Tuesday, April 1, 2008

One Child

Talking about brothers and sisters with Chinese peers is not always a comfortable topic. I avoid asking directly if my friends have siblings, though I am happy to talk about mine when asked, and it can lead to a very interesting conversation. Often, my counterparts make a comment like, ‘we are all only children, you know.’ They don’t seem bitter about this, mostly objective, or even a little proud. This is a unique policy, evidence of the prominence/dominance of the Chinese (there so many Chinese that if uncurbed they’d probably take over the world). And, being among those who did get the chance to be born, they feel very lucky.

I know that a few of my friends do have siblings (though it’s sometimes hard to be sure because people often refer to cousins as brothers or sisters, and sometimes even childhood friends). Last week, a guy I met on the tennis court from Shaanxi province, where he said his parents were ‘peasants,’ admitted to 5 siblings, topping mine. What is the actual population policy in China, and why does everyone claim that all are only children when it’s not true??

I reread an article I remembered seeing in China Daily, which I’d gotten in Beijing on my way to Lanzhou a couple weeks ago, about a decision to leave the one-child policy unchanged in the foreseeable future. It mostly quoted reasons of stability and ‘it’s working,’ and that changes would create more problems than they would solve (though admitting issues of gender imbalance and an aging society were problems). It gave the current birth rate as 1.8 children/woman (a strict one-child policy would be 1 child/woman, or less). Contrary to what seems to be the popular notion of the world (including China itself, it seems to me) that everyone in China is limited to having one child, only 36 percent of the population is strictly affected by this law. These are mostly people who live in big cities. Then, 53% of the population, living in more rural areas of most provinces, can have a second child if the first is a girl. That leaves about eleven percent of the population unaffected by the law, mostly minority groups, according to this article. I checked the figures with a few sources, which all more or less agreed, though most wouldn’t quote such concrete figures as this article. Additional children can be had so long as fees are paid. This kind of population policy was first implemented in 1979.

Interesting. This must affect population dynamics quite a lot – some sectors, sorted by various factors, will be increasing faster than others. Also, it creates rural/urban and ethnic divides about whether you have siblings or not. I’m not sure of the reason why some of my friends have siblings - some may be because older siblings were born before 1979, at least one has a half brother (no idea what the law says on that) and another definitely comes from a very rural area.


icety said...

Then, 53% of the population, living in more rural areas of most provinces, can have a second child if the first is a girl (no wonder there’s a gender imabalance. But at least this means it’s not all due to selective abortion or infanticide).

Argh. Ellen, the second-child policy alone couldn't lead to a gender imbalance. Assuming 50/50 chance of a boy or a girl, having another child when the first is a boy still leaves the balance at 50/50. Selective abortion/infanticide (or bad statistics) is the only way the ratios could get so out of whack.

icety said...

I mean, when the first is a girl. But same math.

Ellen said...

Thanks icety, you're absolutely right. I've fixed it.