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(Op-Ed) Not All About the Money: Why the One Child Generation Aren’t Keen on Having More Babies

The ‘Two Child Policy’ has not led to a baby boom, but are the costs to blame?

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China’s quest for more babies is a hot topic in the media recently. News reports generally explain the country’s declining birth rates through an economic lens. But by ignoring the social and historical background that has shaped the ways Chinese young parents think about family life today, they miss the essential point, Frankie Huang argues in this op-ed contribution for What’s on Weibo.

 

Recently, various proposed measured aimed at encouraging young Chinese couples to have more children are making headlines, from a ‘maternity fund’ tax for the childless, to a rumored Third Child Policy.

News reports often interpret China’s low birth rates through an economic lens, identifying costs as the determining factor in people’s decision to postpone a second child, or eschew one entirely.

But what’s missing from this picture is the crucial background factor that lays the foundation to how young Chinese parents dimensionalize family life, shaped by their own childhood.

 

During Mao’s reign, policies and propaganda directed citizens to have more children, even banning birth control for a time.”

 

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the government has treated population planning as a cog in the planned economy. Citizens are regarded as units of consumption and production, and fertility is a tap that can be turned up and down as required to support economic growth.

During Mao’s reign, policies and propaganda directed citizens to have more children, even banning birth control for a time. But when overpopulation threatened China’s growth, a strict bottleneck in the form of One Child Policy was slapped into place.

Propaganda poster from 1950s, promoting bigger families.

In the thirty years since its implementation, the One Child Policy remains the largest experiment in social engineering the world has ever seen. The Chinese government claims that it has prevented 400 million births. But when faced with a rapidly aging population and a shrinking labor force with which to support it, the government did a swift about-face to rally for more babies.

 

People are not avoiding more children simply because they are too immature and too selfish.”

 

In the two years since China officially ended the One Child Policy, people have not eagerly embraced the new policy that allows them to have more children, and birth rates remain sluggish.

The leading explanations for this phenomenon focus on logistics; couples are faced with high cost of living, real estate prices, stressful work pressure, the exorbitant price of child care, and aging parents. While present economic conditions make it difficult for families to afford more children, this type of thinking falls prey to the notion that young Chinese people are what behavioral economist Richard Thaler calls Econs, beings who are able to make perfectly logical economic decisions without being influenced by idiosyncrasies that make up who they are.

True, another popular explanation blames the “little emperor effect” – the highly individualistic and self-centered disposition of those who grew up as the focal point of the entire family unit. But this paints a rather unflattering and reductive picture of the mentality of the One Child generation. People are not avoiding more children simply because they are too immature and too selfish.

To understand how many from the One Child generation understand family and parenthood, we must take into account how the One Child Policy made the single child family normative by erasing the experience of having siblings from the lives of millions.

 

None of my friends ever wished out loud that they have a sibling, and I certainly didn’t feel like there was something missing in my life.”

 

I was born in 1980s Beijing, and I was the only child of an only child. I had a happy, fulfilling childhood with many happy memories. I have no recollection of ever thinking it strange that every family only has one child. If anything, it was too mundane a detail to be considered, it would have been like thinking it strange that the sky was blue.

Childhood photo, with permission of author.

I did learn the concept of siblings through stories and cartoons, but they were fantasy, removed from my reality. Maybe a precocious child would have asked why there were so many stories about brothers and sisters and yet nobody has one of their own, but I was not that clever. After all, none of my friends ever wished out loud that they have a sibling, and I certainly didn’t feel like there was something missing in my life.

When I moved to the United States in third grade, I met children my age with siblings for the first time in my life, and over the next couple of decades, I learned much about the joys of having them. I even considered asking my mother if she’d have another child, though I never wanted it enough to ask.

I couldn’t really imagine living with a little brother or sister, I just knew that it would change everything. My husband has a little sister, and they are extremely close. Watching them interact sometimes feels like seeing another species with an additional vital organ I do not possess.

 

The One Child generation lack a deep emotional connection with the distinctive experience of having siblings.”

 

I’ve never felt like my life has been incomplete without siblings. My warm feelings towards the idea of having a sibling is that of a detached observer, markedly different from having the happy memories of growing up with siblings. When it comes to starting a family of my own, I feel inclined to reproduce when I loved about my childhood, and improve what I didn’t like, and I liked being the only child just fine.

Image: from classic story about two shepherd sisters, a story the author grew up on.

This, I think, is a mental state shared by many of my peers in China, and it keeps them from having any strong emotional engagement with the idea of having more than one child. As natural as it feels for people in most other countries to have more than one child, it feels natural for the One Child generation of China to have just one. They lack a deep emotional connection with the distinctive experience of having siblings to feel the strong need to bestow it upon their children.

