Af­ter eas­ing lim­its, China presses for more ba­bies

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY STEVEN LEE MY­ERS AND OLIVIA MITCHELL RYAN New York Times

For decades, China harshly re­stricted the num­ber of ba­bies that women could have. Now it is en­cour­ag­ing them to have more. It is not go­ing well.

Al­most three years af­ter eas­ing its “one child” pol­icy and al­low­ing cou­ples to have two chil­dren, the gov­ern­ment has be­gun to ac­knowl­edge that its ef­forts to raise the coun­try’s birthrate are fal­ter­ing be­cause par­ents are de­cid­ing against hav­ing more chil­dren.

Of­fi­cials are now scram­bling to de­vise ways to stim­u­late a baby boom, wor­ried that a loom­ing de­mo­graphic cri­sis could im­peril eco­nomic growth – and un­der­cut the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party and its leader, Xi Jin­ping.

It is a startling re­ver­sal for the party, which only a short time ago im­posed pun­ish­ing fines on most cou­ples who had more than one child and com­pelled hun­dreds of mil­lions of Chi­nese women to have abor­tions or un­dergo ster­il­iza­tion op­er­a­tions. China is the world’s most pop­u­lous na­tion, with more than 1.4 bil­lion peo­ple.

The new cam­paign has raised fear that China may go from one in­va­sive ex­treme to an­other in get­ting women to have more chil­dren. Some prov­inces are al­ready tight­en­ing ac­cess to abor­tion or mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult to get di­vorced.

“To put it bluntly, the birth of a baby is not only a mat­ter of the fam­ily it­self, but also a state af­fair,” the of­fi­cial news- pa­per Peo­ple’s Daily said in an ed­i­to­rial this week, prompt­ing wide­spread crit­i­cism and de­bate on­line.

In what ap­peared to be a trial bal­loon to test pub­lic sen­ti­ment, the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment in Shaanxi, in cen­tral China, last month called on Bei­jing to abol­ish all birth lim­its and let peo­ple have as many chil­dren as they want.

The pro­posal is po­lit­i­cally fraught be­cause re­mov­ing the last re­main­ing checks on fam­ily size would be an­other re­minder that a pol­icy that touched ev­ery Chi­nese fam­ily and re­shaped so­ci­ety – most Chi­nese mil­len­ni­als, for ex­am­ple, have no sib­lings – may have been deeply flawed.

“Among reg­u­lar peo­ple, among schol­ars, there’s enough con­sen­sus al­ready about the pol­icy,” said Wang Huiyao, pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for China and Glob­al­iza­tion, a re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion in Bei­jing. “It’s just a mat­ter of time be­fore they can lift this pol­icy.”

A plan to end the twochild limit was floated dur­ing the leg­isla­tive ses­sion in Bei­jing last spring and now ap­pears to be un­der con­sid­er­a­tion with other mea­sures, the Na­tional Health Com­mis­sion said in a state­ment.

Ex­perts say the gov­ern­ment has lit­tle choice but to en­cour­age more births. China is ag­ing quickly, with a smaller work­force left to sup­port a grow­ing el­derly pop­u­la­tion that is liv­ing longer. Some prov­inces have al­ready re­ported dif­fi­cul­ties meet­ing pen­sion pay­ments.

It is un­clear whether lift­ing the two-child limit now will make much of a dif­fer­ence. As in many coun­tries, ed­u­cated women in Chi­nese cities are post­pon­ing child­birth as they pur­sue ca­reers. Young cou­ples are also strug­gling with eco­nomic pres­sures, in­clud­ing ris­ing hous­ing and ed­u­ca­tion costs.

The “one child” pol­icy also re­sulted in more boys than girls be­ing born. Some par­ents ob­tained abor­tions be­cause the fe­tuses were fe­male, re­flect­ing tra­di­tional pref­er­ences for male chil­dren, though such se­lec­tive abor­tions were il­le­gal. Be­cause of that and other fac­tors, there are now sim­ply fewer women to marry and bear chil­dren.

The num­ber of women be­tween the ages of 20 and 39 is ex­pected to drop by more than 39 mil­lion over the next decade, to 163 mil­lion from 202 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to He Yafu, a de­mog­ra­pher and the au­thor of a book on the im­pact of China’s pop­u­la­tion con­trols.

“With­out the in­tro­duc­tion of mea­sures to en­cour­age fer­til­ity, the pop­u­la­tion of China will drop sharply in the fu­ture,” he said.

The “one child” pol­icy was in­tro­duced in 1979 as a way to slow pop­u­la­tion growth and bol­ster the eco­nomic boom that was then just be­gin­ning. The party built a vast bu­reau­cracy of “planned birth” work­ers to en­force the pol­icy, some­times with vi­o­lence. Re­sis­tance in the coun­try­side was es­pe­cially fierce, in part be­cause of a ru­ral preference for male chil­dren who could help with farm work.

In 1984, the gov­ern­ment al­lowed ru­ral cou­ples whose first child was a girl to have a sec­ond child. In 2013, rec­og­niz­ing the im­pli­ca­tions of an ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, the gov­ern­ment al­lowed par­ents who were only chil­dren to have two chil­dren. Two years later, the limit was raised to two chil­dren for ev­ery­one, ef­fec­tive Jan. 1, 2016.

One re­cent gov­ern­ment study es­ti­mated that China’s la­bor force could lose 100 mil­lion peo­ple from 2020 to 2035, then an­other 100 mil­lion from 2035 to 2050.


Chi­nese of­fi­cials are scram­bling to de­vise ways to stim­u­late a baby boom, wor­ried that a loom­ing de­mo­graphic cri­sis could im­peril the coun­try’s eco­nomic growth. Above, a new­born re­ceives care at a clinic in Bei­jing.

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