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Thursday, November 10, 2011


When I travel, I look for features about the country or culture that inspire a story which could only happen in that particular location or under those circumstances. In China, the government's one-child policy triggered my imagination.

Travelers in foreign lands are always exposed to one or more of the world’s pressing social issues. Issues that are easy for tourists to simply ignore, and many travelers do just that. They come home with photos of elephants, temples, and monuments, with souvenirs, dirty clothes, weary bones, tales of adventure, and a myriad of other things. I do that, too.

But, also, I return--gratefully--to the United States with concerns regarding population growth, environmental degradation, loss of historical and cultural heritage, poverty, hunger, racial and religious discrimination, poor living conditions, inadequate medical treatment, economics, social inequities, and violence, including wars. Everywhere I’ve been, at least one or two of those raise their ugly heads. Fortunately not all of them on every trip, or I’d quit traveling. But being an urban planner who spent more than thirty-seven years dealing with planning for future generations, one of my interests is population growth and how it’s being handled.

What the Family Planning Law Covers
I came back from my trip to China in 2002 impressed with the way the Chinese government had addressed the previously-uncontrolled population growth.

Say what? No, you read that correctly. Thirty plus years ago, China faced a huge population problem. They couldn’t house, feed, or educate the growing population. They couldn't provide adequate jobs or medical treatment. Overpopulation and a high birth rate created enormous economic, social, and educational problems. In 1978, the PRC (People’s Republic of China) under the direction of then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, bit the bullet and adopted a population control policy.

The law restricts the number of children of married urban couples (essentially Han Chinese living in urban areas) to one child, although it allows exemptions for rural couples, ethnic minorities (there are fifty-five), and parents without siblings. About 36% of the population is subject to the control. The policy has been credited with reducing the population growth (in a country with 1.3 billion people) by an estimated 300 million people since its implementation.

Granted, this would be an irresolvable political issue in the United States, but as a result of the policy, overall conditions improved significantly for the most of the Chinese people, putting the PRC in a better position to address the critical issues, along with the environment and human rights.

Continuation In The Near Future
However, by 2005, Chinese demographers were predicting that in the future there would be a shrinking workforce in China and not enough young workers to support an aging population, which has been the case in much of Europe for quite a while. The PRC was seriously is considering rescinding the policy (which has always been considered a temporary measure), but in 2008, the government announced the policy would continue through 2015. In March, 2011 there were modifications to allow couples to have two children under certain circumstances.

Social Implications of the Policy
There has been some very controversial press regarding the policy, but the people
I talked to in China indicated the law does not "punish" anyone for having more than one child. Those "additional" children are not entitled to any of the benefits afforded the first child, like free education, health care, etc. Some Internet sources indicated that the government imposes fines.

Most of the people I spoke with seemed to favor the policy, primarily for economic reasons. Some of those people we talked to were tour guides who work for the government and definitely recite the party line--so anything they told us had to be taken with a large grain of salt--but some of the folks were guests at the hotels and people we meet on the street and in restaurants (including grandparents caring for their grandchildren) and other folks who seemed to be average denizens.

On the other hand, some sources claim that this law has caused a disdain for female infants: abortion, neglect, abandonment, and even infanticide has been known to occur to female infants. There are plenty of “horror stories” circulating, and I've heard some of them from friends with relatives in China. How true they are, I can't say.

One verified result is the disparate ratio of 114 males for every 100 females among babies from birth through children four years of age. Normally, 105 males are naturally born for every 100 females. Another is the reduction in China's fertility rate (number of births per woman) to 1.7, lower than the U.S. rate of 2.1, which is the replacement level representing a stable population, exclusive of migration.

Now that millions of sibling-less people in China are now young adults in or nearing their child-bearing years, a special provision allows millions of couples to have two children legally. If a couple is composed of two people without siblings, then they may have two children of their own, thus preventing too dramatic of a population decrease. It's hard to imagine this level of intervention in private lives. Who knows what the future may hold for China.

Implications for Novels
I can think of a number of intriguing story lines that could result from a culture (real or imaginary) with this kind of growth policy. It would make a great science fiction story. I’d love to hear comments on what you know about this, the stories you've heard, and/or ideas that this situation evokes for stories. Hope to hear from you.


Tina Donahue said...

Interesting blog. As I was reading it, I couldn't help but think of the Duggars. On their 20th child. Sheesh. I believe if we all become responsible and consider that there are others out there who share the earth and we alone are not the end-all, be-all, life would be much better.

