harder to meet demand.Chinese parents haunted by scandals involving poisoned baby milk will pay premium prices — three or four times as much as domestic brands — for formula from Europe, where stores are limiting sales in the wake of the shortages.Even the Chinese buyers are complaining. "Its getting harder to find milk powder, for each box I have to walk further," said a woman surnamed Shao, who lives in Germany and advertises baby formula online.She is one of a small army of vendors working from homes across Europe, emptying shelves and causing shops to impose limits on purchases. [Source: AFP, April 12, 2013 ***]

“China's equivalent of eBay, Taobao, has more than 4,000 listings for milk powder products from Germany, with a similar number from Britain and nearly 3,000 from France."I started off sending the powder to family and friends," said Shao, a stay-at-home mother who says she makes a "small amount" from the business."Mothers usually order six to eight boxes at a time, because it takes a month to arrive and they want to keep a constant supply," she told AFP.Other vendors contacted by AFP ran larger-scale operations, with one Chinese company owner surnamed He boasting that he employs 10 German staff. Demand is driven by memories of a 2008 scandal over Chinese baby formula tainted with the industrial chemical melamine which killed six children and affected more than 300,000 others. Distrust was fortified last year when another domestic manufacturer's formula was found to be contaminated with carcinogens, despite official pledges to clean up the industry.Breastfeeding rates in China are low — only 28 percent according to a 2012 UNICEF report — due to time limits on maternity leave and aggressive marketing of formula. ***

“But buyers are sceptical of any products sold in China, including foreign brands packaged for the Chinese market. China is "by far" the world's largest market for formula, says consumer research group Euromonitor."Chinese young parents perceive international brands, especially imported brands in original packaging, to be healthier," said analyst Vera Wang. The Chinese websites charge hefty mark-ups, sometimes approaching 100 percent, on the retail price, such as German brand Aptamil advertised at around 220 yuan (35) for a 600g (21 ounce) box.Shipping fees can double those prices again, while customs checks and import duties in China can add another 30 percent, according to Chinese reports. In contrast, a central Beijing supermarket sells Chinese-made Yili formula at 150 yuan for 900g. ***

Foreign Companies Jack Up Prices on Infant Goods

Melanie Lee of Reuters wrote: “Sophie the Giraffe is a teething toy taking over the world one baby mouth at a time. The toy, handmade in France from Malaysian rubber sap, is the rage for parents of toddlers the world over, including China. But the knobby chew toy is priced around $30 in China, nearly three times the price in France. It's not a shock for Chinese parents, who have long lived with imported baby products that are sharply more expensive than elsewhere in the world. Several other products aimed at infants and toddlers appear to be exorbitantly priced in China. Import duties are only a part of the reason, experts say - much of the premium for imported infant products can be ascribed to fears that locally made goods may be contaminated. Chinese parents, who are mostly only allowed to have one child, simply do not want to take the risk of possible contamination in local baby products. [Source: Melanie Lee, Reuters, July 6, 2013 |::|]

Foreign companies know this and many take advantage. "Brands have been able to get away with this just because of the fear factor about buying unsafe products," said Benjamin Cavender, principal analyst at China Market Research Group. "If you look at how consumers spend their money, they are disproportionately willing to spend money on anything that their child will be eating or what will be touching their child's body." |::|

“When it comes to children, the fear of domestic goods goes beyond food to items like toys and diapers. Many local toys have been found to have toxic levels of substances like lead, arsenic and mercury. Sophie the Giraffe retails for about 8 euros ($10.33) on Amazon's French website. Under Chinese law, Sophie would face an import duty of 10 percent if imported as a rubber item and a value-added-tax (VAT) of 17 percent. If it is imported as an animal toy, there is no import duty but the VAT still applies. Transport and distribution costs would also apply. Shanghai Tongzhen Trading Co. sells the toy for $27 on Chinese e-commerce platform Jingdong Mall.

Cai Junfang, a Shanghai woman who has a two-month old baby girl, says she manages the high prices by breastfeeding and using local diaper brands. "The prices of imported baby goods are indeed very high," said Cai, adding that the quality of imported goods was however generally better than domestic products. But when it comes to her baby's milk formula, she's not taking chances."There has been too much media exposure on the domestic formula safety. The most important thing is my baby's health," she said.

China's Obsession with Premium Japanese Disposable Diapers

Sammy Suzuki wrote in Business Insider: “For the past few years, affluent Chinese parents have insisted on swaddling their babies in Merries brand disposable diapers, made by Japanese company Kao Corp. Not only that, they’ve been paying a lot more for Japan-made diapers than for a similar product made by Kao’s Chinese factory. “As demand for disposable diapers has soared, relative latecomer Kao soared while leading player Procter & Gamble (P&G) and local company Hengan International lost ground. The Chinese appetite for Merries helped drive a nearly threefold increase in profits at Kao’s Human Health Care Business between 2012 and 2015.[Source: Sammy Suzuki, Business Insider, July 28, 2016]

Procter & Gamble (P&G) entered the Chinese market in 1998 with its Pampers brand. After a few missteps — mostly owing to the low quality of its initial product and the resistance of Chinese parents to the idea of disposable diapers — the market took off in 2007 when P&G introduced its “Golden Sleep” campaign that tied disposable diapers to sleep quality and improved child development. Several other companies followed, including Japan’s Unicharm (in 2000) and Kimberly Clark (via a Korean joint venture in 2003). Kao was the last major global player to enter the market, only setting up shop in 2009.

The desire for upmarket products is abundantly evident among the growing middle class in China, and it is breathing new life into the sales of many Western brands — from US-made Steinway pianos and Mattel Barbie dolls to Italy’s La Perla lingerie. But, as the diaper wars show, the trend goes beyond the luxury markets. While P&G pioneered the disposable diaper market in China, it has continued to target the mass consumer, relying on local production to manufacture lower-priced diapers. By contrast, Kao has focused on the premium niche. With its touted superabsorbent polymer technology — not to mention the “Made in Japan” label, which seems to guarantee authenticity — the Merries diaper has become a coveted brand among higher-end consumers. In fact, an estimated 90 percent of Kao’s sales come from premium products, versus 25 percent for P&G and 40 percent for Unicharm.

“E-commerce on the rise. Kao began focusing on the online channel at the very moment when e-commerce was growing rapidly at the expense of traditional channels. The Chinese are avid online — and increasingly mobile-phone — shoppers. According to a proprietary Bernstein Research survey, e-commerce penetration of the Chinese household and personal care category rose from just 3 percent in 2013 to 21 percent in 2015. And the online channel is particularly appealing to higher-end consumers, owing to its convenience, higher likelihood of product authenticity (a major concern in China) and broader product assortment.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China”, edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994);, the Chinese government news site; New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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