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China’s Proposed ‘No Child Tax’ Stirs Controversy: “First Forced Abortions, Now Pressured Into Pregnancy”

Whose right is it to decide whether or not have a second child – and who pays the price?

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A recent article, in which two Chinese academics propose the implementation of some sort of ‘tax’ for people under 40 who have no second child, has sparked outrage on social media. “The same woman who had to undergo a forced abortion before, is now pressured to get pregnant,” some say.

A controversial ‘no child tax’ measure proposed by two Chinese academics has set off a wave of criticism on Chinese social media this week.

The proposal was published in Xinhua Daily, a newspaper controlled by the Jiangsu Communist Party branch, on August 14, and was authored by Nanjing University economics professors Liu Zhibiao (刘志彪) and Zhang Ye (张晔).

In their proposal, Liu and Zhang suggest various measures to prevent a supposed demographic crisis in mainland China. Their idea of imposing taxes on those who do not have a second child particularly sparked anger online.

The authors plead for a so-called ‘maternity fund system’ (生育基金制度) in which citizens under the age of 40, regardless of gender, have to pay a certain percentage of their income in some sort of ‘tax fund’ as long as they do not bear a second child.

They write:

If families do have more than one child, they can apply for withdrawal from the ‘maternity fund’ and receive subsidies that will compensate for the short-term income losses women and the family might suffer during maternity leave. If citizens do not have a second child, the deposited money will stay in the account and can be taken out by the time they retire. The ‘maternity fund’ adopts the Pay-as-you-go System, which means that individual deposits and the ‘maternity funds’ that have not yet been taken out can be used by the government to provide other families with maternity subsidies, and if it is not sufficient, the state will subsidize it.

The proposal has caused uproar on Chinese social media, where many see an obligatory maternity fund as a penalty rather than an award, and see the compulsory payments as a ‘fine’ in disguise for families that do not have a second baby.

“So now I get a fine for being single?”, some said on Weibo: “Are they now punishing us for not having children?”

 

IS HAVING A BABY A ‘STATE AFFAIR’?

“They do not treat us as humans, they do not treat us as women, they treat us as ‘fertility resources’.”

 

The current controversy is the second in a row in this month. On August 6, official Party newspaper People’s Daily published another article titled “Having a Baby is a Family Matter and also a State Affair” (“生娃是家事也是国事“). In this article, People’s Daily author Zhang Yiqi (张一琪) argues that “the government should take more targeted measures to solve the problem of low birth rates.”

The article from August 6 made it to top trending lists on social media.

This article also made it to the top trending topics on Weibo, where many women rejected such ideas. “They do not treat us as humans, they do not treat us as women,” author Hou Hongbin (@侯虹斌) said on Weibo: “They’re treating us as ‘fertility resources’ (生育资源).”

With the growing societal burdens of China’s ageing crisis, many demographers have called for a liberalization of the family planning system before.

Previous proposals to encourage more and earlier childbirth in Chinese women also sparked controversy. Last year, for example, many people were shocked when a National People’s Congress deputy called for a lowering of China’s legal marriage age.

It seems that all these (proposed) measures, however, are not making young people more eager to marry young and bear (more) children. Even now that the two-child policy is new national standard (全面二孩), it is not having the desired effect: according to data released by the China Population and Development Research Center, the total number of births in mainland China in 2017 was 17.23 million – which indicates a decrease of 630,000 from the previous year.

China’s population is growing old at a faster rate than almost all other countries in the world. In a recent publication in China Newsweek, Population & Economics professor Zhang Chewei expressed concerns over China’s ageing population, writing: “In 2017, the population of China aged 65 and older accounted for 11.4% of the total population. Although this percentage is not extremely high, the biggest concern is that China’s aging rate is the fastest in the world. Even more concerning is that the aging process of developed countries generally lasts for decades, or even for more than a century.”

Although most people are aware of China’s demographic troubles, many take issue with the way the government addresses this problem.

“I understand the pressure the country is facing regarding its dropping birthrates, but in whose hand is the right to reproduce?”, some write on Weibo. “Reproduction should be a citizen’s right, not an obligation,” others said.

 

OPPOSING MEASURES

“Not long ago second children had to be aborted, and now I have to pay for a second child I don’t even have.”

