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.

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA -

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.

Gen­der im­bal­ance

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.

Betrothal debt

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.”

Non­med­i­cal abor­tions

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.

GONG BO / FOR CHINA DAILY

A nurse changes ba­bies’ cloth­ing at a hospi­tal in Xiangyang city, Hubei prov­ince, in Fe­bru­ary. Many of the new­borns are their par­ents’ sec­ond child.

CHEN FEIBO / FOR CHINA DAILY

A girl shares a fun mo­ment with her fa­ther and her brother in Xi’an, cap­i­tal of Shaanxi prov­ince.

KUN SHAO / FOR CHINA DAILY

A boy reaches out to touch the face of his younger sis­ter in Wuhan, Hubei prov­ince.

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