Paris said...

Unfortunately the same segment of the population that might have originally benefited from the policy is now the reason it isn't working.

An aging population that was forced to contribute to the state so that one day they would be taken care of and now ends up with more healthcare needs than the state can provide offers up some pretty scary scenarios that might lend itself very well to the Sci-Fi realm.

Targeted genocide is the scariest, experimentation in the health care facilities targeting these people is right up there with being forced at a certain age to become an inhabitant of special "camps".

There are probably a lot more and I can think of a few old movies that used this effectively. I think there was a movie titled "Wild in the Streets" where anyone over 30 was put into a camp. If the reasoning was based on the governments ability to provide social services (instead of just being able to party effectively which I believe was the original premise)that could become a very scary scenario bordering on horror.

Sandy said...

This blog interested me because we have a little Chinese girl in our family.

Also, years ago, we met a young Chinese woman from Taiwan, and it was obvious her knowledge of America came from the movie Grease. lol

While Eva was here, we met a young Chinese man from China. He was a second son, and there wasn't a chance for a second son to succeed in his homeland. He came here to get a degree in engineering. He missed his family, but they'd had to hide him all his life, and he wanted to be free.

This has been 20 to 25 years ago, and I'm sure things have changed there.

Molly Daniels said...

Have you read The Shadow Children series by Margaret Haddix? It deals with a society where 3rd children are not allowed, but some exist anyway:) Fun series! Among The Hidden is the 1st one.

I did NOT know there were exceptions to that law; I'd only heard stories about female babies being drowned b/c boys were favored.

Marianne Stephens said...

I watch the Duggars. They pay their own way, homeschool, and are very religious. It works for them...and I'm not paying support money for them.
China: glad I live here. One child only is sad...I've heard the discarded female child stories, too.

Adele Dubois said...

Did anyone watch "Harry's Law" on TV last night? The show addressed the issue of the One Child law in China.

It's come to light that local Chinese governments are taking away the second children of Chinese couples and placing them into orphanages. Couples from other countries are adopting these stolen children through legal and legitimate adoption agengies.

On the show last night, a Chinese couple searched for their stolen daughter for four years. They were bereaved and broke from the process. When they finally found their daughter in Ohio, they asked the court to return her. THE COURT REFUSED, ruling the child should stay with her adoptive parents.

The horrible outcome for these biological parents has haunted me since I watched that show. Their child was stolen from them twice, by two governments! So unjust!

OK, I need to get back to writing before I lose my cool.

Starfox Howl said...

Abortion for sex selection, infanticide. Yep, a very enlightened social policy. Right up there with the Great Cultural Revolution and political purges.

Got your little red book you can wave?

Liz said...

great post....have you seen Terra Nova a new show on some channel that escapes me? In that dystopian world, families are PUNISHED For having more than 2 kids.

jean hart stewart said...

I have a Chinese helper who left China years ago because of this. Her husband told her to get rid of the baby when she was born. She took the little girl and left. The daughter, now 24, is getting her PhD this June.

Word Actress said...

I did watch Harry's Law last nite just 'cuz I didn't feel like watching the Country Music Awards. The ending was heartbreaking. Nobody won.

Dunno about the Duggars. Anyone who does things to the extreme seem not quite right to me, but thankfully I'm not related to them, so they don't ask me to babysit!

The one child policy or the two if you fit a certain criteria - oh Lord - I don't like being told what to do.

I, too, like to imagine a story when I venture out into a new world. It always makes for interesting writing and reading. Thanks for the post!

R. Ann Siracusa said...

Thanks for all the responses and good information. I hadn't seen the TV shows mentioned. I can't imagine being told how many children i could have. I hope we are responsible enough to address our social problems before they become so extreme that drastic measures are even considered. I still think a fictional world with this kind of situation could make a very powerful SciFi/social commentary novel.

Sylvia Mendoza said...

LOTS of food for thought. Such extreme measures, Big Brother, human rights and then you have Tina pointing out the Duggars, and Jean Hart pointing out how that one Chinese mother left the country with her daughter--who is now getting her PhD.

Great topic, Ann. The Harry's Law show, btw, was heart wrenching, Adele...

Vijaya Schartz said...

In ancient Japan, and up until about a hundred years ago, an aging grandparent (over 60, or was it 65?) was carried by his/her grandchild up the mountain in the snow and left to die in the cold. It was the accepted custom, to keep the population young and healthy. I certainly hope the US government will not go to such extremes to solve the social security dilema.

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