For better, or For Worse
When China’s population started to outgrow the country's capacity to support it in the 1980s, the Chinese government introduced a policy of allowing only one child per family. China's one-child policy is controversial: while many people understand why it was introduced, others think it is inhumane. The policy is highly misunderstood, especially in the West. In their law to only allow one child per family, the leaders intended to stop the upward trend and decrease the population. The policy was put into place in 1979 as “an aggressive effort to improve standards of living and the economy through population control” (CNN). The initial policy that was put into place was much stricter than the policy most people are familiar with now. This is because the original plan was meant to be short-term (only a couple of decades), however it’s success of preventing nearly 400 million births made China leaders think twice about terminating the plan altogether and instead revised the policy into what it is today (CNN). This essay will be breaking down the one child policy by looking into a variety of different aspects such as; the company that oversees the policy and what rewards or punishments they hand out, the baby boomers effect on the policy and the reason the leaders implemented it, and prior attempts to control the population. As well as the current population standings, the well-known daughter to son ratio problem, how it affected one families plan, and current feelings by the locals towards the policy. The one-child policy is known by those that abide by it as the “family planning policy.” Understanding the policy in China is difficult as there are many exceptions and rules. The family planning policy states that married urban couples are only allowed one child. However, exceptions include rural families, ethnic minorities, couples who themselves only have one sibling, and foreigners residing in China. According to Maria Trimarchi, the NPFPC (The National Population and Family Planning Commission of China), is a state agency responsible for overseeing population control, reproductive health and family planning across China. The NPFPC was created to help families make decisions about their child, designate rewards to abiding families, and enforce penalties when it is disobeyed. Everyone who falls under the policy in China is personally responsible to practice family planning and use proper contraceptive methods. Those that play by the rules are offered a number of perks such as special financial assistance, longer maternity and honeymoon breaks, "Certificate of Honor for Single-Child Parents," loans, along with other rewards. Those that disobey the strict law can be fined up to half of their annual household income or be subject to confiscation of their household items. The “excess” children themselves may personally be subject to health and education disadvantages. (Trimarchi) All of these penalties and rewards make having a single child very attractive and make most couples not even consider having a second child. The way the policy is set up is very smart and lucrative, making nearly 97% of the country follow it’s guidelines. (Hays)
The policy was first set in place by Chinese government ruled by Deng Xiaoping in 1979 as the “baby boomers” of the 1950’s and 60’s were beginning to reproduce. The reason for the sudden worry of the population in China came when leaders realized that China was home to a quarter of the world’s population on just 7 percent of the world’s land (Hesketh). The population increase during the 1950s through 1979 introduced a large number of problems in China. With such a rapid increase, came the government’s inability to provide for its citizens the way China’s citizens were used to the way that was previously possible. Also, leadership argued that rapid population growth would “retard achievement of the four modernizations (industry, agriculture, science and technology, and defense) by hampering attainment of full employment and by cutting into increases in capital accumulation, living standards, and education” (Bongaarts) The rule was implemented in order to return the country to a higher standard of living, education, and economic reform. Because the long term effects of the policy have not been felt and there are still a number of people in China that were born before the policy, it is uncertain if China’s goals to make a better life for its citizens have been fulfilled. Judging by the number of children born under the one child policy that plan to follow it with their own families, the policy obviously has its perks. But before this law was enforced, a number of other options were attempted.
A number of other options were researched and attempted before the law went into effect, many failed efforts to control the population took place. Although the policy seems harsh, the one child policy was not implemented on a whim. In 1971 the Chinese government introduced a birth-limitation campaign called “longer-later-fewer.” In this plan men and women would have longer periods between the births of their children, wait until they were older to have their first child, and have fewer than the average children. Fewer than average was three children if you were a rural dwelling couple and 2 for those in the urbans (Bongaarts). Due to the lack of success of that program, the decision was made to limit couples to having just two children in the year 1977, followed by just one child in 1979. China will maintain its one-child policy for at least another decade as nearly 200 million Chinese will enter child-bearing age over the next 10 years. Minister Zhang Weiqing told the China Daily newspaper, abandoning the policy during this period would cause "serious problems and add extra pressure on social and economic development." However, the exact details of the continued policy will be less strict and will include exceptions and options such as being able to apply for certificates to allow the birth of a second child. Another revision of the policy has not yet been started, however the grip is a lot less tight and more families are able to have more than one child while still following the rules, and falling under the exceptions. The successes of the policy can be seen in the current population standings versus where the country was headed prior to the policy’s beginning.
