This week, China officially brought the controversial ‘one-child policy’ to an end. The law has been strictly enforced in the country for over three decades. Although on their website the National Health and Family Planning Commission responded soberly to the news (‘We should acknowledge the achievement of family planning scheme’), this wasn’t the focus of the national media. After the news was released, the themes of demographic dividend, economic challenges and an aging society frequently appeared in news articles, highlighting the potential benefit of China’s easing of the policy. It should be a moment for some celebration for the 1.3 billion people, especially for those who always wanted more than one child. However, I can’t stop wondering what happens next…
- Scrap the posters and paint over the slogans?
Since the country began to implement the rule in the 1980s, local governments have been helping the central government promote it by putting up large propaganda posters and painting slogans on the walls in big cities and small towns. Now, those specifically encouraging ‘one-child’ or ‘single-child’ and those threatening parents who wanted a second child will need to go – burnt and buried.
Posters promoting the one-child policy – on the left: ‘I got my only-child certificate’ / on the right: ‘Actively answer to the call for one couple having one child only’
- Less ‘Little Emperor Syndrome’
As a by-product of China’s one-child policy, only children without siblings have become increasingly demanding and pampered. They are most definitely the centre of their family’s universe, especially if they are the offspring of one-child families who have a ‘4-2-1’ family structure (4 grandparents – 2 parents – 1 child). The ‘one shot’ of the family eats the best food, wears the best clothes and gets all the latest technology; what comes along at the same time is extremely high expectations from the parents – if the kid fails, it means the failure of a family. The excessive attention and tremendous amount of pressure have contributed to their personalities being less sociable and more risk-averse. The next generation who will have the luck to grow up with a brother or a sister might appear different in this aspect.
- A new baby boom?
Looking at what has been said on Chinese social media, I’m not actually sure that the desired baby boom will arrive any time soon. The majority of urban couples who were born post 1980 (ba ling hou) are likely to be under a significant amount of financial pressure to pay off their mortgages while raising their only children, and having a second child on top of this simply doesn’t sound appealing. Some of the Post-’80 expressed their apathy online, ‘Life is not easy for our post-‘80s. The two of us, we have 4 parents to take care, and now two children?’ Despite the fact that in 2013 the government relaxed the one-child policy, allowing couples who were both only children themselves to have two children, only 5% of those families that were eligible eventually decided to have a second child in Shanghai. The lack of supporting policies in education and health care has clearly created a financial barrier for the young parents, especially in the tier 1 and tier 2 cities.
- More family deals for entertainment, travel, holidays, etc
As most Chinese families only have one child, ‘family’ deals have never been as big a thing in China as they are in other countries – the financial benefit of family deals was trivial and therefore companies rarely promoted them. However, a family of four will be more inclined to take advantage of family deals now, be it cinema, theme park or holiday, as the discounts on days out with kids could help the parents save a noticeable amount of money. Therefore, companies that offer family deals might be able to attract families of four who naturally tend to be more cost conscious.
- Don’t tell me what to do
While the collectivist culture remains strong in Chinese society, the younger generations are not as keen as their parents when it comes to following orders. The behaviours once seen as ‘selfish’ now have a new tag: individualism. On social media, plenty of complaints have gone beyond the change of the policy and targeted the policy makers, ‘So I still can’t have three or four even if I want to? Isn’t it my business to have more than one child? Are the policy makers paying for my child care? I’m so fed up with the feeling of being controlled.’ Some even joked, ‘I had a second child and got fined years ago, but that seems just my foresight. Can I get my money back??’
As the Chinese government has maintained, ‘Family planning remains a basic national policy of our country’, I’m not ultimately sure when history will really see an end to this policy – though it is clearly the direction we’re heading in. It will be interesting, however, to see the impact that the change will have on the young families who are willing to have two children regardless of the costs, and more importantly, the next generations who will have the good fortune of not having to grow up alone.