One Child Policy By: Sofia Allinson

Question: Why did China have a One Child Policy and why did they change it?


China has had trouble managing its population for a long time. During the 1900s, people in China started to live longer and the birth rate went up. The population grew from 563 million people in 1950 to one billion by the early 1980s. In addition, China is only the fourth largest nation by size which makes the population much harder to control. China's population was already extremely big and was continuously growing. It was becoming dangerous and uncontrolable. China realized that the country would not have enough resources if the population continued to grow at such a rapid pace so China's leaders created new rules to control the population. This was the One Child Policy which was added in 1979. The One Child Policy only allowed couples to have one child.

Enforcement of One Child Policy

In order to enforce the One Child Policy, there were incentives and penalties. Couples who promised to follow the one child policy got benefits such as regular payments for the child's benefit , easier access to health services, public childcare, and education, and also the parents and the child were more likely to get a desired job. The penalties depended on what part of China you were in, but could include very high fines, destruction of homes, and you could lose your job. Also, in the beginning of the one child policy, women were forced to have abortions or sterilization. In just 1983 where there were about 21 million births in China there were 14.4 abortions, 20.7 million (mostly female) sterilizations, and 17.8 million IUD insertions. Most of these were not by choice.

Impact of One Child Policy

In rural areas, the one child policy has caused more discrimination against girls. Some Chinese couples have decided to get abortions if they have a girl or just abandon her because in rural areas, boys would be more useful to work on farms. As a result of this many girls do not have a good education or proper health care. This could relate to the Confucian idea that boys are more valuable than girls and China's orphanages were filled with baby girls. However, this does not relate to the Confucian idea of rectification of names. Rectification of names is that people should live up to their names and if they don't it ruins society. By parents giving away there baby girls, they are not doing their job of acting like parents and is therefore not creating a harmonious society. From 1992, China allowed foreighners to adopt those babies. The One Child Policy has caused a very big gap between the number of men and women in China. There are way more men than women in China and in the next five years, 20 to 30 million men will not be able to find wives.

As a result of the One Child Policy, the ratio between older people and younger people is much larger. China's median age went up from 19 to 35 between 1970 and 2010, and the percentage of the population over 60 doubled. This made me wonder why this was such a big deal, but I realized that since the population was becoming older, there was a decrease in labor which greatly affected China's economy. Also, its hard for a small amount of young people to take care of all the old people. The ratio of people working to people retired went from 8.3 to one to around 2.5 to one in the mid twenty first century.

End of One Child Policy

On October 29, 2015 leaders from the Chinese Communist Party announced that the one child China policy, which was started in 1979 and was very controvercial, would end. The announcement did not give a specific date of when the policy change would have an effect on China, but it said that in the future, there will be a two child policy. The National Health and Family Planning Commission said that as a result of the one child policy changing to a two child policy, the birth rate has gone up. More than 45 % of children born last year has had one or more older siblings. The policy has changed to increase birth rate. This shows that the change in policy is working.

China's One Child Policy will be known as "one of the costliest lessons of misguided public policymaking." In countries where they had similar issues with population in the early 1970s, they were able to decrease the population without doing something super extreme like the One Child Policy and the population has still gotten to a similar level of China's today. The one child policy has been around for 35 years and has created tens of millions , maybe 100 million of China's 150 million one child families today. Many future generations will think of the One Child Policy with confusion and horror. They will wonder why out of all the countries why China decided to use the one child policy to decrease the population.

Legacy Connections

China is thought of as a society that values respect, specifically for family. The idea of legalism helped support the One Child Policy in that a strict rule was imposed to support a policy of the Chinese government. To make the policy work, the government had to create harsh penalties and incentaives. The legacy of Legalism was evidenced in the One Child. However, the Confucian idea of filial piety also comes into play here and it is the most important moral in Chinese culture, which is partly why the One Child Policy was so unpopular in China. Filial Piety is respect for one's parents, elders, and anscesters. When followed, it is suppose to create a peaceful family and society, but it was definitely not followed when people abandoned their children as a result of the One Child Policy.


  1. Global Issues in Context Online Collection, 2016. "China: One Child Policy. February 1, 2017. me_horman&xid=58fbf6fe.
  2. Gu, Baochang, Feng Wang, and Yong Cai. "The end of China's one-policy." Brookings Institute News Letter, March 30, 2016. Accessed February 4, 2017.
  3. Jay, Josephine. "'I felt furious that my Chinese family had given me away' Thousands of unwanted baby girls have been sent to the West for adoption in the past 25 years -- a result of China's one-child policy. As they reach adulthood, many are returning to search for their birth parents. Here Josephine Jay,(below, aged three) who grew up in Britain, tells the painful story of her own quest." Sunday Times (London, England), January 29, 2017.
  4. Pestano, Andrew V. "China's birth rate up after one-child policy abandoned." UPI News Current, January 23, 2017.
  5. Williams, Weston. "China birthrate gets a bump as one-child policy eases up." The Christian Science Monitor, January 24, 2017.


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