It is hard to reflect what the exact population goals were and what the current population is as a number of sources contradict each other yet each claim to be numbers obtained from the same source. This is because population studies had been discontinued in China in the late 1950s and since population counts have been restarted in 1975 they have never been referred to as reliable. This shows that the population goal was not set in stone and that the actual population in China is unknown. According to sources, the estimated population in China has been continually growing since 1953 when the death rate began falling significantly and the birthrate increased, creating a 2.8 percent population growth rate. The increase was initially embraced by the public and the leaders of China saw the population growth as part of the countries strength. A growing population following hundreds of years of war, epidemics, rebellions and the collapse of imperial authority was a welcomed change. (Kane) However, when the reality of the increasing population hit home and the effects of the growing population started effecting communities, the policy began being designed. When it was introduced, it is said the leaders had a goal in mind; in 1979 they hoped the population of China, in the year 2000, would be at approximately 1.2 billion. The 2000 census showed the population at 1.27 billion, however many people argue that this is an underestimate because the census counters in China is the same committee that is meant to be in charge of population control. Whether the population actually decreased or not is hard to say, but what has been proven is that per woman, the fertility rate has dropped from 2.9 children, down to 1.7. (Hesketh) China's population, which now stands at about 1.3 billion, is growing at the rate of 0.6 percent and is expected to peak around 1.6 billion by 2050, according to the U.S. State Department. (CNN) Following the peak, it is expected to drop off drastically resulting in the population numbers desired by leaders in China. As a whole, the policy has helped prevent approximately 250 million births since 1979. The greatest difference in population has come from those in urban areas, as those in rural settings are less keen on the rule.
Although the rule only officially applies to those living in urban areas, couples in rural landscapes are also advised and sometimes pressured to follow the one child policy as well. Even before the rule went into effect, nearly 90% of urban couples had already decided to have only one child. This was in part due to the small living spaces and the hours Chinese workers are expected to put into a job. Add to that the exhausting tasks of caring for a family and the majority of couples can’t fathom having more than one child. Rural families, on the other hand, need larger families to financially support them as they grow older as they tend to have limited savings and no pensions (Kane). Discouragements of larger families include “financial levies on each additional child and sanctions which ranged from social pressure to curtailed career prospects for those in government jobs” (Kane). Specific measures varied across each individual community, but in a tight knit community, the pressure to adhere to the one-child policy is high. Having what they call “unapproved pregnancies” which are children that are not approved by the family planning authorities, can bring problems to more than just the defiant family. For example, if a couple was to have an unapproved pregnancy in a community and this birth caused the community to exceed the yearly birth quota, then other families who had previously been approved to have a child, would have to wait until the next year and the yearly quota restarted. (Doherty) This is the sort of pressure commonly faced by families in China. Not only do families feel pressure in having children, they also feel pressure in the gender of the child they have.
