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China: Revaluing the One-Child Policy

Amidst talk of an aging society and a depleting demographic dividend, appeals for a reconsideration of China’s One-Child Policy were voiced during the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference held Mar. 3 to 14.

Zhang Yin, China’s wealthiest woman and member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, called for a “gradual release” from the 30 year-old policy, with a three to five year trial period allowing some the right to have a second child before the nation as a whole.

In an interview with Southern Weekend Zhang said she was one among many who voiced concern over China’s low birth rate and the consequences of an aging society.

(photo/Don Weinland)

(photo/Don Weinland)

In an open letter issued by the Communist Party’s central committee in September of 1980, the One-Child Policy was suggested in order to relieve the demographic tensions of runaway birth rates.  The letter states that after 30 years of state controlled family planning, “different demographic policies can be adopted.”

As the policy completes its 30 year course, the future of family planning has become a topic for debate.  Despite a long tradition of large families in China, online opinion concerning a possible “Two-Child Policy” is mixed.

Blogger You Xin sees the One-Child Policy as inseparable from China’s long-term growth and conservation of resources.


Family planning is a fundamental policy in my country.  Population control for a long period of time in the future must be carried out with force.  In the face of daily increasing shortages of resources, only population control on a suitable scale will prevent extreme per capita resource shortages.  Only then can the people’s quality of living be raised.

You Xin says China’s demographic dividend, the world’s largest group of labor-aged workers largely responsible for powering the country’s manufacturing engine, has not helped develop a white-collared job market suitable for university graduates.

为什么大学生就业难?并不要找不到工作,而是找不到合适的工作。大学生作为知识分子,当然不愿融入制造业当中了。对于”人口红利“时代的拐点,劳动力下降,我们可以采取其他措施,而不是放开二胎政策 … 随着以后经济发展,我国也可仿效发达国家,将制造业大批转入其他更贫穷的国家。

Why can’t university students find a job?  It’s certainly not because we can’t find work, but because we can’t find suitable work.  Students, as intellectuals, of course aren’t willing to go into manufacturing … As the economy develops further, [China] can follow the example of developed countries and transfer manufacturing on a large scale to other poorer countries.

Blogger ‘Grassroots Public Servant’ disagrees, saying growth in the manufacturing work force is essential to China’s future and may influence the passing of a “Two-Child Policy” sooner than later.


If China’s economy recovers relatively quickly, dramatically increasing the  laborer shortage even more than the last few years, this may expedite the passing of the Two-Child Policy nationally.  A major limitation to China’s future growth will certainly be labor power, especially shortages in the supply of low-level labor.

Blogger Wan Yu, who calls herself a basic level family planning officer, says the One-Child Policy was adopted to meet the economic challenges caused by the Cultural Revolution, which ended in 1976 and resulted in widespread unemployment.  She says the policy was directed toward one generation of citizens and should be reviewed.

A deterioration of tradition family relationships is one of many problems Wan Yu cites with the continuation of the One-Child Policy.


I once heard a music store playing a children’s song that went like this: “My dad’s brother is my uncle.  My mom’s sister is my aunt…” When I first heard it I thought it was unbelievable and couldn’t help but sigh.  If generations of single children continue, the traditional family relationships of these families will become a historical artifact.  Children will know [these names] from children’s songs only.  Their social relationships will be extremely different from ours.

Blogger Shui Lian disagrees with the idea that a “Two-Child Policy” will permanently solve China’s demographic problems and argues that higher birth rates will continue the cycle of China’s once-endemic overpopulation problems.


If two-child policy thinking becomes a reality, and we can have more children in order to take care of the elderly, then who will they rely on to take care of them when they grow old?  This will not only artificially increase the costs of care for the elderly but will increase every household’s burden for caring for them.  It is purely a contradiction in logic.

Results from China’s sixth national census point to the possibility of an easing in family planning policy.  Southern Weekend reports that conditions that were once described as “population pressures” are now being called “advantages in human resources”.  What was once called “population control” has now been dubbed “population development”, the article says.

