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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 Arts & Entertainment

Zheng Shuang, Zhang Heng, and ‘Surrogacy Gate’: A Timeline

One celebrity couple breakup, two children born through surrogacy: this sad and messy topic has exploded on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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A celebrity surrogacy scandal is dominating discussions on Chinese social media, with one hashtag on the case attracting over 3 4 billion views. The scandal is triggering discussions on the topic of surrogacy in China.

Her name is Zheng Shuang (郑爽, 29), his name is Zhang Heng (张恒, 30). They’re both celebrities in China; she is a super famous actress, he is a well-known producer.

This week, it is not their work that made them go viral on Chinese social media, but a surrogacy scandal taking place in the United States that is dominating all trending lists on Weibo.

Zheng and Zhang in happier times.

The social media storm started on Monday, January 18, when rumors surfaced on Weibo and Wechat that the celebrity couple had separated. Some netizens had located a ‘dissolution’ case concerning the couple through the public access of the US federal court system.

Subsequently, news and rumors began circulating that the couple had two children in the US through a surrogacy arrangement, but that actress Zheng Shuang refused to have them because she and Zhang had broken up – even though her name was on their birth certificate.

The topic soon became known as the Zheng Shuang ‘Surrogacy Gate’ (郑爽”代孕门”).

Chinese media outlet Netease Entertainment published images of the children’s birth certificates and confirmed through sources close to producer Zhang Heng that he was stranded in the United States with the two babies, unable to bring them back to China with him since Ms Zheng allegedly did not cooperate with the necessary legal procedures.

It was Zhang Heng himself who spoke out about the situation on his Weibo account (@张恒KN) on January 18. He wrote the following post:

“Hi everyone, I’m Zhang Heng. Long time no see. As everyone has seen, I again hit the hot search lists recently. Since the past year or so, there has been baseless slander, disrespect, and endless online violence against me on the internet. My family is also frustrated, helpless, and mentally exhausted because of my problems. There’s no way to lead a normal life or to socialize normally. We’re unable to reunite because of this. I really feel so, so bad.   

I realize I can’t bury my head in the sand any longer. Because it’s not just me facing everything; it’s also my cherished family members. I’ve decided to speak up, for my family and for myself, and to set the record straight. 

The online rumors about me committing fraud, borrowing from loan sharks, evading debts, taking funds and slinking off to America, etc –  they’re all rumors and I swear I’ve never done these things, nor would I ever do them. It is true that I am in America, but my family and I have been in the United States for over a year because we had to take care of and protect our two young and innocent children. We had no choice but to remain here.

I have hired a lawyer to handle related matters, and I believe the actual facts will be restored by the American and Chinese courts. Finally, I hope the media and righteous people can recognize the truth in this matter, and will not be blinded by internet rumors.” 

The children caught up in this scandal are one girl, born on January 4 2020, registered in the state of Nevada; and a boy, born on December 19 2019, registered in the state of Colorado. The birth certificates that were leaked to Chinese media show both Ms. Zheng and Mr. Zhang as the legal parents of the two babies.

Also leaked to Chinese media is an older audio recording in which Zheng, Zhang, and both of their parents allegedly discuss what to do with their unborn babies. In the voice recording, Zheng’s side argues that the children should be given up for adoption, with Zheng herself even complaining that the babies could not be aborted because the surrogate mothers were already seven months pregnant.

On January 19, Zheng Shuang herself also responded to the matter on Weibo (@郑爽SZ), where she did not address the matter directly but said that this is “a very sad and private matter that I did not want to discuss in front of everybody.” She further wrote that legal teams in China and the US “never gave up defending the legal rights of me and my family since last year.”

Zheng Shuang, image via Sohu.

Of the two former partners, Zheng is the most famous celebrity. Born in Shenyang in 1991, she rose to fame when she starred in a popular TV series in 2009 (Meteor Shower 一起来看流星雨). She became an award-winning actress and was chosen as one of the most bankable young actresses of the post-90s generation. On her Weibo account, she has over 12.4 million followers.

