The debate on China’s one-child policy has gone very public. A recent poll on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging platform in China, asked the question, “Do you support allowing two children?” And it’s a 1984 Reagan-versus-Mondale style blowout. Out of 30,006 votes cast, 71.7% support abrogating the one-child policy, and only 28.3% want to keep it.
The poll was conducted after a study by the China Development Research Foundation emerged, recommending an abolition of the current one-child policy by 2015 to allow every couple to have two children. The study suggests the China’s current policy have led to a negative population growth rate and low birth rate, erasing the “demographic dividend” China has enjoyed so far to power its economic growth. In 1982, people younger than 14 were 33.59% of the population; in 2010 they were 16.60%. The study argues that the age structure has become unsustainable and the existing one-child policy is obsolete.
However, those in favor of keeping the one-child policy worry that allowing second children to be born would bring hundreds of millions of more people, creating a very heavy burden on China and a shortage of already scarce resources. The cost of rearing a child in China’s major cities has also skyrocketed to become a giant burden on young couples.
When reading the survey results, however, the standard caveats apply: Those using Chinese social media tend to be younger, richer, and more educated than the Chinese population at large. Furthermore, only a small subset of that subset has chosen to participate in the poll. But the younger, richer, and digitally active Chinese who use social media regularly are many of the same people who will be making policy in the coming decades, and also making choices about whether or not to have children–and perhaps how many.
The most-read post on this debate appears to have come from Charles Xue, a well-known angel investor and web commenter. Xue describes how, “In the 50s…we blindly followed the Soviet Union, which had lost many people in the second world war and so encouraged births on a wide scale. They had few people and much land. The Dean of Peking University at that time, Ma Yinchu, felt that China had many people and not much [arable] land, with limited resources and primitive agricultural methods.” Xue describes how Ma thus suggested a limit of two children per household to keep birth rates normal.
Instead, Xue continues, the madness of the Cultural Revolution in Mao’s era led to widespread misery. The population during that time doubled from 400 million to 800 million. The economy was ignored; hungry, with no job and no entertainment options, many people simply engaged in what he euphemistically calls “production” of children. The regret from that irresponsible period, Xue argues, drove the government to reverse course in 1970 by implementing the one-child policy; but this was an over-reaction.
Now, thirty years later, “there are 20% fewer 20 year olds than there are 30 year olds!” The saddest part, according to Xue, is the shidu or “lost singles” families, Chinese slang for couples from the 50s and 60s who lived through great hardship, had their one child, then lost their one child to illness or accidents and are now forced to grow old with no one to care for them.
Xue concludes, “the one-child policy is obsolete, and everybody knows it.” To avoid the demographic pains now wracking Japan, and “for the future of China,” the policy must be lifted.