This probably contributed to the strong backlash against the recent People’s Daily article “Giving Birth Is Family Business, But Also A National Issue” (“生娃是家事也是国事“), in which the author glibly noted that “(..) having kids has a special meaning for Chinese people. Not wanting to have kids is just a lifestyle of passively giving in to society’s pressures.” People often draw on the happy memories from when their youth to shape their present and future, and they would not appreciate being told their preferences is just them “passively giving into society’s pressures.”

 

What is normal and common for people in other countries is a great and terrifying unknown for couples in China.”

 

The frightening effectiveness of the One Child Policy is that it took just thirty-odd years for a generation to lose touch with something as normal as a multi-child household. Policies, incentives and punishments can work to a point, but it will take years before having more than one child is normalized once more in people’s hearts and minds.

For now, young couples can only use their existing knowledge to imagine what life is like with more than one offspring. Is it simply doubling the resources and energy required by one child? Is each additional child just the most exhausting game of multiplication in the world? It is no wonder that young couples are agitated and generally unenthused over the prospects of raising more than one child.

What is normal and common for people in other countries is a great and terrifying unknown for couples in China. And this anxiety would not be alleviated by propaganda that proclaim child birth as a civic duty, nor policies that reward childbirth and penalize childlessness.

What they need is to be reassured that additional children can be more than just a larger economic burden, that there’s an innumerable joy to be had too.

By Frankie Huang
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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.

Frankie Huang is a writer and strategist living in Shanghai. She was born in Beijing and raised in New Jersey. Having lived all her life wedged between the proverbial East and West, she is interested in the ways globalization cross-pollinate cultures and lead to different new growths.

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China and Covid19

Xi’an Outbreak Largely Under Control, But Weibo is Grieving the Death of an Unborn Baby

On the 15th day of lockdown, Xi’an has largely brought the Covid19 outbreak under control, but at what cost?

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“Are we really fighting this epidemic to save lives?”, some wonder after Xi’an enters its 16th day of a very strict and sometimes messy lockdown. The story of a pregnant woman having a miscarriage in front of the hospital gate has brought the public’s anger to a boiling point.

On January 4th at around 4.30 pm, a Weibo user nicknamed ‘Don’t Make It Rain Ok’ posted a heartbreaking story on social media about her pregnant aunt, who lost her baby on January 1st when she did not receive medical care in time and was left waiting outside of the hospital. It was one among multiple stories showcasing the struggles faced by thousands of citizens during the Xi’an lockdown, the biggest one in China since Wuhan was shut down in 2020.

While the story about the pregnant woman was top trending on Weibo on Wednesday and Thursday, the Xi’an city government declared that the Covid19 situation in the city of 13 million inhabitants was reaching the phase of “zero in society” (“社会面清零”), meaning that the outbreak was largely contained in the city’s main communities after two weeks of lockdown, during which over 42,000 people were quarantined and brought to other locations.

But rather than cheers of joy, Weibo was dominated by sad stories of people whose lives have been seriously impacted by the restrictions and hurdles they face in times of a lockdown that was mismanaged by local authorities, according to many.

The woman losing her unborn baby because of severely delayed emergency services struck a chord with a lot of netizens. This is a translation of the original post, which was removed from social media without given reason on January 6:

My aunt said on January 1st 2022 at around 7:00 pm that her stomach hurt, so she called 120 [emergency telephone number]. But 120 was constantly busy and there was no way to get through. Only when she called 110 [police] she was taken to Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital (高新医院). After all this, it was already past 8 pm before she arrived, but she eventually was at the entrance and still wasn’t allowed to get in, the delay lasting until after 10 pm – she was told her nucleic acid [test] had exceeded the four-hour time frame. My aunt sat down at the entrance for a while, and because the delay was lasting so long, she was starting to bleed. I saw the video sent by my aunt’s husband, seeing my aunt struggling to support her body with both hands sitting on the chair, blood flowing down the chair and down her pants, the floor was full of blood! Also because of the excessive bleeding, the hospital staff saw it really wasn’t going well and only then was she admitted and taken into the surgery room. As a result of the untimely medical treatment, my aunt had a miscarriage after carrying the baby for eight months. At eight months, the baby died in the womb without a pulse because of wasted time. Originally I was thinking of telling this story on another platform, but I actually just saw in my Moments [WeChat timeline] that a friend posted a screenshot of another story told by someone and I discovered we are not the only ones to go through something like this at this hospital. I just wept. My aunt also has an 11-year old son who is alone by himself, looking after himself, he still doesn’t know what happened to my aunt – he just knows her belly hurt.”

The incident sparked outrage on social media, where one hashtag dedicated to the topic received 780 million views on Thursday alone (#西安孕妇流产事件相关责任人被处理#) after it was publicly announced that the hospital’s general manager Fu Yuhui (范郁会) would be suspended and that the staff responsible for the incident at the outpatient department were fired.