 

This week’s controversy has also brought about major online discussions on China’s previous forced abortions during the One Child Policy decades. To adhere to the country’s strict family planning policies, many women were subjected to forced sterilizations or abortions.

A typical comment in response to proposed measures to encourage childbirth said: “Not long ago second children had to be aborted, and now I have to pay for a second child I don’t even have. What’s next?”

A 2015 Netease news article that looked back at a forced abortion that occurred in Shaanxi in 2012 was pulled from the archives and was shared over 65,000 times on Weibo this week.

This article about a forced abortion in Shaanxi went viral this week.

The viral post looks back at the forced abortion of Feng Jianmei, of which the photos shocked the internet in 2012. Feng Jianmei was seven months pregnant with her second child when she had to undergo an abortion after local officials had demanded that Feng and her husband pay a 40,000 yuan ($5800) fine for violating the one-child policy, which they could not pay.

The photo of Feng Jianmei laying on the hospital bed beside the dead fetus became a symbol of the dark side of China’s strict family planning policy. The three officials responsible for the forced abortion were later suspended.

“I’ve just become a mother myself, and I can’t bear to look at this photograph,” one woman responded: “The poor child, the poor mother. The person who was forced to have an abortion then, is the same person who is pressured to have a baby now. Can we still make our own decisions, not even as women, but as [Chinese] citizens? To have a baby or not is a decision that should be made between a husband and wife, why would you want to force someone to such a degree?!”

 

SIGNS OF THINGS TO COME

“They just wanted to throw a stone to test the waters.”

 

Not just individuals netizens collectively speak out against the ‘maternity tax’ proposal; some state media articles also condemn it.

In an article published by CCTV on Friday, the author called the proposal “unbelievable,” suggesting that the implementation of such a policy would only have an adverse effect on young peoples’ willingness to have a second child.

The article further argues that the reason for China’s current low birth-rate lies in the sharp rise in the costs of raising children, along with other factors such as China’s changing society and women’s labor participation.

Other media, such as Sina News, suggest that the implementation of this policy will only increase the financial burden on young people. Since the average cost of a child from birth to its 18th birthday is an average of 2.76 million yuan ($445,000) in cities such as Beijing, a financial burden too heavy for many, the proposed government’s rewards and subsidies are nothing in comparison of the actual cost.

Having to pay an extra tax on top of a life that already is expensive might push couples in the opposite direction than the policy intends; making them decide that having a child is financially not possible at all.

Many netizens allege that the recent media attention for these kind of proposals and a rumored ‘three child policy’ are just a sign of things to come.

As discussions on the issue continued on Weibo this weekend, some comment sections were no longer visible for viewing, including a thread by CCTV that received more than 9000 responses.

“Maybe they just wanted to throw out a stone to test the water,” some speculated: “They wanted to know the public’s opinions, and it’s turned out against them.”

By Gabi Verberg, Manya Koetse, and Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Stories that are authored by the What's on Weibo Team are the stories that multiple authors contributed to. Please check the names at the end of the articles to see who the authors are.

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China Insight

“Support Xinjiang MianHua!” – China’s Social Media Storm over Xinjiang Cotton Ban

The hashtag “Wo Zhichi Xinjiang Mianhua” – “I Support Xinjiang Cotton” – received over 6 billion views on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

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Western brands faced heavy criticism in China this week when a social media storm erupted over the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and its brand members for no longer sourcing from China’s Xinjiang region. The ‘Xinjiang cotton ban’ led to a major ‘Xinjiang cotton support’ campaign on Weibo, and a boycott for those brands siding with BCI.

In 2019, an extensive brand ‘witch hunt’ took place on Weibo and other Chinese social media networks in light of the protests in Hong Kong, with international fashion and luxury brands, from Versace to Swarovski, getting caught in the crossfire for listing Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate countries or regions – not part of China – on their official websites or brand T-shirts.

Now, another brand ‘witch hunt’ is taking place on Chinese social media. This time, it is not about Hong Kong, but about Xinjiang and its cotton industry.

H&M, Uniqlo, Nike, Adidas and other international brands have caused public outrage for the stand they’ve taken against the alleged use of forced labor involving the Muslim Uyghur minority to produce cotton in China’s western region of Xinjiang.

The social media storm started earlier this week on Wednesday, March 24, and is linked to H&M and the ‘BCI’ (Better Cotton Initiative), a Swiss NGO that aims to promote better standards in cotton farming.

