Grow­ing in­di­vid­u­al­ism and an em­brace of non- tra­di­tional val­ues mean more young cou­ples are choos­ing to stay child­less— de­spite pres­sure to pro­cre­ate

The World of Chinese - - Cover Story - - SUN JI­AHUI (孙佳慧)

Tra­di­tional Chi­nese of­ten re­gard pro­cre­ation as a fa­mil­ial im­per­a­tive, rather than per­sonal choice—but not Huahua, a graphic de­signer liv­ing in Qing­dao, Shan­dong prov­ince. In de­fi­ance of Men­cius, the 2,000-year-old sage who ad­vised that hav­ing no heir was the “gravest pos­si­ble” fil­ial of­fense, Huahua plans to re­main child­less, although she’s been mar­ried since 2010.

“I don’t like kids and have never thought of be­com­ing a mother,” says Huahua. “It’s scary to imag­ine hav­ing a child in the fam­ily.”

Huahua had made up her mind even be­fore she got mar­ried: “Kids are noisy. Car­ing for them is a has­sle, and takes a lot of time and money. I want to spend my lim­ited en­ergy and money on my own life.” Huahua and her hus­band are just one of a small but grow­ing num­ber of fam­i­lies known to re­searchers as “DINKS”: Dou­ble In­come, No Kids.

The term orig­i­nated in West­ern coun­tries dur­ing the free-spir­ited 1960s, and ar­rived in China in the in­cip­i­ent lib­er­al­ism of the 80s. In the past three decades, this non-tra­di­tional life­style has at­tracted in­creas­ing pub­lic at­ten­tion, though it still re­mains rel­a­tively un­com­mon.

In 2003, the an­a­lyt­ics com­pany Hori­zon­key pub­lished a sur­vey that sug­gested there were over 600,000 “DINK house­holds” in China, and more than 70 per­cent of re­spon­dents be­lieved that num­ber would in­crease over time. Nev­er­the­less, ex­act fig­ures are hard to come by as, tech­ni­cally, only those who vol­un­tar­ily give up the right to be­come par­ents are truly con­sid­ered DINKS. In its an­nual Fam­ily Devel­op­ment Re­port, though, the Na­tional Health and Fam­ily Plan­ning Com­mis­sion pointed out that the num­ber of DINKS was “in­creas­ing rapidly” in 2014, and that DINK fam­i­lies be­gan “emerg­ing in large num­bers.”

In­ter­est­ingly, it was at the end of 2015 that Chi­nese of­fi­cials be­gan to grad­u­ally and for­mally phase out the one-child pol­icy, as ex­perts be­gan to warn of a “mid­dle-in­come trap”— the dan­ger of China “grow­ing old” be­fore it got rich. For many mid­dle­class Chi­nese, the bur­den of a sec­ond child ap­pears too oner­ous; and for those like Huahua, even one is too much.

“When I see my friends’ kids, I never feel en­vi­ous. I feel I am so lucky not to have a child,” she tells TWOC. “Most of my friends suf­fer from the loss of free­dom, mas­sive work­load, and eco­nomic pres­sure of look­ing af­ter their child, but I can do what­ever I want, travel when­ever


I like, and go out at any time. It’s strange that some peo­ple think that you can’t be happy if you don’t have chil­dren.”

Ex­perts say the rise of the DINK house­hold is re­lated to so­ci­ety’s devel­op­ment and in­creas­ing ur­ban­iza­tion. There’s less pres­sure to have chil­dren in or­der to pro­vide a fam­ily with a la­bor force, says Lin Xi­uyun, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor from the Depart­ment of Psy­chol­ogy of Beijing Nor­mal Univer­sity, who spe­cial­izes in mar­riage and fam­ily. “Peo­ple have more free­dom to fo­cus on their self­ful­fill­ment.”

On Baidu Tieba, the Chi­nese search en­gine’s on­line fo­rum, a “DINK Bar” has ex­isted for more than a decade, and at­tracted over 50,000 fol­low­ers and more than two mil­lion posts. Here, fel­low DINKS share their ex­pe­ri­ences and opin­ions about their life­style. Re­cent top­ics in­clude vent­ing about pres­sure from so­ci­ety to have kids, and hor­ror sto­ries about par­ent­hood from friends—lack of money, bratty kids, and dis­putes about child-rais­ing meth­ods from old-fash­ioned grand­par­ents and rel­a­tives. The slo­gan on the home­page pro­claims, “Will­ing to Give Up Kids, Ready to End My Lin­eage.”

Un­sur­pris­ingly, such a hard­line stance has in­sti­gated a back­lash; there’s also an ANTI-DINK Bar for users of the op­po­site camp. Though, to date, it has only gen­er­ated 26,000 posts, most of th­ese ac­cuse DINKS of be­ing “self­ish.” One fre­quent poster be­lieves that DINKS are sim­ply shirk­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity and will be­come a bur­den on so­ci­ety when they get older: “If ev­ery­one be­comes a DINK, hu­man­ity won’t sur­vive for long.”

Writer Guan Jun, though, be­lieves that choos­ing not to have chil­dren it­self is just be­cause they want to be re­spon­si­ble. “Many DINK peo­ple, in­clud­ing me, are not in­sen­si­tive to the beauty of chil­dren,” he ob­serves in his book, Child-free Is The Great­est《无后(为大》). “We are just wor­ried that we may harm this beauty. This is about a life. There is no big­ger de­ci­ can quit your job, end your mar­riage, even switch gen­ders, but you can­not re­turn a child af­ter it is born.”