 

‘Surrogacy Gate’: The Timeline


 

While this case is unfolding in front of netizens’ eyes and through their own research, more and more details are coming up.

Money plays a major role in the falling-out between Zheng and Zhang, and a private lending dispute – involving no less than 20 million yuan (around 3 million dollars) – seems to be one of the reasons for their break-up.

Since the story is somewhat messy and complicated, we will attempt to reconstruct a timeline of events here.
 

TIMELINE:

2018, May
• Zheng and Zhang meet on the set of the variety show This Is Fighting Robots (这就是铁甲), where Zhang does the show’s production. Weeks later, intimate photos of the two surface online.

2018, August
• The couple officially announces their relationship status and start a company together.

2018, November
• Ms Zheng allegedly loans Mr Zhang 20 million yuan ($3 million).

2019, January 19
• Zheng and Zhang ‘secretly’ get married in the United States on January 19 of 2019. Zheng’s dog, “Wolfberry Kris” (@枸杞kris), has its own Weibo account where some ‘wedding photos’ of the joyous occasion are shared on this day.

2019, Fall/Winter
• Zhang and Zheng both appear on the TV show Meeting Mr. Right (女儿们的恋爱).

• An annual report of Zhang and Zheng’s entertainment-meets-tech company, a joint business venture named Shanghai Whale Valley AI Tech (上海鲸谷座人工智能科技有限公司), shows that Zheng Shuang invested over 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) while Zhang – the company’s legal representative – only contributed 200,000 yuan ($30,800).

2019, September
• In a Weibo post of January 2021, Zheng Shuang claims that Zhang cheated on her in September of 2019, which is why she left the US and went back to China.

2019, October 31
• Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang go viral on Chinese social media when Zhang writes a love song for Zheng, and publicly announces his love for her (#张恒给郑爽写歌#).

2019, December 18
• Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang announce their breakup, and rumors suggest that the two are caught up in a dispute over money.

2019, December 19
• The son of Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang is born through surrogacy in Colorado.

2020, January
• The daughter of Zhang Heng and Zheng Shuang is born through surrogacy in Nevada on January 4.

• Zheng Shuang files a lawsuit in Shanghai, suing Zhang Heng for borrowing 20 million yuan from high-interest loaners under her name to invest in personal business ventures.

2020, November
• Shanghai Jing’an Court rules that Mr. Zhang needs to pay back 20 million yuan ($3 million) plus overdue interest to Ms. Zheng. Zhang Heng appeals the case, arguing the money involved was never a loan but a financial compensation and advance payment for invested labor, since Zhang also acted as Zheng’s manager while they were together.

2020, December
• Zheng Shuang quits as a mentor on the Shine! Super Brothers (追光吧!哥哥) variety TV show after a clip exposing her gossiping about the past relationship of two co-stars circulated online.

2021, January 18
• Zhang posts his story on his Weibo account, stating he is stranded in the United States to take care of his two young children, implying Zheng has abandoned the babies. He also posts a photo of him with the two children.

• A voice recording in which Zheng talks about what to do with her unborn children surfaces in Chinese media, along with the birth certificates. The topic explodes on Chinese social media.

2021, January 19
• Zheng Shuang posts a reply to the matter on her own Weibo account, in which she is vague and evasive about the issue concerning the children. She implies that Zhang has “ulterior motives.” She later adds that Zhang cheated on her in the fall of 2019.

• In light of all controversy, Italian fashion brand PRADA cuts ties with Zheng Shuang, with whom they had a cooperation agreement. Zheng was announced as one of the brand’s new Chinese ambassadors earlier in 2021.

• London jewelry brand Lola Rose deletes all content including Zheng from their social media.

• Harper Bazaar deletes a feature on Zheng Shuang from their social media.

• Chinese cosmetic brand Chioture also posts a statement on Weibo saying it has terminated its contract with Zheng Shuang, who formerly was a spokesperson for the company.