In October 2020, H&M shared a statement on its site in which the Swedish retailer said it was “deeply concerned” over reports of forced labor in the production of cotton in Xinjiang, officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

H&M stated that it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang, following the BCI decision to suspend licensing of BCI cotton in the region.

 

BCI and its Suspension of Activities in Xinjiang

 

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is the largest cotton sustainability program in the world. It practices across 23 countries and accounts for 22% of global cotton production. The governance group was established in 2005 in cooperation with WWF and leading retailers, with the aim of promoting the widespread use of improved farm practices.

While H&M is a ‘top member’ of the Better Cotton Initiative (link), many others brands such as IKEA, Gap, Adidas, Nike, Levi’s, and C&A are also brand members.

January 2020
In January of 2020, the BCI was slammed by Dr Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington DC, for its refusal to pull out of the Xinjiang region. At the time, 20 percent of its ‘better cotton’ was sourced from Xinjiang, which is China’s largest cotton growing area.

According to a 2020 report by EcoTextile, the BCI maintained that its implicated council member, the yarn producer Huafu, denied the allegations and that an independent audit of the company’s Aksu facility in Xinjiang had failed to identify any instances of forced labor. An earlier report by Adidas from 2019 also stated that their independent investigations found no evidence of forced labor.

March 2020
In late March of 2020, the BCI reportedly did suspend activities with licensed farmers in the Xinjiang region for the 2020/21 cotton season while also contracting a global expert to conduct an external review of the Xinjiang situation. Chinese state media Global Times later reported that despite suspending its licensing activities, the BCI would remain committed to cotton farming communities in Xinjiang and would continue to engage in activities in the region.

July 2020
The pressure on BCI and other brands to stop sourcing from Xinjiang was heightened when a coalition of civil society groups raised concerns over the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China and the “grave risk of forced labor.” Reuters reported that more than 180 organizations urged brands from Adidas to Amazon to end sourcing of cotton and clothing from the region and cut ties with any suppliers in China that would benefit from the alleged forced labour of Uyghur other Muslim groups.

October 2020
In October of 2020, the Better Cotton Initiative announced it would cease all field-level activities in Xinjiang with immediate effect because the region had reportedly become “an increasingly untenable operating environment.” The aforementioned statement by H&M came out in the same month.

March 2021
By late March 2021, various Chinese state media reported on the BCI suspension. These reports came days after a coordinated effort by the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over China’s alleged human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang, something which was called a “concerted effort to slander China’s policies in its Xinjiang region” by Global Times. The news outlet linked these “anti-China forces’ efforts” to the BCI decision to suspend its Xinjiang activities.

 

A Social Media Storm over Xinjiang Cotton

 

The news developments were followed by a wave of social media boycott movements and Chinese brand ambassadors cutting ties with international brands, with H&M being the main target over its Xinjiang statement.

Chinese e-commerce platforms Taobao, JD.com, Pinduoduo, Suning.com, and Meituan’s Dianping on Thursday all removed H&M from their platforms, with Chinese Android app stores also removing H&M. On Thursday, a search for “H&M” came up with no results on these sites (see images below).

Two of China’s largest online maps also removed H&M from its systems.

No H&M on these maps.

On Thursday, virtually all topics in Weibo’s top trending lists related to the Xinjiang cotton ban (see image below), with Chinese famous influencers and celebrities one by one announcing they would terminate their contracts with international brands related to the Xinjiang cotton ban.

The storm became so big this week that some people on social media even commented that “if you’re a Chinese celebrity and you don’t have any contracts to terminate now, you’re not doing so well.”

After H&M, an entire list of brands was targeted, including Adidas, Nike, Calvin Klein, New Balance, Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo, Converse, Puma, Burberry, and Lacoste.

In light of the heated discussions and calls for boycotts, there was also another hashtag that popped up on Weibo, namely that of “don’t make it hard for the workers” (不要为难打工人). The hashtag came up after some Chinese staff members at Nike and Adidas stores were scolded on a live stream, with netizens calling on people to stay rational and not let the boycott turn into personal attacks on people. But another popular video showed a man in Chongqing calling customers out in an H&M store for buying their “trash.”

