China's One Child Policy By Jordan ferdman

China's infamous one-child policy has a complex history, with many repercussions faced. The whole policy was started in 1979 on the fear that China would soon outgrow its food supply - 400 million prevented births later, the policy has been repealed, but so many lives have suffered because of an anxious government. The policy was instated and millions of Chinese couples made sacrifices and changes. The policy was more successful some areas than others. In Urban China, or roughly 35% of the population, the one-child policy worked best for a number of reasons. The first being that a large amount of these urban couples of the childbearing age signed the one-child pledge. However, the majority of these couples would prefer two or more children if it was an option. The urban fertility rate in the first decade of the twenty-first century was only 1.4 births per woman or lower - the average rate in the 1950s and 1960s was about 5.6 births per woman. However, rural China simply refused - there was essentially no social support system for aging rural couples and support children - especially males. In the 1980s a less rigid policy was adapted for rural couples that many could have more than two children, especially if the first was a girl. Couples who agreed to only have one child will be granted benefits for their only child. These benefits are extremely helpful, especially to parents who struggle financially. They include regular payments to the child's benefit, easier access to health services, public childcare, and education, and hiring priority in desired job categories for the parents and, later, for the child. However, if you didn't agree to only have one child, serious punishments were delivered.

.Women faced brutal punishments if they failed to abide by the one-child policy. These punishments included extremely heavy fines, appropriation or destruction of family homes or possessions, political or physical harassment, and work penalties or loss of employment. Keep in mind that this is for having a child. When the policy was first instated, local leaders forced many women to have late-term abortions (of which can be detrimental to the woman's health) or to undergo sterilization. Thankfully, reforms were instituted to stop these forced surgeries. China would actually force mothers to abort their children, even though they did not want to. In 2012, a Chinese woman named Feng Jianmei was forced to abort her seven-month-old fetus because she was unable to pay the fine for having a second child. Her case made international headlines and angered many. However, many stories like Feng Jianmei's aren't told and women are forced to abort their children even if they do not want to daily. The same year, Chen Guangcheng, Chinese dissident, sought asylum in the United States after he was arrested for a lawsuit against the Chinese government and its extreme measures to enforce one-child laws. These abortions have created a huge gender gap in China for two main reasons. The first being because of all the baby girls that are aborted before birth and the second being women who are put through abortions, many times or even once, could die because it's a procedure that can be harmful to her health. As a result of this, China's fertility rate will likely decrease.


In China, there is a strong traditional preference for males, meaning China is missing in millions of girls. Some studies show that China's preference of sons has eased since 2014. The policy was blamed for what some call 'gendercide", meaning the action of aborting a fetus just because said fetus was determined to be female. In China, it's illegal for the doctors performing the ultrasounds to reveal the sex of the child, but many couples manage to obtain the information leading to abortions if the couple is to have a girl, which, as a result, has lead to a large amount of male births. It is estimated that 121 male babies are born for every 100 female babies, although some claim that the gap is even higher. Official statistics indicated in 2014 that the gap narrowed to 117.6 male babies to every 100 female babies. The preference for sons is said to be rapidly waning.

China Now

Even though the policy has been repealed, it is expected that China's birthrate will continue to stay low in the long-term even after the two-child policy was launched. However, some families remain reluctant to have a second child for various reasons, including the costs involved. China's government documents that China is facing "relatively large pressure” in achieving an appropriate fertility rate. Also, some children living in China will still be suffering. The "invisible" children, and their parents are directly being effected.. Since their births were never officially recorded, many of them "live in the shadows." They can't go to school, which unless their parents are educators, means they will not receive an education. If their parents are, they will be educated, but not develop the social skills acquired by being in a school setting. They will not get passports, meaning that they can't travel out of China where a new life possibly awaits them. Sometimes, their parents were fined outrageous amounts or forced out of their jobs. Some have managed to fight the system, but others spend the day in endless paperwork simply for having a child. These kids have simple goals - to get their very existence recognized by the Chinese state. On the other side, parents that do have one children face an extreme amount of pressure and some exhausted "tiger moms" do not want a second child - one is "plenty." There is so much pressure for extracurriculars, sports, and high intellect. Han Jing's son started after-school classes at the age of five - extra math, English, and drawing so he wouldn't fall behind the other students. His mother says that he doesn't want his son to be humiliated or have low self esteem on his first day of elementary, worried that his son will face other children who spoke English, knew thousands of Chinese characters, and could play the piano. Three years later, the pressure has increased. Hang Jin and her husband spend more than $10,000 a year on afterschool classes, which is a huge financial investment considering that her husband earns less than $35,000 a year. She claims that she and her son are too exhausted, and she doesn't want to put herself, or her child, through this obscene amount of pressure again. This is creating a meritocracy, where the best students and most intelligent people rise to the top. However, unlike in the Civil Service exams, some children are simply at an advantage because of their families' financial means. China has a long way to go, but repealing the policy was a step in the right direction.

How does the One-Child Policy connect to Ancient China?

This connects a lot to what we learned about legalism. The government is trying to play a huge role in its citizens personal lives and trying to control them. There are high incentives for agreeing to only have one child, but brutal punishments for having more than one (carrot and stick). Also, As mentioned previously, this is creating a meritocracy which we saw when we studied the civil service exams. There is so much pressure for the one child that many couples do have to succeed in many areas.

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