For Huahua, the ar­gu­ment is even sim­pler. “You only live once. Not ev­ery­one was put into the world for re­pro­duc­tion,” she says. “There are al­ready so many peo­ple in the world; hu­man­ity doesn’t de­pend on me to sus­tain its ex­is­tence.”

Of course, the real pres­sure many DINK cou­ples face is not from anony­mous ne­ti­zens, but par­ents and se­nior fam­ily mem­bers, who can fret about is­sues like lin­eage and face to the point of ob­ses­sion. “Some worry about their chil­dren’s old age; some are con­cerned about ‘hav­ing child to carry the fam­ily line’; some sim­ply want to have a grand­child,” says Pro­fes­sor Lin. “Some oth­ers are just in­flu­enced by peer pres­sure: ‘My friends all have grand­chil­dren.’ It’s like a competition.”

In an­cient China, chil­dren were of­ten seen as the sole re­spon­si­bil­ity of women. In­deed, in cer­tain dy­nas­ties, child­less­ness was grounds for some hus­bands to di­vorce their wives. Nowa­days, the child-free life­style is usu­ally more at­trac­tive to women than men—who nor­mally have far less in­volve­ment in the ac­tual me­chan­ics of bear­ing and rais­ing a child any­way. “Be­tween the two of you, who is more will­ing to be DINK?” asked a 2012 Netease sur­vey aimed at cou­ples. Over 54 per­cent of 2,000 re­spon­dents be­lieved it was the fe­male part­ner;


only 26 per­cent said it was the male, and 19 per­cent sug­gested it was both.

For Sichuan busi­ness­woman Ma Yuan, though, it was ac­tu­ally her hus­band’s idea to be child­less. Now in her 50s, and one of the rare DINKS of her gen­er­a­tion, Ma says she came to value the life­style over time: “Our [first] 10 years of mar­riage were so busy and happy, that I got used to it.”

Huahua’s ex­pe­ri­ences agreed with the statis­tics. Although her fam­ily has been ac­cept­ing, and she has no re­grets, Huahua’s hus­band has be­gun to raise doubts about the DINK life­style. “In the past, he said he agreed with me. But he was young; maybe he didn’t re­ally know and just wanted to please me,” Huahua ad­mits. Though her hus­band never pres­sured her, Huahua has been a lit­tle shaken. “If my hus­band and I weren’t so close, I wouldn’t care, but some­times I think, if he re­ally wants one…af­ter all, he only lives once too.”

Con­cerns about en­dur­ing a lonely re­tire­ment spurs many cou­ples’ reser­va­tions about re­main­ing DINK. In Shilin Guangji, a 13th cen­tury book of folk­lore, “rais­ing sons for help in one’s later life” (养儿防老) is ex­plained as a com­mon rea­son to have chil­dren. In a 2016 sur­vey by China Youth Daily, 47 per­cent re­spon­dents agreed with the idea, and 38.5 per­cent said con­sid­er­a­tions about their old age would in­flu­ence whether they de­cide to have a baby.

Chen Youhua, a so­ci­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor in Nan­jing Univer­sity, ex­plains that in the past, be­fore the mod­ern so­cial se­cu­rity sys­tem was es­tab­lished, the govern­ment re­lied on the younger gen­er­a­tions to sup­port its se­niors.

Yet even as late 2013, China was pass­ing leg­is­la­tion about fil­ial piety, re­vis­ing its Law for the Pro­tec­tion of the Rights and In­ter­ests of the El­derly to re­quire those who live away from their par­ents to make time to visit them “reg­u­larly” (the con­tro­ver­sial amend­ment was en­forced only spo­rad­i­cally, such as in 2013, when a court in the eastern city of Wuxi or­dered a woman to visit her 77-year-old mother once ev­ery two months af­ter the pair fell out). In 2015, an un­named beauty salon chain was re­vealed to be tithing some of its em­ploy­ees’ 3,000 RMB monthly salary to their par­ents to “in­spire fil­ial re­spect.”

Huahua points out that to­day’s young peo­ple of­ten live and work apart from their par­ents, some­times even in dif­fer­ent coun­tries—and there’s no guar­an­tee they’d to look af­ter par­ents even if they were around. “Many of the or­der gen­er­a­tion don’t have much knowl­edge or spir­i­tual sus­te­nance, so they tend to spend their en­ergy on their chil­dren,” she the­o­rizes. “But our [gen­er­a­tion’s] lives are more col­or­ful; we can have our own hob­bies even when we are old.”

Ma, who is now past the age of child­bear­ing, doesn’t want to dis­cuss re­grets about her choice. “I just think the life­style is pretty good; love and mar­riage, and be­com­ing DINKS are pri­vate mat­ters be­tween ev­ery cou­ple,” she says. Huahua, for whom the ques­tion is still open, be­lieves it’s pos­si­ble she might long for a fresh fa­mil­ial bond in years to come, or, like gen­er­a­tions be­fore her, need fu­ture as­sis­tance.

But she re­mains re­al­is­tic, even bru­tally so. “If I can en­joy a happy life for 60 years, why should I care about the last ten years, when I’ll prob­a­bly be par­a­lyzed?” she asks. “To­day, take­out can be just sent to your door. Dozens of years in the fu­ture, what ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties won’t be cov­ered?”


Some names have been changed at the re­quest of the in­ter­vie­wees

Perks of be­ing DINKS in­clude a cleaner home and more time for hob­bies, one cou­ple told a re­porter in 2014

Ac­cord­ing to one Nan­jing DINK match­mak­ing com­pany, clients tend to be high-earn­ing, highly ed­u­cated, and born in or af­ter the late 1970s

Some DINK cou­ples— such as this pair in Chengdu—claim that their pets are their chil­dren

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