Another hashtag gaining many views, 520 million in total, was that of two ‘girls from Xinjiang dancing outside H&M’ (#新疆小姐姐在HM门店外跳新疆舞#) – it was linked to a video that showed two women performing outside of a H&M store in Chongqing.

Meanwhile, some brands, including Chinese company Anta Sports and the Japanese Asics, reportedly announced they would leave the Better Cotton Initiative in order to continue sourcing cotton from Xinjiang.

The discussions on Xinjiang as Weibo saw this week are unprecedented, as ‘Xinjiang’ was previously a sensitive topic on Chinese social media and was barely discussed in political contexts. The last time Xinjiang became a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media was in 2018, when CCTV aired a program on the region’s “vocational education programs” in Xinjiang. That media moment triggered mixed reactions on Weibo, with some commenters wondering what the difference between a ‘re-education center’ and a ‘prison’ is.

 

Chinese State Media and the ‘Xinjiang Cotton Ban’

 

While Chinese netizens and celebrities play a major role in the storm that erupted over BCI, H&M, and Xinjiang cotton, the role of Chinese state media is pivotal.

Over the past week, various state media outlets posted strong messages regarding the ban in various ways, the most noteworthy one being People’s Daily‘s “I Support Xinjiang Cotton” (#我支持新疆棉花#) hashtag, which had garnered six billion views by the weekend. “The H&M Group released a statement that sparked outrage among netizens. Let’s pass it on together: Support Xinjiang Cotton,” the tagline of the hashtag page said.

The message came with an image saying “Xinjiang Mianhua” (Xinjiang cotton) in a similar font to the H&M logo, the “H” and “M” within ‘mianhua‘ being identical to the H&M letters.

The image and post by People’s Daily was shared over 36 million times.

A message by People’s Daily: those who slander China are not welcome.

Another image by People’s Daily published on March 25 said that the Chinese market does not welcome those who slander China.

The Communist Youth League also contributed to the online storm by posting about H&M, writing: “On the one hand they are starting rumors and boycotting Xinjiang cotton, on the other hand they want to make money in China. Dream on, H&M!” That post received around 430,000 likes.

Various official media, including Global Times and China Daily, posted about cotton production in Xinjiang. Besides refuting the forced labor accusations and accusing Western players of hypocrisy and ulterior motives, a recurring issue stressed is how 42 percent of Xinjiang’s cotton is harvested by machines. Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng was quoted as saying that “the so-called forced labor in Xinjiang is nonexistent and entirely imaginary. The spotless white Xinjiang cotton brooks no slander.”

This image was posted by China Daily USA.

On March 27, People’s Daily posted a rap video by ‘Xinjiang Youth’ (新疆青年) on its official Weibo channel (video below) that included some tough lines attacking Western powers, companies, and media.

Also noteworthy in this propaganda campaign is how the Canadian YouTuber Daniel Dumbrill got caught up, as what he said in one of his videos was quoted by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) on March 27 during a press conference, with his video being screened before the conference.

In this video, that was part of a larger panel on Xinjiang, Dumbrill responded to the decision-making process on how China’s treatment of Uyghurs is called a “genocide.”

Recently, a number of countries and parliaments including the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands have declared that China’s crackdown on the Muslim minorities amounts to “genocide” in violation of the U.N. Genocide Convention. Dumbrill talks about why the Xinjiang narratives matter to both the foreign and domestic politics of the US and other Western countries, with Dumbril claiming it “isn’t really about human rights and a care for overseas Muslims” but about other political goals. Dumbrill’s video was praised by authorities, state media, and by Chinese netizens.

“We have to push for the truth to come out,” some netizens commented. Others wrote: “But we’re only allowed to discuss it from within [the country].”

Meanwhile, while many companies are seeing sales falling, there are also many who are benefiting from the current developments. Some sellers on Taobao have found another way to attract customers, promoting their products as being made with “100% Xinjiang Cotton!”

As this is an ongoing topic, we will report more later. Meanwhile, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Media

About Yang Jiechi’s Instant Noodle Lunch at the US-China Talks in Alaska

Chinese state media want to make sure that you know that top diplomat Yang Jiechi had instant noodles for lunch during the top-level US-China talks in Alaska.

Manya Koetse

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A 12-second video in which top diplomat Yang Jiechi said he had an instant noodle lunch became a topic of discussion in China, where one hashtag on the issue attracted over 270 million views. It’s about more than noodles alone.

