Backroom Battle Delays One-Child Reform

The merging of China’s Health Ministry and National Population and Family Planning Commission last month added fuel to speculation that the country’s family planning policy is in for an overhaul. But citing “a recently retired official”, Reuters’ Sui-Lee Wee and Hui Li report that reforms have been held up by a deadlock between two high-ranking octogenarians:

Former State Councilors Song Jian and Peng Peiyun, who once ranked above cabinet ministers and remain influential, have been lobbying China’s top leaders, mainly behind closed doors: Song wants them to keep the policy while Peng urges them to phase it out, people familiar with the matter said.

[…] From 1988 to 1998 Peng, 83, was in charge of implementing the as head of the Family Planning Commission. In the mid 1990s she became Beijing’s highest ranking woman, serving as state councilor, a position superior to a minister.

Like many scholars, she now believes it is time to relax the one-child policy. She first revealed publicly that her views had shifted at an academic conference in Beijing less than a year ago, a change rooted partly in economic concerns.

[…] Song became interested in the issue of population control during his years as a Moscow-trained missile scientist.

“When I was thinking about this, I took Malthus’s book to research the study of population,” Song said in a 2005 interview with China Youth Magazine, referring to the English writer Thomas Malthus, who predicted in the 18th century that population growth would outstrip food production.

Many Chinese are not subject to the one-child policy, while others are able to disregard it. Nevertheless, critics argue, it has created a socially corrosive gender gap, undermined the future of China’s economy, increased diabetes rates and produced “more pessimistic, nervous, less conscientious, less competitive and more risk averse” children. Meanwhile, cases like that of Feng Jianmei, forced to have an abortion at seven months, and a 13-month-old boy crushed to death by a family planning official’s car have sharpened moral outrage at heavy-handed enforcement. At South China Morning Post, Amy Li reports another recent case, of a Hubei woman pressured into undergoing sterilization against medical advice by incentives and threats from local officials.

Shen Hongxia, a mother of two, suffered from gynecological diseases. Doctors had warned her not to have the sterilisation operation because it would harm her, said her husband, Cheng Shixiong.

But family planning officials at ’s Tongshan county, where the couple lived, kept pressuring her after they allegedly received a bad rating from provincial officials for failing to “crack down” on families with more than one child, said Cheng.

[…] Shen received the operation to be sterilised on the morning of March 19 after officials went to her home and threatened legal action if she didn’t comply, explained her husband.

She bled to death hours after the operation.