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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?

Frankie Huang

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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.

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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 Insight

Noteworthy Weibo Moment: Qingdao Government Account Shows Support for LGBT Community

“The best official account post I’ve ever seen on Weibo.”

Wendy Huang

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First published

Some netizens are moved to tears to see an official government account making a public statement in support of the gay community.

Just a day ahead of the 2019 International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (May 17), a Qingdao government social media account has attracted the attention of Chinese netizens for showing support to the gay community.

On the night of May 15, the Information Office of Qingdao Municipal Government published the noteworthy post on its official Weibo account Qingdao Fabu (@青岛发布), which has over 3,8 million followers.

“In a world of equality, let all people turn away from homophobia” (“在平等世界里,让所有人不再恐同”), the post said, commenting on the recent trending news of a 15-year-old boy who came out as gay and posted a suicide note on his Weibo account.

The incident shows us the difficulty and hopelessness homosexual people are suffering. The world should be equal and free, and as the International Day Against Homophobia (#517不再恐同日#) is nearing, let’s call on the people around us to express our love of equality and kindness,” the post said.

Within a day after it was published, the Qingdao Fabu post was shared over 30,000 times and received more than 23,000 likes.

 

A Weibo Suicide Note


 

The Weibo user referred to by the Qingdao local government account had posted a lengthy letter on the night of May 14. Using an anonymous Weibo account (@用户7138253812), the author, identifying himself as a 15-year-old boy from Qingdao, came out as gay and shared his pain and grievances over the pressure he faced.

Because the boy wrote he wanted to “leave this world forever” and ended his post with a farewell, many people became worried about the boy’s mental state and whereabouts.

In the early morning of May 15, the official Weibo account of Qingdao Police (@青岛公安) posted an update, stating that the boy was found safe after running away from home.

Later that day, another post was published on the same anonymous account saying: “Thank you everyone, everything is fine.” The farewell note has since been deleted. See a full translation of the text below this article.

 

Qingdao Official Account Receives Praise


 

With its post supporting the young gay man and the LGBT community at large, the Qingdao Government official news account is receiving hundreds of comments praising them.

Besides their original post, the Qingdao government account also posted a total of nine different quotes relating to LGBT issues, including one from Taiwanese film director Ang Lee saying “There’s a Brokeback Mountain in everyone’s heart.”

Another one stresses the fact that homosexuality is not a mental illness, with yet another quote mentioning that the Netherlands became the first country in 2001 to legalize same-sex marriage.

The reposted quotes were originally published on the Weibo account of Sina Shandong (@新浪山东), the official Weibo account of Sina’s Shandong Province Branch.

As the Qingdao Weibo post is gaining more popularity on Weibo at time of writing, these are some of the popular comments below:

  • “This is so awesome for an Official Weibo account!”
  • “That an Official account would post this.. seeing this makes me tear up. I will always support equal rights.”
  •  “I’m crying, this was really sent out by an Official account.”
  • “This must be the best Official account post I’ve ever seen on Weibo.”
  • “Let’s give it up for Qingdao!”
  • “This means progress!”
  • “I’m not from Qingdao, but I will follow this account from now on. This [post] shows you have guts.”
  • “I feel proud to be from Qingdao.”
  • “I am so moved by your post. Thank you for your support. I hope your light will shine on all the people.”

Over the past few years, Chinese social media have seen many times when gay content was censored.

One important moment occurred in 2017, when the China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA, 中国网络视听节目服务协会) issued new criteria to strengthen regulations over online audio-visual content on Chinese platforms. One of the new regulations regarded the removal of online content that “displays homosexuality” (“展示同性恋等内容”), grouping homosexuality together with incest and sexual perversity as “abnormal sexual behavior.”

Although it is very noteworthy for an official government account to publish social media posts that strongly support the gay community, it is not the first time it has happened.

In July of 2017, the official account of the Communist Youth League of Fujian published a post that stated “Being gay is no disorder!” Many netizens at the time, like today, said the unexpected support moved them to tears.

Sometimes on Weibo, it’s the little posts about big matters that seem to matter the most – especially when they come from a government-run source.

 

Full Translation of Suicide Note


 

The suicide note in question has been deleted from Weibo, but The Beijing LGBT Center translated the text and posted it on its Facebook page.

Please note that the following translation is not a What’s on Weibo translation and that all credits for this translation go to the Beijing LGBT Center. Follow them on Facebook here:

I am from Qingdao and am a 15-year-old student from Laoshan No.8 Secondary School.

I am a homosexual. I never expected I would be able to utter this word.

Growing up a frail and meek boy, I am that ‘fem’ everyone is referring to. An easy target, bullied, assaulted, teased, abused, and shunned by classmates and teachers alike. This is how I grew up, and so did many other gay children. Naive as I was, I did not fight back or told anyone about my feelings. I was afraid, and am still afraid of this world. I acted strangely and they called me lunatic, but I know that was my only way to protect myself. After I tried in vain to fit in, I chose to close myself from this world, and this is how I lived my childhood.

By sheer luck, I had a short childhood. I started to realize what’s ‘strange’ with me in grade 5 or 6. I remember how I exulted when I first read about affirmative answers about gay on Zhihu (Chinese version of Quora). But I was soon overwhelmed by those derogatory, abusive, and hurtful answers. I cried the whole night and yet I put my mask back on the very next morning. What people saw as maturity in me was in fact avoidance and isolation.