The high-level talks between U.S. and Chinese officials in Alaska concluded on Friday. While international media describe the talks as “tough” and exposing the “depth of tensions” between the United States and China, many netizens also focus on the smaller events that occurred during the talks.

Besides the cool and collected way in which Chinese interpreter Zhang Jing (张京) went about her job, the fact that Chinese top diplomat Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪) had remarked he had instant noodles for lunch also triggered discussions on Weibo.

Chinese state media outlet CGTN published a short video showing how Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) and Yang walk to enter a session of the high-level talks, with Wang asking Yang “Have you had lunch?” Yang then answers: “Yes, instant noodles.”

The topic was discussed on Weibo in multiple threads and under the hashtags “Yang Jiechi Had Instant Noodles for Lunch” (#杨洁篪午饭吃泡面#) and “The Instant Noodles Yang Jiechi Had for Lunch” (#杨洁篪午饭吃的泡面#). The latter received had 270 million views on Weibo by Sunday evening.

Noteworthy enough, the hashtag page “Yang Jiechi Had Instant Noodles for Lunch” was initiated by Party newspaper People’s Daily. Together with the video published by CGTN, this shows that state media are purposely bringing ‘noodle gate’ to the attention of readers – both inside and outside of China.

Some Chinese news outlets reported that no formal dinner was arranged for the Chinese diplomats at the strategic dialogue due to COVID19, and that their lunch apparently consisted of simple noodles.

On Twitter, Christian Goebbels (@Chri5tianGoebel), Professor of Modern China Studies at the University of Vienna, commented: “My first thought when seeing this was: this is a complaint that the hosts didn’t even serve their guests a proper lunch, which Chinese viewers (and the guests!) would consider incredibly rude. If they wanted to create a good atmosphere, they should’ve served up a banquet.”

Jonathan Sullivan, Associate Professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies at University of Nottingham, called the noodle incident a “meaningful detail” on Twitter (@jonlsullivan), writing: “It fits the narrative that the US is inhospitable & disrespectful, incapable of treating China as a power of equal standing.”

Many netizens on Weibo take a similar stance, writing: “The American etiquette is unsatisfactory,” and: “Let’s not pay attention to food, they completely lack etiquette.”

“Jeez, these Americans don’t even care about food,” others wrote.

“It’s extremely insulting,” one blogger wrote: “This is a superpower, their strategy is despicable, to send our diplomatic staff off with a bucket of noodles!”

On Twitter, George Washington University Law Professor Donald Clarke called ‘noodle-gate’ a “non-story,” saying: “A reliable source tells me that China agreed on no joint meals for Covid reasons. Thus, no big banquet. If someone wants to order noodles instead of a proper meal from room service, they can do that, but it’s their choice, not something forced on them.”

But meanwhile, on Weibo, commenters are adding that plenty of restaurants in Alaska are still operating, suggesting that there would have been options to socialize safely.

In Chinese culture, it is a custom to hold a banquet for business, diplomatic, or even trivial events, with meal gatherings being used as a social lubricant; a way to build and maintain relations.

With food and meal gatherings being such an important part of communicative practices in relationship-building in China, Yang Jiechi having instant noodles by himself for lunch is much more than just that. From the perspective of many Chinese, it shows little consideration for the Chinese cultural background and not a lot of hospitality from the Americans towards their Chinese guests.

The fact that the US-China talks were icy does not help. State media outlet Global Times said that American National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken “unjustifiably attacked and accused China’s domestic and foreign policies” and “seriously prolonged its opening remarks.”

The Chinese delegation blamed the Americans, who invited the Chinese to Anchorage to have the strategic dialogue, for lacking “hospitable [and] good diplomatic etiquette.”

The noodle incident already led to one Guancha blogger coining the term ‘noodle diplomacy’ (“泡面外交”).

“The decline of the US starts with a bowl of instant noodles,” some said on Weibo.

“Let’s at least hope it was a ‘unifying’ beef noodle that he had,” some on Weibo jokingly commented.

Although many see the noodle lunch as a symbol of American inhospitality, there are also many commenters who see it as a practical and safe way to have lunch: “It’s good this way – at least nobody can poison him.”

“I want to know which brand [of instant noodles] he’s having, I want it too!”

By Manya Koetse

Featured image by Miguel Andrade.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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