China: One-Child Policy Heading for a Revision

According to Time magazine, the one-child policy, a cornerstone of contemporary China, will be changed when word got out late last week that Shanghai was encouraging couples to have additional offspring.

For three decades, millions of Chinese parents have raised their only children under the strict prescriptions of China’s family planning rules. Now, faced with an aging crisis, authorities in Shanghai have for the first time begun to encourage young couples to have two children, a move that marks the Chinese government’s first official step away from this intervening policy.

It is said that Beijing is now rethinking the controversial one-child policy that has helped spur economic growth since the economic reform and opening-up— but exacted a heavy social cost as well.

When the news got widely discussed by Chinese newspapers and magazines, it also stirred the netizens’ interest and raised lots of argument. An English blogger thinks that a more major change will take place in Chinese big cities:

Bringing this initiative to one of China's biggest cities will be a major step, and it will be interesting to see how much more China relaxes the (still-popular) policy.

Under the one-child policy, there's an imbalance of population in Shanghai. Blogger Brendan Malone says the burden of young people is quite heavy:

Yet the fewer numbers are exactly what has Shanghai worried, because the city is faced with not enough young men and women to sustain its aging population.

Another blogger says the change of one-child policy has a deeper sense, not only about the development but also related to the necessity of the policy itself:


One-child policy is our national policy. But that doesn't mean that it has no flaws and cannot be changed. In the 70s, the government and the people's congress made a promise that this policy would last for 30 years.  Now it has been 30 years and it's time for them to do what they had promised.

Because of this, some argue that why only people in Shanghai has this privilege to have more children.  A reader complains that this is quite unfair:


Why only Shanghai enjoys the privilege? Isn't it a part of China? They already have the economic privilege and now they want to ask for birth privilege. I firmly protest the idea that we can relax the residence restriction because of the aging process.

A woman in Sichuan who is the only child of her parents complains it's difficult for her and her husband  to have more children only because they are not in Shanghai:

如果准许生二胎 那么任何夫妇都应该可以生 为什么要有那么多条条框框呀?不成了特殊群体的特殊权利了吗?我老公有个哥哥 我是独生子女 我们都在外地工作 家也安在外地 有个儿子 我还想着生个女儿呢!

If we allow parents to have second children, then all the couples in the country should have this right. Why do they set up so many restrictions and rules for people around this country but Shanghai? My husband has a brother, but I'm the single child of my parents. We live and work far from home with our only son. We're eager to have another daughter!

But, if all the Chinese can have their second children, the result can be terrible. A blogger comments:


The world’s most populous country, it seems, wants to have a bigger population. The new push, which aims to tackle growing worries about the country’s shrinking work force and aging population, is the most public effort yet to counter a policy that is considered both a tremendous success and a terrible failure. While it has kept population growth under control, it has also led to forced abortions.

Chen Jibing, a journalist in Shanghai, writes in his blog that the abandoning of one-child policy reflects a cultural anxiety of natives in Shanghai:


I personally think that behind the question “Do you want another child?”, lies a psychological reason. It implies the cultural anxiety in Shanghai as well as the eastern coastal areas.


In Shanghai, I believe all the young parents like me are more or less worried about a phenomenon that the kids are unwilling to speak Shanghainese. If this trend goes on, 30 years later, I’ afraid, Shanghainese, a kind of language which was once often used as elements in satire sketches, will generally perish.


  • […] Global Voices follows a debate amongst Chinese netizens about the appropriateness of Shanghai – and Chinese cities in general – having amendments to the One Child Policy. […]

  • charlie1111

    It is important to understand that, the couples who can have second child are those who themselves are the only child. So the number of couples who can have second child is rather limited. As far as I know, this policy has been in place for a while as a national policy, not just for Shanghai.

  • Cathy Liu

    There are no changes in existing policies. As pointed out before, both partners have to be from a one-child-family. This regulation was intended to be a form of reward, but also meant to encourage young couples to have more children, who often have a good educational background as their own parents devoted their combined efforts and savings to their future.

    It has been repeatedly discussed in recent years that a lot of these young professionals who should easily be able to afford to raise children and grant their education, are often having only one child – and increasingly choosing to have no children at all so they can enjoy the fruits of their works themselves, often citing that the burden of financial support for parents and grandparents is already a lot to take care of. With a higher level of development the birthrate generally sinks, which is a main cause of demographic change. Shanghai is experiencing the ageing of society even more than the rest of China, with a birth rate that is roughly around 40% lower than in the rest of the country. As a result of the One-Child-Policy China is already growing old before getting rich.

    The aim of officials trying to “encourage couples to have a second child” was therefore by no means the first sign of a departure from said policy. Xie Lingli, Director of the Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission specifically said that they were targeting “eligible parents”, while emphasizing that it is imperative to adhere to the One-Child-Policy. So while this strategy to cope with local population imbalances may have caused a stir, it was only directed at a relatively small group to raise and groom more members of the upper middle class.

  • kuzf

    1: chinese can have so many children how the want. goverment pays only for one. other can grow like most children in the other world. by the money of chinese parents themselfes.
    2: other non chinese ethnics cand do a same because their womens will be castrated after the second child.
    3:stop to look on the birthrate like it were the mirrow of the country development.

  • Charles Liu

    Charlie and Kathy are correct, the one-child policy have been amended over the decades, and have already moved from mandate/quota to service-oriented advocacy.

    – The “only child” certificate awarding extra social benefit replaced punative measures. Fines were gradually lowered over the years.

    – In addition to both parents being only-child, many exceptions have existed. Such as illness/disability/death of child, diabled parent, farming households, minority exemption, observance of birthing gap, etc.

    On a personal note all but one of my cusins have 2-3 children.

  • FRED

    The punishment for having multiple children is mostly monetary and appear to affect those working in cities mostly. People in rural communities often have multiple children despite the policy.

    The article does not talk about it but minorities in China can have multiple kids. Although I read somewhere that the government does encourage them to have less children by giving them money if they have less than 3 children.

    IMO this is a great idea. People who cannot afford to children but have children anyway will have to pay for the social services themselves. This policy discourages an overloading of the welfare system.

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