I remember studying China in middle school social studies class (circa 1993) and learning about a national policy there very different from any that exist in the United States. Maybe it was my proclivity for reading Dystopian science-fiction like 1984 and Brave New World, but China seemed like something from another planet, not just halfway around this one.
What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was how recent this policy had been enacted. My 13 year old self must have assumed China had always had crazy laws on the books. Their One–Child Policy didn’t take effect until 1989, only a few short years before I had first heard about it. I didn’t know that much about it then, and living in China didn’t teach me that much more (so I’m sure my American readers don’t completely have a handle on it). So I took it upon myself to talk to people and research more into this weird method of government sanctioned population control.
Also known as the family planning policy, the law itself isn’t labeled quite correctly, as there are many exceptions to the rule. It goes back to Chairman Mao who believed that population growth empowered the country and thus the government encouraged families to have as many children as possible between the years of 1948 and 1970. Due to increased life expectancy and declining infant mortality, China’s population skyrocketed during this period – also known as the Cultural Revolution – and in the 70s, the State changed its tune, telling its citizens to stick to only one or two children (but without any official laws on the books).
Officially, the one-child policy (meant to curb the explosion of new births and economic strain on the nation’s resources) was supposed to last only one generation. It has been extended through the current generation and will probably continue into the future. However, the policy has many nuances that many outsiders don’t completely understand, though would-be Chinese parents seem to know them inside and out (Jen and I had many questions particularly regarding fertility treatments, contraception, and penalties for having additional children without government permission). Here are some of the bullet points:
- 36% are subject to the strictest interpretation of one-child.
- 53% are allowed to have a second child if the first was female (ultra-sounds to determine the gender of a fetus are illegal since during the 1990s, parents would abort females in favor of their one-child being male, this practice still continues today in rural areas and is very much illegal).
- If both parents were raised in one-child households, they are allowed to have two children.
- In rural areas, families are allowed to have two children.
- If their first child is born with a physical disability or mental illness, the parents are allowed to have a second child.
- If both parents have advanced degrees (Masters, Doctorate), they are allowed to have two children.
- Ethnic minorities are not subject to any birth limits (there are dozens of ethnicities within what westerners refer to as ‘Chinese’).
If an urban located family of the Han ethnic group has more than one child without the permission of the government they are subject to a fine for every infraction. The fine – which is known as the social maintenance fee – amounts to $15,000 USD per child! Many of the wealthiest Chinese families can afford to do this, while others simply visit the fertility clinic and pay the doctors instead so that they may give birth to twins or triplets (there is no penalty for multiple births and the number of twins born per year doubled between 1990 and 2006).
Some Chinese citizens are getting creative with their outside the box thinking. Because the United States practices birthright citizenship, any child born on US soil is a US citizen. The small island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands is a US territory that has seen a huge upswing in the birthrate of Chinese nationals. The practice of moving to another country to give birth is called Birth Tourism, but you may be more familiar with the term, Anchor Babies (for decades pregnant Mexicans have been crossing the border to give their families a better life). The benefit with this plan is that the second (or third, or fourth) child born to Chinese parents while overseas will not be a citizen China. The government can’t really do much about that.
Unlike in America, birth control is readily available in every corner pharmacy at an extremely low cost to the individual, and abortions run rampant. A month supply of standard oral pills runs about $2.50 USD. And since the Chinese government isn’t quite like the Party in 1984, they don’t forbid or discourage acts of sexual congress. They understand people are going to have sex, but sex doesn’t need to result in unwanted pregnancies (25% of China’s 10 million annual abortions were performed on young, unmarried women).
Getting back on topic, one of the results of the one-child policy is both a social and psychological issue known colloquially as ‘little emperors’. Essentially, parents who only have one chance to get it right, over-indulge their only child (I prefer to use the term spoil the crap out of, but hey, I’m trying to be PC here). The effects of the child’s (and the nation’s as a whole) social paradigm with an entire generation (or two at this point) who suffer from poor social communication and cooperation skills (and these are the kids we’re teaching).
It is evident that by solving one problem, the government has created other, unforeseen issues as often happens. Hopefully, great minds will come together and solve these as well. Moving into the future, one of the most important hot-button issues will deal with global population and resource management. And the People’s Republic of China, as the world’s factory, will rise to front and center of this debate.
Until Next Time…