Liz Carter senior contributor

Chinese NPC Rep: “We Must Allow Chinese to Have a Second Child. We Cannot Wait Another Minute.”

Children perform morning exercises at an elementary school in Xi’an. (eviltomthai/Flickr)

This article also appears in The Atlantic, a Tea Leaf Nation partner site.

China’s Two Sessions are in full swing, with lawmakers proposing a variety of new regulations addressing issues of concern to China’s citizens. Perhaps one of the most welcomed of these proposals was Guangdong National People’s Congress (NPC) representative He Youlin’s call for an adjustment to China’s One-child policy, which became the hottest topic in Weibo’s My Two Sessions Proposals category, the hottest trending topic of conversation on the Twitter-like site.

“Two years ago I raised this matter, and I raised it against last year. I will raise it again this year!” remarked He Youlin. “We must allow Chinese to have a second child. We cannot wait another minute.” The top five comments on this Sina article, each receiving more than 500 “likes,” expressed support for He’s proposal.

The One-child policy, which has restricted most Chinese to having a single child in order to curb population growth over the past three decades, is unpopular among most Chinese and has recently drawn harsh criticism from academics and scholars, who say the policy may lead to economic and societal disaster.

As recently as January of this year, the head of China’s National Family Planning Commission affirmed that the policy was in place for the long term. In response to the statement, NPC delegate He Youlin said, “That isn’t right. You can’t consider such matters from the perspective of your professional department. You should think about it from the perspective of a people’s development, of the future strategic development of our country.”

Over 3,000 Weibo users commented on He Youlin’s third attempt to make it possible for Chinese families to have two children. Most comments proclaimed support for He’s persistence, as well as a desire for the policy to end, many citing statistics on China’s slowing population growth and aging demographics. A not-insignificant group of commenters even said that economic realities would prevent most Chinese from having two children anyway, so the issue was moot. Still others decried the inhumanity of the policy, implementation of which has resulted in forced abortions and financial threats.

While some Weibo users voiced support, many others sadly voiced their opinion that He’s proposal would never gain broad support at the government level. Commented one user, “If they let people have two children, think of how much less money the government will make in fines [for having too many children]. This alone means the proposal will never pass.” One economist estimates that the government has made over US$316 billion from such fines since the policy was first instituted. Another netizen wrote, “The One-child Policy is actually China’s greatest social stability measure. If there aren’t any young people at all, who will protest?”

Many proposals raised at the NPC will never become law, so the raising of this measure does not signify a movement in the government towards an adjustment of the One-child policy. Debate continues, however, online and at the highest levels, with an increasing number of citizens calling for change.

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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.
  • Charles Liu

    China’s family planning policy has evolved over the years into a de-facto two-child policy, with all the exemptions in place (minority, rural farm labor, disable veteran, disabled first born, both parents are only child, 3-5 year birth spacing, etc.) The once punitive fine is now reduced to forms of social taxation many can reasonably afford.

    China’s Family Planning Committee was spun out of Public Health Commission decades ago to separate the social, economic, political work involved in managing China’s growing population. Now that is no longer necessary with family planning evolving into health services (with few extremely unfortunate local cases as exceptions), current NPC proposal to fold Family Planning Committee back into Public Health Commission, as alternative to outright policy amendment, is further sign of changes coming IMHO.