Why was China’s three-child policy announcement met with such mixed responses?

Why was China’s three-child policy announcement met with such mixed responses?
Children play next to adults at a park in Beijing, China June 1, 2021. Source: Tingshu Wang, Reuters
China’s aging population problem is more severe than that of most other countries. 17.4% of the Chinese population is over 65, but this is expected to increase to 35.9% by 2060.

What happened?

  • On Monday, May 31, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) announced that it was ending the country’s two-child policy, established in 2016.
  • Before 2016, married Chinese couples were only allowed to have one child.
  • The Chinese government made this announcement after its updated two-child policy failed to lead to an increase in births given the country’s quickly aging population.

Why did the policy change?

  • Since the previous census in 2010, China’s population has only grown by 72 million.
  • While this may seem like a lot, it isn’t if you compare it to China’s population of 1.3 billion. This is also the smallest percentage increase in population since China’s first census in 1953.
  • Not only that, but only 12 million babies were born last year, which is the lowest number of births since 1961 when a widespread famine pushed the birthrate as low as 11.8 million.
  • “China is facing a unique demographic challenge that is the most urgent and severe in the world,” said Liang Jianzhang, a demography expert and research professor of applied economics at Peking University. “This is a long-term time bomb.”
  • China’s aging population problem is more severe than that of most other countries. 17.4% of the Chinese population is over 65, but this is expected to increase to 35.9% by 2060.

What has the reaction been?

  • China’s state media celebrated the policy change, posting images and cartoons of children. But Chinese internet users don’t appear to be as excited.
  • Soon after the policy change was announced, Xinhua News Agency, the Chinese government’s mouthpiece, surveyed over 30,000 people on Weibo (a Chinese Twitter equivalent because Twitter is blocked), asking “Are you ready for the three-child policy?”
  • 29,000 out of 31,000 (93.5%) respondents said they would “never think of it” while the remaining 2,000 selected either “I’m ready and very eager to do so," “it’s on my agenda" or “I’m hesitating and there’s a lot to consider.”
  • The poll was later deleted.

How have Chinese internet users responded?

  • Comments from more than 180,000 Chinese internet users on the Weibo post pointed out deeper, systemic problems within Chinese society that are stopping Chinese couples, especially women, from considering having children.
  • One comment said, “I recommend you first fix the most basic problems with maternity rights and the discrimination women will inevitably face in the workplace, and then encourage them to have children.”
  • Another comment read, “There are too many big pressures in life at the moment. Young people are not willing to have kids.”
  • State slogans during the previous policy were also posted in response. One wrote, “if one person exceeds the birth quota, the villagers of the whole village have to undergo tubal ligation.” For clarity, tubal ligation is a surgery that permanently prevents women from giving birth.
  • Even though the new policy claims to include measures to support the change, it didn’t have much detail. One Weibo user wrote, “"I don’t quite understand. What’s the meaning of supportive measures?" This comment had close to 130,000 thumbs-up.

Why are so many citizens not wanting to have kids?

  • The one-child policy was introduced in September of 1980 to reduce the growth rate of China’s huge population.
  • These were enforced through harsh measures such as imposing financial penalties against couples who violated the policy and, in the early 1980s, forcing abortions.
  • Because of the cultural preference for males, this led to a lot of abandoned daughters.
  • Preferential employment and financial incentives were given to those who complied with the policy.
  • By the mid-1990s the fertility rate had dropped from 6.4 to 2.7 children per woman.

What about the two-child policy?

  • In 2013, the CCP acknowledged that the one-child policy was causing significant damage to the country’s population growth when Deputy Director Wang Peian of the National Health and Family Commission said that “China’s population will not grow substantially in the short term."
  • When conducting a survey, the commission found that only about half of eligible couples wanted to have two children, mostly because of the financial impact of raising a second child and the workplace discrimination faced by women.
  • This has concerned the Chinese government which is aware that, if they don’t resolve this problem, China’s economic future could quickly become like Japan’s – or what is known as the “Japan trajectory.

What are experts saying?

  • Brian Y.S. Wong, the founding editor-in-chief of the Oxford Political Review, offers three main criticisms that have emerged since the instruction of this policy.
  • First, the policy doesn’t address the fundamental wealth problems that are preventing families from having children.
  • Second, the proposed changes take the individuality out of young Chinese women who may want to focus on their careers rather than have children.
  • Scholar and writer Yunxiang Yan argues in her book, The Individualization of Chinese Society, that young people in Chinese society have grown increasingly individualistic.
  • Lastly, Wong points out that the very idea of placing restrictions on having children is a massive problem that has historically had disastrous consequences for families that have failed to follow these rules.

How has China responded to the criticism?

  • So far, the CCP has not put out a statement regarding the public response to the three-child policy, but some government officials have been outspoken regarding the child limitation policies.
  • Earlier last year, National People Congress (NPC) deputy Huang Xihua suggested removing the penalty policy for having more than three children.
  • “The purpose is to protect the rights of young people. Some young people, especially women, cannot get married before they reach the age, but they have already given birth. They are de facto marriages. I hope that the laws and policies can protect the rights of these young people. rights and interests."

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