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Liz Carter senior contributor

Will Growing Online Consensus Against China’s One Child Policy Have an Effect?

Chinese schoolchildren perform morning exercises in Kunming, China. (knezovjb/Flickr)

China’s One Child policy, which restricts most couples in the country to having only one child, once again became a hot topic when Wang Xia, the government official in charge of the program, indicated it would not be scrapped anytime soon. Chinese academics in sociology and economics, among other fields, have openly called for the policy to be abandoned immediately, but decision-makers have been slow to make even small-scale reforms. The pace of change is far too slow for most researchers and would-be parents.

Human rights concerns aside, many fear that a continuation of the policy will result in an older population, unable to sustain economic growth or cope with the care of its own elderly. In July of 2012, 15 academics penned an open letter to Chinese authorities asking them to cease enforcing the policy immediately, and on August 18, 2012, more than 30 economists and experts signed another open letter objecting to the policy on economic grounds.

The most recent letter calls the One Child Policy “outdated” and demands that the government scrap it. “Despite a 40% increase in population since 1976,” the letter notes, “The number of primary school students has gone down by 33%, from 150 million to 100 million, and there were half as many primary schools in 2010 as there were in 2000.” The letter warns that even if the policy were scrapped immediately, China’s population would begin to shrink in ten years. It further argues that only three years from now, China will begin to feel the effects of the gender imbalance, with its “bachelor crisis” becoming more and more serious until 2023, when tens of millions of Chinese men will face a lifetime of involuntary singlehood.

The letter objecting to the One Child Policy was signed by academics from China’s top institutions of higher learning, including Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Fudan University. Reactions to the letter ran the gamut from outright support to party-line opposition. One person commented on Mao Yushi’s blog, “Reproductive rights are God-given. Only the most evil of societies would forcibly restrict reproduction.” Some argued that China’s population problem has made the restrictions a necessity. Another wrote, “It’s almost too expensive to raise even one kid these days. Who would dare to raise several?”

Much of the chatter on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter — where Wang Xia’s comment became the #1 trending topic yesterday — centered on the sociological implications of the One Child Policy. Wrote one Weibo user, “We should let the next generation experience what it’s like to have brothers and sisters. It will help them develop active, healthy personalities.” As an entire generation of Chinese have grown up only children, studies suggest that the so-called “Little Emperor Syndrome” has led to an unprecedented spoiling of the nation’s young. It has also meant that an entire generation will face unprecedented pressure to care for their parents and two sets of grandparents – put another way, each of China’s only children will eventually be expected to care and provide for six elderly adults.

In the past, it has been individual human rights violations, rather than broad sociological concerns, that have made the One Child Policy a source of controversy. China’s One Child Policy made headlines last year when countryside resident Feng Jianmei was forced to have an abortion when seven months pregnant with her second child. Enforcement of the policy – with fines, workplace pressure, and even forced abortions – continues to this day, despite widespread consensus among experts that it has outlived its purpose.

China’s experts and everyday internet users alike have taken to the internet to call for an end to the One Child Policy, perhaps encouraged by how Weibo and other forms of social media have played a key role in bringing down corrupt officials over the past year. It remains to be seen whether the social media fury that has brought down so many provincial officials can force changes on a national scale, but at the very least, there is a growing belief that it could. 

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Liz Carter

Liz Carter is a DC-based China-watcher and the author and translator of a number of Chinese-English textbooks available on amazon.cn. She and her cat Desmond relocated to DC from Beijing, where she studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University, after learning that HBO was planning to adapt Game of Thrones for television. She writes at abigenoughforest.com and tweets from @withoutdoing.
  • Colsa2

    Demographically all of East Asia is screwed. Europe too. Soon people will realize the 21st is going to be another American Century, simply because everyone who would challenge the US has bigger problems of their own.

    With a birthdate stable around 2 children per woman plus immigrantion it’s no wonder the US is the only western country still growing AT ALL at this point.