January 2016 officially marked the end of China’s contentious one-child policy of 36 years that made it illegal for couples to give birth to more than one baby, implemented to slow the country’s population growth rate. Since the end of the policy, couples of which at least one of the pair is an only child are legally permitted to have a second child.
Unsurprisingly, 2016 saw the highest birth rate in a century. With 17.86 million of births in total, there was an increase of 7.9% in childbirths compared to the year before according to China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission.
“Doctors suggest to relax existing surrogacy bans while still preventing commercialization of the practice.”
However, the figure still falls short of government’s estimations for the population to reach 1.42 billion by 2020, and might be too low to balance the consequences of the aging society and the shrinking workforce. By 2050, 370 million people in China are expected to be aged 65+ – it is often called a “demographic crisis.”
When dropping the one child policy, Chinese authorities also halted a plan to ban surrogate motherhood. Since 2001, the Ministry of Health laid out rules that made it illegal for medical staff to offer surrogacy services, and in 2015 there were official plans to completely curb surrogate pregnancies.
The timing of the reversal of the surrogacy ban was ambiguous, especially because it was called “unprecedented” for the Chinese government to reverse a draft law after it has already been publicized.
On Friday, an article in Chinese state newspaper People’s Daily enraged Chinese netizens as it focused on the topic of second pregnancies in older couples and suggested a legalization of surrogacy to give couples more opportunities to have a (second) child.
“In the ninety million families that are qualified to have the second child in China, 60% of women are over 35 years old and 50% are over 40. The fertility rate is obviously going down because women are getting older, and the average age for a woman to have a last pregnancy is generally around the age of 40. Therefore, doctors suggest to relax existing surrogacy bans while still preventing commercialization of the practice.”
Surrogacy often comes up when there are fertility problems or other reasons; a surrogate mother can carry the baby for a couple through artificial insemination of the father’s sperm, or, if possible, through IVF.
“They have totally gone mad! Surrogacy was illegal and now it is being promoted to increase birth rates!”
Perhaps uncoincidentally, one of the most controversial sketches of the CCTC Chinese New Year Gala last week focused on an older couple of which the woman was not able to conceive. The sketch also mentions the possibility of IVF, and led to angry reactions on Weibo of women who felt like the government was pushing women to have children.
Friday’s People’s Daily article also immediately triggered thousands of comments on Chinese social media. On Weibo, there were over 14K comments within several hours.
The vast majority of commenters criticized the article and made sarcastic comments about it: “They have totally gone mad! Surrogacy was illegal and now it is being promoted to increase birth rates!”
“We as Chinese women are not being treated as human beings but as breeding machines!” some wrote.
There were also netizens that sharply pointed out the improbability of the suggestion that surrogacy could be legalized without making it commercial: “I’ve never heard of any voluntary surrogate mothers. Whoever is willing to provide this kind of service for free? What can you say to surrogate mums? ‘Sorry I need to borrow your womb?'”
There are also those who sarcastically wondered: “If we are struggling with infertility, can we expect that child trafficking will also be legal one day?”
“Our wombs do not belong to ourselves, but to the country and the Party.”
Many commenters worry about the future of birth intervention in China, writing: “When I want to have more babies, it is prohibited. And now they’ve [suddenly] worked out this unethical way to force us to give birth. This is another insane form of birth control – they may eventually start to fine couples who don’t give birth one day.”
China’s strict control over children births has been controversial in international society for a long time.
At present, only rich parents can afford to resort to alternative ways to have a child, such a IVF and using surrogate mothers or receiving high-quality medical treatment in foreign clinics.
China’s huge underground market in surrogacy has thus been rapidly growing with demands largely exceeding supplies. According to the article, the number of couples suffering from infertility in China is about 15 million, which means that whether surrogacy remains illegal or not, it will still be a booming sector with potential profits.
There have been radical changes in China’s child policies over the recent years: from “over-produced” children being deprived of official documentation for basic social services to the wide-publicizing encouragement of second babies’ births.
“Our wombs do not belong to ourselves, but to the country and the Party,” one female Weibo user sadly commented.
(Featured image: the slogan on the wall in rural China has been edited after the change of policy. Photo credit to CNR. “Better to let the blood flows like river, not allowing to give birth to one more/less.”)
Additional editing by Manya Koetse
©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at email@example.com.
Coca Cola Introduces “Ocean Plastic Bottles” to Combat Marine Waste Problem
Coca Cola’s innovative ocean plastic bottles have become top trending on Weibo.
