China lifts one-child policy but will still control birth rates

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Photos: Shutterstock
Photos: Shutterstock

Towards the end of last week, we heard that China’s ruling party had decided to put an end to its controversial “one-child” policy, and replace it with a “two-child” policy now in place.

It’s not as profound an announcement as it might have appeared from the reports.

China’s ruling party will still seek to control the number of children a couple conceives, and so the “birth permits”, forced abortions and other “human rights” will still continue.

What’s more, the change will affect only a minority of Chinese couples, because the majority were already permitted to have two children under existing “exemptions”.

For example, if the man and woman in a couple were themselves their family’s only children, they were already permitted to have two children because they had in part “contributed” to the stabilisation of China’s population.

Additionally, those in rural communities whose first child was a girl were permitted to have a second child (this is what was known as the “one-and-a-half child policy”.)

Around 65 per cent of China’s population were already permitted to have two children, so it is only a smaller group who will be affected by the change in policy. Even still, any attempt to reverse a bad policy is a move the correct direction.

And it has been a bad policy.

It was introduced as a solution to a perceived overpopulation problem without any forethought as to how such a dramatic change in law would affect the culture.

I’ve said it so many times before in this column, but it warrants repeating. Laws do not exist in a vacuum. Changing the law always changes the culture, and often in unexpected ways.

And it doesn’t take a long time – one or two generations are usually sufficient to see a dramatic change in social fabric.

Let’s consider what has happened in the 35 years since China’s one-child policy was introduced.

One of the main results we hear about is the massive gender imbalance existing in China. It is estimated that by 2020, there will be more than 30 million bachelors in China because of the selective abortion or infanticide of baby girls.

This has led women to be viewed as a precious commodity, with the focus not on their preciousness, but on their commodity-ness.

Women are often sold to the highest bidder, rather than being courted and married for love and mutual self-sacrifice. Treating women as “goods” to be purchased is not in keeping with their dignity. The idea that the value of a woman might somehow fluctuate, and is dependent on the number of single men in her district, gravely undermines her true value. And it is not only the women who are affected.

The dignity of men is also undermined when it is presumed that only wealthy or “successful” men will be able to woo a bride. There are also stories of men being led along by women more interested in their money than their humanity.

The imbalance has also led to suggestions of the acceptance of polyandry, even as recently as these past couple of weeks. Zhejiang University economics professor Xie Zuoshi proposed that poor men otherwise “priced out” of the market could share the same woman. Not only has the one-child policy undermined the dignity of the human person, its attack on marriage is also untold.

Marriage has come to be viewed as a negotiated contract rather than a vocation of love and service.

How might generations to come view marriage due to the 35-year social experiment imposed upon their parents? Speaking of the impact on future generations, single-child families have led to a phenomenon of what have been called “little emperors”. It has been reported that this generation of children who have not had to share their toys or the attention of their parents with another sibling have failed to develop some of the virtues or social skills which are learnt through living with others of the same age.

Then there is the practice of forced sterilisations and forced abortions, even right up until the baby is full-term. Unspeakable violence has been visited upon women without a “birth permit” and their unborn children.

There has also been unspeakable violence done to the culture, because a practise such as this – engaging people in perpetrating such evil against others – destroys the social fabric more broadly.

As mentioned above, not all Chinese people were subject to the one-child policy.

But the “exemptions” have also contributed to the stripping away of human dignity.

For example, the exemption which allowed for a second child to be born if a girl child was born first was colloquially known as the “one-and-a-half-child policy – implying that a female child is less of a person than a male child.

There is also the phenomenon of unregistered children, mainly girls. The births and the children are “hidden” from the rest of society, creating a second class of citizens (but noting that they do not enjoy any benefits of citizenship.)

Finally, the policy (and its subsequent reversal) has also impacted how the elderly in Chinese culture are viewed. Two generations of a one-child policy would see four grandparents and two parents for each child.

Known as the “4-2-1 problem”, there are many only children of working age who are providing for both of their parents as well as their grandparents (and providing for them is required by law.)

This can and has led to the elderly generations being seen as a burden for whom a child must take legal responsibility rather than a blessing.

There is also an enormous financial, physical and emotional burden placed on the carers.

The social engineering of China’s one-child policy has had wide-ranging negative effects on the Chinese culture in only 35 years.

As we continue debates about social experimentation with family structures in Australia, we would do well to learn from China’s experience and remember that a change in law always changes the culture, often in an unexpected and detrimental fashion.