‘An Urgent Call to Immediately Scrap the One-Child Policy’

As netizens express overwhelming support for family planning reform and recent comments from the former minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) hint that the one-child policy may soon undergo further relaxation, current NPFPC minister Wang Xia has publicly stated that the controversial policy is going nowhere fast. The South China Morning Post reports:

Measures to keep the national birth rate low are going to be around “for a long time”, according to the top family planning official. She dismissed speculation the one-child policy would be scrapped this year.

However, Wang Xia said that authorities would gradually ease restrictions for certain people.

“The policy should be a long-term one, and its primary goal is to maintain a low birth rate and be gradually perfected,” Wang, minister of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said at a national conference, Xinhua reported.

Tea Leaf Nation’s Liz Carter looks at how Wang’s recent statement has catapulted the topic back into the realm of debate. Her post describes the most recent open letter drafted by Chinese intellectuals, and comments on recent Weibo responses to Wang Xia’s statement:

The most recent letter calls the One Child Policy “outdated” and demands that the government scrap it.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 her Tea Leaf Nation post, Carter notes that the focal point of pro-reform arguments in this most recent wave of debate has shifted. In the past, the reproductive rights of the individual were put front-and-center in arguments against the policy, while recently criticism has revolved around the broader implications on Chinese society as a whole. The open letter shows this shift, and an English translation of the entire document can be seen at Carter’s A Big Enough Forest blog:

[…] the One Child Policy has led to an extreme twisting of society’s structure and ethical framework. The One Child Policy has created a 4-2-1 family structure, with each family being comprised of 4 grandparents, 2 parents, and one child. Today’s young people must care for six middle-aged and elderly people, and each of these young people lacks brother and sisters, uncles and aunts. The entire society is lacking in horizontal blood relations, leaving only vertical, linear relations. This flat structure significantly weakens interpersonal relations. If one person becomes ill, or encounters other problems, besides his or her immediate family, there are no other people who would be able to help him or her. Even if friends can help, they would not help as naturally and closely as if they were blood relatives. Everyone’s position in their family line means that they must be responsible for the safety and security of their relatives, and that no one else is able to truly help. Excessive burden on children his highly unbeneficial to the safety and security of society. […]

A recent study published in Science attempts to prove how the one-child policy is breeding mistrust and pessimism in China, though some experts have expressed their reservations, pointing to other trust-eroding factors (via CDT).

For more on demographics and the one-child policy, see “Fallout From the One-Child Policy,” “Catchy Family Planning Slogans,” or “Demography: China’s Achilles Heel“.