A well-known effect caused by the one child policy in China, is the preference of having a son over a daughter. Before the policy was implemented, the ratio was about 105 males to every 100 females overall in China, but currently the ratio stands at 114 males to every 100 females. The desire to have a son rather than a daughter is due to the tradition that in the parents’ old age, the daughter moves in with the parents of the son to care for them. In the event that a daughter is born instead of a son, families abiding by the one child rule, more often peasants, dispose of the infant girl and try again, this time hoping for a son. This practice is called sex selective infanticide. Another well-known reason to dispose of the daughter is so that when the child grows up and tries to start a family, the families’ last name tied with the daughter won’t have a chance to be tarnished by a daughter breaking the one child policy. Beliefs in China are that an infant does not own life until they are six months old; therefore getting rid of the infant daughter is not seen as a crime. The method used, most commonly by the father, is to place the infant in a bucket of cold water that Chinese refer to as “baby water”. In a study done in 1980, for every 1000 infants being born across China, 53 were being disposed of, but in the rural areas of the country, the ratio was much higher (Kane). In some communities of China, one out of every three daughters born are disposed of. The boy to girl ratio proves to be troubling for China in the future, but as of now, no measures are being taken to prevent this common practice. Families struggle to decide whether to keep the daughter or try again for another, in hopes that it is a boy. Many people were frustrated when the rule was set in place in 1979. Going from the “longer-later-fewer” rule that did allow more than one child, just a certain amount of space between each birth (usually 3 years), to having just one child, ruined a lot of couple’s family plans. Especially those who had already had one child, a girl, and were planning on trying again later for a boy. Most couples had to accept the plan and were “plagued” with the reality that their one child would be a girl and would likely leave them in their old age. But some couples broke the new rule, and tried for a son. Penalties faced for having another child included losing workforce “points” and even personal belongings. Some locals surveyed say it was worth it, but others, who had a daughter a second time, are now even more devastated. The only way to gain back those points and reclaim their confiscated items is for the woman to be permanently fixed by a licensed doctor. Almost all couples breaking the rule and having a second child are forced to undergo such procedures. For traditional families, it can be heartbreaking. However, for a number of more modern families, the policy is becoming understood and even accepted. Some say having only one child ensures better care, including better nutrition, dress, education, and more attention. These modern couples embrace the one child rule, understanding that “the best care can be given to a child when there is only one child to care for” (Zhang). Modern couples understand the policy and some even chose to undergo the procedure after their first child to avoid being punished. These are the couples in China that tend to be better off financially and rewarded heavily by the government or NPFPC. While there are some that agree and abide, there are still some that will fight it until it is taken out of practice. Those that fight it may not be beneficiaries of some of the positive results the policy has produced. Even some of the only daughters are enjoying benefits that, without the policy, would not have existed. Since the policy’s implementation over 30 years ago, a number of children born under the one child policy are now adults. Feelings towards the policy are across the board, but the statistics are not. A number of studies done show that children born under the policy, especially girls, tend to have a better life than those with multiple siblings. One obvious reason for that is the family with one child is not scolded by the government with fees, income confiscation and other humiliations. But in the studies there are other reasons that children are better off as an only child. For example, “many one child families are made of two parents and one daughter. With no male heir competing for resources, parents have spent more on their daughters' education and well-being, a groundbreaking shift after centuries of discrimination” says Jeffery Hays, an expert on the one child policy. In 1978, women made up only 24.2 percent of the student population at Chinese colleges and universities. By 2009, nearly half of China's full-time undergraduates were women and 47 percent of graduate students were female, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. (Hays) This is the first time in China’s history that school enrollment between males and females are near equal. So, although the policy might be hard to understand and frowned upon by many, the statistics can’t be denied, having just one child in China ensures that child a better life. In studying and reading of the family planning policy in China I believe that it is a very difficult rule to dissect. There are obvious reasons that the policy was set into place, and had it not been implemented, the population of China would have far outgrown the resources that country has to offer. I think the biggest issue that comes into play is the tradition of sons moving in with their parents to care for them. This is the largest reason that the surviving birth rate of females is so low and males is so high. It is hard to say to abandon the tradition and have elderly care in a home or find another way, however in China, the act of a tradition so strong between families it makes that idea unrealistic. I do think that something needs to be done that alters the tradition into something that welcomes both males and females into the world before China is overrun by males and the men to women ratio is even worse than it currently is. Overall I think the policy had to happen and it would not be horrible if other countries took this idea into consideration. Such as third world countries that starve because they are unable to provide for their young ones. As the world population nears 7 billion leaders need to realize that we live on a small planet with very limited resources. I think China is playing their part by keeping their population limited and other countries need to follow suit before the population reaches a breaking point.
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