Boys’ standing falls as girls win favor
A growing number of parents are eschewing tradition and attempting to ensure that their second child is female. Li Na and Shuang Rui report for China Features at Xinhua News Agency.
LiuMinlayonthe bed quietly, looking at her newborn second son. Despite her joy, she felt a sense of loss — because she had failed to have a daughter.
Four years ago, the 31-year-old Beijing resident gave birth to her first son. To care for him, Liu resigned her job in the legal department of an insurance company, sacrificing an annual salary of 200,000 yuan ($29,500).
When the “one-child policy” was phased out last year, Liu and her husband decided to have another child. They had another boy. “Although having a second child made life more difficult and increased the pressure on us, we still want to have a daughter,” she said.
While her “obsession” with having a daughter is “a challenge to my parents’ ‘patriarchal ideology’”, she is more concerned about the pressures of modern life: “InBeijing, the averagehome can cost from 5 million to 10 million yuan. I worry about the cost of education, marriage and homes formy sons in the future.”
Liu was born in Ding’an county, Hainan, China’s southernmost province, in 1985. She was the family’s fourth daughter. Her infant name was Zhao Di, meaning “bringing a younger brother”, which she was given because “my parents especially wanted a son (next time around)”.
When she was 2, her family had a fifth child — a boy. “When my brother was born, my family invited all our relatives and neighbors to a feast. We lit firecrackers all day,” she recalled. “In the traditional view of people in my hometown, only boys can keep the family line alive.”
Because Liu’s parent had more children than was allowed under the family-planning policy, they were fined heavily. “We lived in straitened circumstances. Sometimes, my sistersandI only ateone bowl of porridge a day,” she said.
In the late 1970s, in a bid to slow population growth in line with the provision of State resources, the one-child policy was strictly implemented, mostly among the urban population. The move was established as a basic State policy in 1982, and finally became law in 2001, with the promulgation of The Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China.
However, in a largely agrarian society, many families were still influenced by the tradition of carrying on the family line and raising sons to provide for their parents in old age. Many families lost everything after being fined for having more children than stipulated by the policy.
The problem has been exacerbated by a rapid decline in the gender ratio at birth. In 1982, it was 107 boys to 100 girls, while by 2004 it had declined to 121.18 per 100 girls. Last year, the number was 113.51 boys to 100 girls— still well off the optimal figure of 103 to 107— according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
The gender imbalance has resulted in a glut of single men of marriageable age in some regions, especially povertystricken rural areas. At the beginning of the year, it was reported that the lack of suitable women in the central province of Henan was driving unprecedented frenzied bidding for brides with “betrothal gifts”.
About eight years ago, bridegrooms spent 10,000 yuan on gifts for the bride’s family, according to a cadre in the province. Now they are paying 10 times that figure. Families toil formany years just to buy a home, and the money for betrothal gifts, feasts and home appliances is borrowed from every possible friend or relative.
“Getting married means a burdensome debt, which is heavier for families with several boys,” the cadre said. The rising cost of raising children means both rural and urban families now hope for a daughter if they already have a son.
“Instead of sticking to the tradition of ‘the more sons, the more blessings’, most people ofmy generation are content to have a son and a daughter, if possible,” said Wang You, from Liulin village, in Henan’s Gushi county. He and his wife already have a son and they have discussed the idea of having a daughter.
Conversely, Xuan Xuan, 28, and her husband are hoping for a son. They already have a 2-year-old daughter. For her second conception, the traditional therapist researched folk prescriptions on the internet, and has replaced her husband’s favorite fizzy drinks with soda water, which, she believes, can regulate the body’s acid and alkaline environment and improve the chances of conceiving a boy.
“If the second baby is a girl, I’ll still give birth to her as long as she is healthy,” she said. “But before that, we should try what we can.”
That was not the case for architect Wang Yuan, when he and his 3-year-old son accompanied his wife to a private hospital in Beijing for her six-month prenatal check.
A month into the pregnancy, Wang sent a sample of his wife’s blood to a lab in Hong Kong, which said their second child will be a girl. “If it were a boy, I don’t think we would keep it,” Wang’s wife said. “As our society has become more egalitarian, men and women enjoy the same education and job opportunities.”
In 2003, the Family Planning Commission, the Ministry of Health and the State Food and Drug Administration jointly issued The Provisions on Banning Identifying the Gender of a Fetus for Any Nonmedical Need and Artificial Termination of Pregnancy Due to Preference of Gender, which effectively banned abortions based on the gender of the fetus.
But today, many parents want to know the gender of their unborn baby.
The doctor who conducted the check on Wang’s wife said many parents who visit private hospitals for prenatal checks had managed to learn the gender of their baby through various channels: “In some cases, the baby’s gender is not as hoped, but most parents still chose to keep the child rather than abort it.”
In 2014, authorities in parts of Henan and in Jiangsu province launched a crackdown on the identification of the gender of unborn children and abortions conducted for nonmedical reasons.
The move was intended to rebalance birth.
Authorities stipulated that parents with permission to have two children, but who aborted a child because of gender preference would have their permission revoked.
In February, a maternity website visited by 10 million people asked in a survey: “Would you choose an abortion if the gender of your fetus was not what you wanted?”
More than 90 percent of 1,000 mothers who responded replied, “I would accept whatever comes to me”.
However, for many grandparents the gender ratio at living in rural areas and small towns, a grandson is still more welcome than a granddaughter.
Liu Min’s mother-in-law has left her home in a small county in Hunan province to look after her newborn grandson in the capital.
“It’s quite hard to raise a boy nowadays”, she said doubtfully, but she was unable to conceal her pride and joy when she held the boy. China Features is a feature department of Xinhua News Agency, which writes indepth stories for overseas readers.
A nurse changes babies’ clothing at a hospital in Xiangyang city, Hubei province, in February. Many of the newborns are their parents’ second child.
A girl shares a fun moment with her father and her brother in Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province.
A boy reaches out to touch the face of his younger sister in Wuhan, Hubei province.