Things got a little better in secondary school because I am a top student. There was less bullying but I reminded that fem guy teased and mocked at by everyone. Among the worst was my class teacher, Chen Feng. For two years he inflicted me with corporal punishments. Listening to him indoctrinating his banal views was pure suffering. I’ve got enough of his so-called masculinity values, his genders have their fixed roles, his homosexuals are modern perverts. Yet he is not alone among his peers and colleagues. I have had enough of my teachers’ cursing, smearing, ridiculing, and insulting anything related to gays. All their rubbish made me sick and isolated.

Gradually I become irritable and violent. I came out to my mother rather abruptly. Though she seemed to have acquiesced it, I was giving in to the pressure and thinking about ending everything. I have no idea what happened to me and I know choosing death is not courageous, but rather an act of cowardice. I chose to avoid my family and I knew my indifference and avoidance hurt them, especially my mom, the one person who loves me the most.

My father is a weak and arrogant scum and inflicted my mother her whole life. He broke down my door when I was most vulnerable and isolated and banged my head on the wall. At that moment, I only wished he could kill me. But he was stopped by my sister.

Just now, my so-called “family” once again stormed my room and hurled their most insulting curses at me. I realized that my mom might be the only person who can accept me in this world. Or maybe she was just pretending too.

This is not the first time I’ve thought about dying to end it all. Just a few days ago, I scaled high trying to leave all these sufferings. When I called my mom to hear her voice one last time, I hesitated, climbed down and wandered for miles away from home.

Now I have once again escaped from home with that scum’s phone in my hand. Yes, this account is my father’s. I want to tell the world what I’ve always wanted to say and to do. And then leave this world forever.

I understand living on might be the better choice. I could have a bright future and watch this world getting more open and inclusive. But I have had enough. I am sorry to have vented everything on here, and I am sorry to be so weak my entire life. I wanted to do something for this world but in reality, I can do nothing. I know, China will not have its own Stonewall; its people can put up with anything. I am losing control of emotion…

I apologize for my cowardice. To be honest, I am not innocent. But even if I had the courage to change the world, a stab in the back could have easily killed me. I have chosen to solve the radical question with the radical way.

I love you all, the kind and beautiful people of conscience, I trust you to make the world better. If there were a heaven, I will send my blessings…I wish my story will be a faint voice to your fight.”

Also read:
* Communist Youth League: “Being Gay is No Disorder!”
* Why the Gay Kisses in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Won’t Make It to Chinese Cinemas
* Weibo Administration: “We’re No Longer Targeting Gay Content”
* China’s Online Gay Revolution and Rainbow Warrior Geng Le

By Wendy Huang and Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

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

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China Insight

Zhejiang Movie Theatre Displays Blacklisted Individuals in Avengers Movie Preview

A special ‘trailer’ before the Avengers movie premiere showed the audience blacklisted individuals.

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A local movie theatre in the city of Lishui, Zhejiang province, showed a noteworthy ‘trailer’ before the Avengers: End Game premiere on April 24.

Chinese state tabloid Global Times reports that the sold-out premiere had a ‘surprise’ moment just before the movie was about to start: a short Public Service Announcement by the Liandu district court of Lishui displayed people who are currently on a ‘debt dodging black list.’

The short film also informed the cinema audience of potential consequences of being on a blacklist, including no traveling abroad, and no traveling by air or on high-speed trains.

According to Global Times, the local district court has registered a total of 5478 people on its blacklist since 2018.

The names and faces of more than 300 people on this list have reportedly been displayed on cinema screens, public LED screens, and on buildings. Allegedly 80 of them have since complied with court orders.

As part of China’s emerging Social Credit system project, there are public court-issued lists of ‘trust-breaking enforcement subjects’ (信被执行人名单), referring to people or companies who have failed to comply with court orders.

Individuals on the judgment defaulter blacklist system run by the court system, whose information is publicized, can risk having their photos and names displayed on local LED screens on courthouses or other buildings (Dai 2018, 26).

Blacklisted individuals on a Wuxi building (via Phoenix News).

Beyond that, they will face restrictions in various ways, from being denied bank credit to being restricted from staying in high-end hotels or traveling by air.

On Weibo, the Global Times post on the noteworthy cinema preview received over 4000 shares. The same news was also reported by CCTV and Phoenix News.

Some commenters joke about the Public Service Announcement, saying: “Blacklisters [can now say]: Mum! I was on TV! On a big IMAX screen! Together with the Avengers!”

Others leave comments in support of the measure, calling it “creative,” and saying: “This is good, we should implement this all across the country.”

“Blacklisters should be displayed on all kinds of platforms.”

“This is for people to lose on their social credit,” another commenter writes: “If you don’t want to ‘socially die’ then just fulfill your duties.”

But not everyone agrees. “People are buying a movie ticket to see their film,” one person says: “They suddenly get exposed to this kind of content that has nothing to do with them, what about their rights as a consumer?”

By Manya Koetse

References

Dai, Xin, Toward a Reputation State: The Social Credit System Project of China (June 10, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3193577 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3193577 [5.3.19].

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

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

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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