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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 Media

Online Outrage over Gansu Female Medical Workers Required to Shave Their Heads

Heroes of the coronavirus crisis or victims of visual propaganda? A video showing female medical workers having their heads shaved has triggered controversy.

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A Chinese media post praising female nurses for having their heads shaved has sparked outrage on Weibo and WeChat. Are these women heroes of the coronavirus crisis or victims of gendered visual propaganda?

A video showing tearful female medical workers having their head shaved before going to COVID-19 epicenter city Wuhan has sparked outrage on Chinese social media.

The video, originally posted by Gansu Daily (每日甘肃网) on February 15, shows how a group of female nurses is standing in line to have their hair shaved off in preparation of their mission to Hubei to assist during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

In the short segment that has since gone viral on Weibo and WeChat, some women can be seen crying while having all of their hair shaved off.

According to Gansu Daily and other Chinese media, the fifteen nurses, including one man, are part of a medical aid group that was sent out to Wuhan this weekend. Their hair was reportedly shaved off “in accordance with requirements” to make their work more efficient and reduce the risk of infection.

The original news post praises the women as “the epidemic’s heroes in harm’s way” (“疫情中最美的逆行者”) – a term also used to describe brave firefighters during the 2015 Tianjin explosions (for more background on this term in Chinese, also see Xinhua and Zhihu).

Although the story praises the female medical workers as heroes and was soon reposted and promoted by many other (state) media, it was not just met with positive reactions from Chinese netizens.

On the contrary: it triggered waves of criticism over the medical team’s supervisors requiring the women to shave off their hair, with many deeming the measures unnecessary, humiliating, and sexist.

“Why do they need to shave all of their hair, the men don’t even need to do that?!”, some Weibo commenters wonder.

Many Weibo users wonder how necessary it actually is for the women to go completely bold for medical work purposes, wondering why the male workers do not need to shave their heads and why the women could not just opt for a shorter hairstyle instead – suggesting the media circus surrounding the shaving of the heads is more about visual propaganda than actually being a necessity.

“I am a medical worker myself,” one Weibo user writes: “I consulted an infection control doctor [on this matter] and they said it is not necessary at all to have a bald head. Short hair is convenient enough, and hair has a protective function too to reduce [skin] irritation from the friction of wearing hats and masks. It furthermore also has a function of catching sweat, preventing it from dripping to your eyes. A shaven head does more harm than good.”

“Why do people need to bleed and cry in order for them to become heroes?”, others say: “This is just cruel.”

Adding to the online fury was a photo showing the group of medical workers after their heads were shaved, as the one male nurse in the group not only seemed to wear a better quality face mask, but also appeared to have much more hair left than the female nurses.

The original Gansu Daily post has since been deleted from social media.

On WeChat account Epoch Story (“epochstory2017″/Epoch故事小馆), author Chen Mashu (陈麻薯) posted a critique on February 17th titled “Please Stop Using Female Bodies as Propaganda Tools” (“请停止用女性的身体,作为宣传的工具“).

Recent online Chinese visual propaganda in times of the coronavirus crisis has seen a strong focus on Wuhan medical workers.

This kind of visual propaganda often highlights the idea of “sacrificing,” especially when it comes to women as pretty girls, loving mothers, or good wives.

In the WeChat article, author Chen argues that Chinese state media always uses women’s bodies as a tool for propaganda, and argues that it should not be necessary for women to endure extra hardship or suffering (in this case, sacrifice their hair) in order to make them admirable ‘model workers.’ The fact that they are fighting on the front line should be more than enough reason to praise them, Chen writes.

While these women’s tears were “used to try to impress the audience” and become an example of some “collectivist spirit,” Chen argues, this kind of propaganda backfired because the individual needs and wishes of these women were completely ignored during the process.

Although the original story and visuals may have meant to be empowering in times of coronacrisis, they are actually counterproductive to female empowerment at large.

This is not the first time the role of women in Chinese state media propaganda become a big topic of discussion online.

In 2016, a photo series titled “100.000 soldier-loving girls” (十万恋军女孩) posted by China’s Military Web during the Wuhan flood also caused controversy. In the online media campaign, Chinese state media paid a ‘tribute’ to rescue workers by sharing pictures of girls holding the message “I wish to wash your uniform for you”. It triggered online discussions on the submissive female image propagated by Chinese state media.

At time of writing, various posts about the shaved heads of the Gansu medical workers have been taken offline.

For more COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan) and Bobby Fung (@bobbyfungmr), with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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©2020 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

“Our Cities Are Sick, But We Will Make Them Better” – Popular Online Video Promotes Chinese Unity in Times of COVID-19

Chinese state media are spreading more hopeful and positive online content in times of coronacrisis.

Jialing Xie

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From Guangzhou to Shenzhen, from Wuhan to Chengdu, bustling streets and busy markets are left empty and quiet, as China is in the midst of dealing with the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

“[People are] afraid, they are anxious, and the masks they wear widens the distance between them,” a whispered female voiceover says in a new 3-minute ‘documentary’ video that has been propagated online by Chinese state media over the past week.

The short video shows scenes from cities all across China – a deserted train station in Wuhan, a person cycling on a quiet Beijing street, a nearly empty highway in Shenzhen – while a tracker in the corner shows the number of confirmed coronavirus diseases cases in that location.

While the first half of the online ‘shortdoc’ emphasizes how COVID-19 has affected every corner of the country in negative ways, making the past Chinese New Year the most depressing one in decades, the second half shifts to a message of hope and positivity.

Instead of highlighting the grey and empty streets across China, the video focuses on the energy and courage of the medical workers, policemen, and construction workers across the country doing what they can to fight the battle against the coronavirus.

“We are looking forward to the day we will take off our masks again, leave our homes, be with our loved ones, and enjoy that tasty bite of steaming hot buns.”

The voiceover continues to say that “every city will wake up again” and that “the smiles will return to people’s faces,” concluding: “Because we are still together [in this], because we are Chinese.”

The short video ends with the slogan “Our cities are sick, but we will cure them” (“我们的城市生病了,但是我们会治好它”).

Originally posted by state-run media People’s Daily on Weibo, the three-minute film attracted more than 80 million views within two days after it was posted. By now, the hashtag “3-minute Documentary Features Chinese Cities in Times of Epidemic” (#3分钟记录疫情下的中国城市#), also hosted by People’s Daily, was viewed almost 90 million times.

The video was produced under the ‘New Studio Media Group’ (Xinpianchang / 新片场社区) with video contributions from 48 different content producers from all over the country. Xinpianchang is a Beijing-based online media group and video content platform founded in 2012.

Many online viewers express that they are touched and inspired by the short doc.

Recently, Chinese social media has seen more short videos depicting what life in times of coronacrisis is like for people living in different parts of China.

Chinese publication The Cover (封面新闻) recenty also posted a three-minute video of the scenes in Chengdu city, showing that its once bustling streets are now more like a ghost city.

Some Weibo netizens from Wuhan also post short videos of their city, repeating the slogan “Our city is sick, but we will cure it” and welcoming people to visit Wuhan once this epidemic is over.

Over the past weeks, Chinese state media have started to disseminate and propagate more hopeful online content, praising the work of those fighting COVID-19 and showing support to the people of Wuhan and emphasizing the unity of China in times of crisis.

For more about this and other COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

By Jialing Xie

This article has been edited for clarity.

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.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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