The hospital was ordered to publicly apologize for the incident, and the local Health Commission director also made an apology.

But the apologies did not seem to reduce the anger many expressed online.

“Are we fighting the epidemic to save lives?”, one popular blogger wondered in an article dedicated to the incident (“西安孕妇医院门口流产:抗疫,是为了救命啊“) published on January 6th. The author argues that the ultimate purpose of China’s epidemic prevention and control is to save lives and that a hospital and its staff should do everything in their power to save people’s lives rather than letting them suffer outside of their door with the excuse of ‘epidemic prevention and control.’ In the end, a person’s life is more important than their Health Code and the last time they did a Covid test.

The story of the miscarriage was not the only one going viral these days relating to people not being able to get the medical help they need. One story to go viral on January 3rd was that of one Xi’an resident (@太阳花花花00000) reaching out for help via social media platform Xiaohongshu because her father suffered from chest pains and they could not get through to emergency telephone lines fast enough. The original poster later updated their post to share that he had passed away.

The man’s daughter later clarified in the media that her father was refused access to medical services at multiple hospitals before he also encountered issues at Gaoxin Hospital where he did receive treatment at 10pm – an astonishing eight hours after reaching out to emergency services. He reportedly passed away due to the severe delay in this treatment (#西安网友称父亲被多家医院拒诊后离世#).

Then there was another pregnant woman (@A有雨有晴天) who allegedly suffered a miscarriage after being refused to be taken to the hospital (#西安又一孕妇流产 警察护送被拒诊#). She came out with her story on January 5th, but it happened on December 29th. The woman claims that she sought help but that various hospitals refused to take her in during the extreme lockdown circumstances.

On January 5th and 6th, the death of a 39-year-old man also sparked online anger. According to online reports, the man could not get through to emergency services on December 31st while suffering from severe chest pains. He was refused to be taken in by two hospitals because he supposedly did not have a current negative Covid19 test result. He died shortly after being taken in by a third hospital. A hashtag dedicated to the incident received over 150 million views on January 6 (#西安一男子连续被3家医院拒诊最终猝死#).

“Help the helpless!”, some on Weibo wrote: “What would you do if these were your loved ones?!”

“How many people have passed away due to this kind of ‘prevention and control’?”, other commenters wondered: “What is wrong with the Xi’an authorities?”

Besides the staff fired at the Gaoxin Hospital, the Municipal Discipline Inspection Commission reportedly also gave official warnings to the local deputy secretary and Xi’an Emergency Center director Li Qiang (李强) and local Health Commission director Liu Shunzhi (刘顺智) for not properly fulfilling their duties regarding emergency work during the lockdown.

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 Digital

Will Weibo Become 30% State-Media Owned?

Alibaba is allegedly ready to give up its Weibo shares to SMG.

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Bloomberg recently reported that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is preparing to sell its 30% stake in social media platform Weibo. According to people familiar with the matter, Alibaba is negotiating with the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG).

News about Alibaba planning to sell all of its Weibo shares has triggered some online discussions on the Chinese social media platform. Bloomberg was the first to report that the Chinese e-commerce and IT enterprise is talking to the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG) to sell all of its 30% stake in Weibo.

According to Bloomberg, the move relates to regulators wanting to curb the influence of Chinese tech giants in the media sphere. The Bloomberg article claims that SMG, as one of China’s largest state-owned media and cultural conglomerates, stands a higher chance of gaining the approval of Chinese authorities than a private acquirer.

SMG is a large state-owned enterprise with over a dozen TV and radio stations, many newspapers and magazines, various drama & film production and distribution businesses, and more. The company has a major media influence, not only in Shanghai but throughout the country.

According to Weibo’s 2020 annual reports, New Wave held a 45% stake in Weibo, followed by Alibaba with its 30%. New Wave is the holding company by Weibo chairman Charles Chao.

“Weibo will change into another channel for SMG,” some Weibo users predict, with others also sharing their fear that Weibo would become more and more like a platform for official media (“微博现在越来越官方化”).

“This would be a big milestone in the crumbling of Alibaba’s media empire,” another commenter wrote. Some wonder if the developments have more to do with Weibo as a platform, or with Alibaba and its media influence.

In March of 2021, the Wall Street Journal already reported that the Chinese government asked the Alibaba Group to dispose of its media assets due to concerns over the company’s influence in the sensitive media sphere.

“When Alibaba exits and state-owned capital enters, Weibo is expected to magnificently transform into a ‘state-owned enterprise’,” another Weibo user wrote.

Although some commenters worry that Weibo will change for the worse and that there will be more censorship, others see a sunnier future for the social media platform: “It would be good for Weibo to be ‘state-owned’ so that it won’t be controlled by capital to influence public opinion anymore.”

Chinese tech site 36kr also reported about the issue on January 1st, but neither Weibo nor Alibaba or SGM have officially responded yet.

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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