  • Ooi

    Our personal tragic life experience would not condone the one child policy. Because of the pressures of job, family, and home chores, my husband and I decided to have only one child. We live in Canada and enjoyed a two income professional lifestyle. We loved our only son, and gave him everything he wanted. We took him on special trips to see the world during our vacations. We led a comfortable debt-free life, purchased an elegant home which we easily paid off within a year, and had plenty of money left over to save for our son’s future medical education . Yes, we had it all planned to a dot until the day when he was suddenly and tragically killed in a friend’s car crash at the young age of fifteen. Then our world collapsed around us as it must have for many poor Sichuan parents in the 2008 earthquake. No, you need at least two children. One can’t salvage the grief of a heartbroken parent who has just lost his one and only child.. We were too old to conceive another kid, but in 2004 we have adopted an 18 month old abandoned boy from Sichuan who has now turned 7. But if we have our lives to live over, we would not go for the one child policy, but go for two children. I often wonder if all the Sichuan parents who lost their only child had been able to find or have another child ?

  • Lee

    China once had a desperate need for a one-child policy to lift itself out of poverty and to give everyone a chance of employment.

    Ironically, even though China itself may not (?) need a one-cild policy today, the world at large desperately needs a one-child policy.

    Perhaps China should negotiate with the world, and do a swap. Let 1.3 billion Chinese have 2 children, but 1.3 billion non-Chinese from other countries adopt a one-child policy. It’s about time other countries take some responsibility so that we don’t need another earth in 20 years time!!

    Does anyone agree?

  • catitude

    The policy is way more about how many children to have.

    In reality, the policy is thoroughly abused in all levels of the government across the countries, which allow officials to ruthlessly exploit the people. Women in particular suffer a lot, as there have been countless cases in which women due for labour were dragged to surgery tables for abortions or clumsy insertion of contraceptive devices that inflict major harm and pain to otherwise healthy women.

    Procedures carried out in the name of the policy not only cause direct damage to women but also as a result destroy hopes and happiness for many families. In quake affected areas in Sichuan, many women cannot get pregnant for a second child after their first died en masse under collapsed schools. These women have all undergone state-provisioned birth control procedures due to the policy.

    The policy is evil and must be stopped immediately if the Chinese government cannot effectively stop the atrocities against humanity mentioned above and beyond.

    All in all, it’s a human right for people to have freedom of reproduction. It should be a personal choice. If the state wants people to give birth to less children, this is best accomplished by education. Look at Hong Kong.

    Also, chances are, when the benefits of a growing economy really reach the people, they often choose to have less children. Look at the rest of the world.

  • Chan

    “The policy is way more about how many children to have”

    – No, not correct. The policy IS about how many children to have. Your subsequent comments are about the ABUSE of that policy rather than the policy itself.

    “… the policy is thoroughly abused in all levels of the government across the countries”

    – I have heard about abuse of the policy, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some (many?) local authorities would. But to say ALL levels of government abuse the policy is hardly believable. Unless you can provide at least some proof, your claim only serves to discredit yourself.

    “These women have all undergone state-provisioned birth control procedures due to the policy”

    – I personally know of people who have been to Sichuan after the quake. There are PLENTY of families in Sichuan who have given birth to new babies after they lost their first. This DISPROVES your allegations that women in China are dragged en masse to the surgery tables.

    “The policy is evil”

    – The policy itself is certainly NOT evil. If there is abuse, the abuse is evil.

    “… must be stopped immediately if the Chinese government cannot effectively stop the atrocities”

    – That is like saying we must ban ALL knives because we cannot effectively prevent people from killing each other with knives. Whether China should change the one-child policy should depend on many factors including whether the policy is working and whether the country still needs it.

    “chances are … choose to have less children. Look at the rest of the world”

    – No, that is a twisted logic! You need to look at other comaprable developing countries (such as India)

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