• The second hearing of the Zheng versus Zhang lawsuit takes place in a Shanghai court over the disputed loan. Zhang and Zheng are both represented by their lawyers. (No news on outcome yet).

• State broadcaster CCTV condemns surrogacy in a post on Weibo.

• Zheng Shuang appears in public in Beijing, where she is followed by paparazzi. She does not respond to any questions, but her appearance still goes viral on social media with over 640 million views (#郑爽风波后首现身#).

2021, January 20
• Huading Awards announces it will revoke the honorary titles of Zheng Shuang, renouncing Zheng’s former awards as best actress and favorite TV star. Over 2.2 million people ‘liked’ this update on Weibo (#华鼎奖取消郑爽荣誉称号#).

• China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television officially shuts out Zheng Shuang.

• The Weibo hashtag “Birth Certificates of Zheng Shuang and Zhang Heng’s Children” (#郑爽张恒孩子出生证明#) reaches a staggering 4 billion views.

2021, March 22
• The hearing for the supposed dissolution of Zheng and Zhang’s marriage is scheduled to take place in Denver, US.

 

Surrogacy Abandonment


 

Although the timeline of events leading to the current situation might suggest that Ms. Zheng and Mr. Zhang are both at fault for handling matters in an irresponsible way, it is Zheng’s “surrogacy abandonment” that mostly triggers the public’s anger on social media.

Many people feel that Zheng Shuang is lacking morals for abandoning her children and call her “cold-blooded.” There are also those who think the actress has serious mental problems. Despite all backlash, Zheng still has a strong fan base with people who still support her.

The scandal has sparked more discussions on the issue of surrogacy in China, which already was a big topic earlier in January when a story came out on a baby born through surrogacy who had no birth certificate and no legal registration (link here).

Although surrogacy is officially not legal in China, there is a flourishing underground surrogacy market, and many couples who are struggling with fertility issues travel overseas for surrogacy arrangements. It is not clear why Zheng and Zhang used surrogates to have children.

On Weibo, many people speak out against surrogacy practices, arguing that having children is not a business and surrogacy puts vulnerable women at increased risk of exploitation.

The hashtag “Firmly Oppose All Forms of Surrogacy” (#坚决反对一切形式的代孕#) received over 290 million views and thousands of comments.

One person commented: “Children are not a commodity you can buy, sell, or return. They’re a life-long responsibility, they are the future of our society.”

 
This story will be updated following the latest developments.
 
By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes


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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China Media

After 88 Days of ‘Missing in Action,’ Jack Ma Appears in Public Again

“Daddy, you’re back!” – Jack Ma reappears after three months of silence.

Manya Koetse

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Jack Ma’s alleged ‘disappearance’ made international headlines and also generated many discussions on Chinese social media.

But now, after not appearing in public for 88 days, the Alibaba founder has finally popped up again in a video that is circulating online. News of his appearance was first reported by Tianmu News (天目新闻), a news platform under the umbrella of the Zhejiang Daily.

The video was recorded during an online award ceremony for rural teachers, which was attended by 100 educators from around the country. In his speech, Ma expressed his respect for China’s 2.9 million countryside teachers and said that although the physical event for the rural teaching initiative was canceled due to COVID19, they would all meet again once the epidemic is over. The event is usually held annually in Sanya, Hainan.

Jack Ma, who used to be a teacher himself, previously put forward the Rural Teachers Program to further develop and modernize education in China’s countryside areas.

Image via Sina Finance

Image via Sina Finance

Image via Sina Finance

Chinese media report that Alibaba shares immediately went up after Ma’s online appearance.

Meanwhile, Jack Ma personally still has not posted anything on his Weibo account, where his latest post of October 17th 2020 is still attracting new comments every day. Today, some people commented: “Teacher Ma, I finally saw your face again in a video! It made me happy.”

Other wrote: “Daddy, you’re back!”

For more on Jack Ma and his recent ‘disappearance’, read “Daddy Ma, Are You OK?” – Jack Ma’s Situation Discussed on Chinese Social Media.

By Manya Koetse


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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