The one child backlash

In the wake of the end of the one child policy an article examines the public reaction to its ending, “In the wake of the Fifth Plenum, a meeting of top leaders, the Chinese government announced that its controversial, decades-long policy of limiting most couples to a single child was to come to an end. While some Western observers are cheering at the end of the repressive (and sometimes brutally-enforced) policy, one group within China is already speaking up in dissatisfaction: China’s only children themselves”.

The piece goes on to note that “According to a vaguely worded communiqué released on Oct. 29, all Chinese couples will now be allowed to have two children, a right that has thus far only been extended to some. Policy supporters have long argued that in a country like China, with an already huge population and limited resources, unchecked population growth would keep millions mired in poverty and place unbearable strain on natural resources. But the “planned birth policy,” as it is known in Chinese, has not only caused heartache for countless families prevented from having more than one child through massive fines, sterilization, and in some cases forced abortions — it has also wildly distorted the country’s demographics. At the end of 2014, Chinese men outnumbered Chinese women by 33 million, due to a traditional preference for sons and the gender-selective abortions that many have opted for in order to guarantee that their single child is male. Additionally, low birth rates mean that China’s population is aging swiftly. And as the country’s once-explosive economic growth slows, the move to prevent a double economic and demographic decline is unsurprising”.

Worryingly for a regime always in danger of collapse the piece notes “Yet on Chinese social media, a place where criticism of government can sometimes take root and one populated in large part by young Chinese who grew up under the current planned-birth regime, the primary reaction was anger, not joy. The implementation of the rule, critics argue, has became a kind of social contract within China, based on an often explicit promise that the government would repay the sacrifices of its citizens with generous social services. As one common government slogan in the 1980s went: “Have just one child; the government will take care of the elderly.” But many Chinese feel they never received those promised benefits. “When mom gave birth to me, we had to pay our entire family savings as a fine,” went the most up-voted comment on one Oct. 29 post announcing the news on China’s Twitter-like Weibo, written by a user who identified himself as a young single male in China’s southwestern Sichuan province. “The country should compensate me.” After China began its long process of economic reform after 1978, the social services that had guaranteed at least a minimal standard of living in the previously poor communist country were systematically dismantled”.

It adds that “Though reform brought spectacular economic growth, lifting hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty, China still lacks a strong social safety net, such as universal healthcare or reliable unemployment insurance. Along with dramatic GDP growth has come an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, meaning that those not fortunate enough to maintain a comfortable nest egg may all too easily fall through the cracks. This was not the bargain the government struck with its citizens, some argue. Jake Lin, a young Chinese professional from Shanghai now working in Washington, DC, echoed the point. He told Foreign Policy that he believes only children and their families should be compensated for the sacrifices they made”.

Not surprisingly the piece reports that “Many netizens quipped, only half-jokingly, that the so-called “two-child policy” might soon become mandatory. “The old policy measures used to be heavy fines, forced sterilisation, and vaginal rings,” wrote one Weibo user. “Now with the ‘two-child’ policy, the government will offer cash incentives and prizes, and send installments of Viagra and sexy underwear.” Another wrote in a popular comment, “The next step: Fines for those who don’t have two children!” The plenum marked the second major about-face in Chinese birth policies, one that’s straining the credibility of government propaganda. Under late Communist strongman Mao Zedong, ubiquitous posters encouraged citizens to make the country strong by having as many children as they could. But with the advent of the one-child policy, intended partly as a corrective to the mismatch between population and available resources that Mao’s exhortations had created, the government made moral arguments in the other direction. Many contemporary youth grew up surrounded by government slogans painted on walls, or on signs draped across boulevards, reminding them of the virtues of having only one child”.



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