As Coca Cola introduced the world’s first bottles made from recycled ocean plastic waste this week, the topic has risen to the top trending on China’s Sina Weibo.
As reported by Business Insider, Coca Cola has released 300 sample bottles showing the potential of its new technology that is able to transform lower-grade recycables into high-quality food packages.
The Coca Cola bottles were produced using 25% recycled marine waste, collected by volunteers and fishermen during 84 beach cleanups in Spain and Portugal, the report says, with the company’s long-term goal being to have all its plastic bottles be made from 50% recycled plastics by 2030.
Coca Cola will start to use more recycled plastic for its bottles from 2020 on.
With the topic now having reached 140 million views on Weibo, many people are discussing the issue. The majority of commenters applaud the environment-friendly initiative, but there are also some who say they fear the bottles would somehow contain “more pollutants” or start to “taste like the ocean.”
Others write they do not necessarily want to drink Coca Cola, but would like to obtain one of their ‘ocean plastic’ bottles as a collector’s item.
The Chinese news reports about the new Coca Cola initiative raise awareness on the problems of how plastic waste in oceans jeopardizes marine life.
“Environmental problems require immediate action,” one Weibo users writes: “A good company will take on the responsibility to do something.”
Some 200 billion plastic bottles are sold in China every year – many of them are already being recycled. Coca Cola, however, will reportedly be the world’s first company to use ocean plastic waste for its bottles.
Coca Cola is an important player in the Chinese beverage market; the company has introduced more than 60 products under 20 brands within mainland China.
By Manya Koetse
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Over a Third of China’s Babies Are Delivered via C-Section – The National Health Commission Wants to Change That
Fear of pain is a major reason for nonmedical cesarian deliveries on maternal request.
In 2018 the percentage of deliveries by cesarean was 36.7% in mainland China, according to the latest Report on Women’s & Children’s Health (中国妇幼健康事业发展报告) that was launched by the National Health Commission on May 27.
This means that together with Hong Kong, Taiwan, Brazil, Egypt, and Turkey, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) now has the highest C-section rates in the world.
A World Health Organization report from 2010 estimated that 46% of Chinese babies were delivered via C-section. In 2017, another study found that this percentage was incorrect, although some urban and wealthier regions in China, such as Shanghai, did see C-section (CS) rates as a high as 68% (Black & Bhattacharya 2018, 1; McNeil 2017).
China’s CS rates have recently become a hot topic in Chinese newspapers and on social media. On May 27, the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China held a Beijing news conference in which Qin Geng (秦耕), the director, announced that more actions will be taken to encourage natural childbirth among Chinese women.
These actions will, among others, include stricter regulation of cesarian section operations and the provision of more support and pain relief for laboring women, as well as a higher hospital income for natural births. The National Health Comission hopes to significantly reduce the number of unneccesssary C-sections without medical indication in this way (Beijing News 2019; Caijing 2019).
Since 1985, the international healthcare community has considered 10-15% to be “the ideal rate” for C-sections, of which the highest percentage are those CS deliveries with medical indications that can actually save the lives of mothers and babies.
Although the worldwide rates for CS deliveries have increased throughout the years, there is no evidence for the benefits of nonmedically indicated C-sections for women or children, according to the World Health Organization.
This is not the first time Chinese authorities try to combat the country’s high CS rates. After reports by the World Health Organization from 2010 and 2015 pointing out the potential hazards of unnecessary C-sections, there have been various state efforts to reduce the number of nonmedical cesarian surgeries.
Besides the introduction of free prenatal education classes, these efforts included monitoring public hospital CS rates and removing bonuses or cutting portions of a hospital’s income once their CS rates reached a certain threshold (e.g. 40%) (Wang 2017, 3). These government initiatives seem to have had effect: the country’s C-section growth rates have slowed down, but were not decreasing yet.
Since the Chinese government announced an end to its one-child policy in 2015, lowering cesarean sections rates has become a more urgent matter, as Chinese couples are now allowed to have a second child.
Although various studies from mainland China and beyond challenge the idea that nonmedical C-sections are less ‘safe’ than vaginal births for single deliveries, this risk changes when a woman who previously had a CS section plans another pregnancy: multiple cesarean sections are associated with additional risks including CS scar rupture and abnormal placental invasion (Biler et al 2017, 1074; Black & Bhattacharya 2018, 2; Liu et al 2015, 817).
Why So Many C-sections in China?
But why does China have such a high cesarian delivery rate at all? Since the early 1990s, mainland China saw a more dramatic rise in CS rates than, for example, the USA; from less than 10% (with only 3.4% in 1988), China went to one of the highest in the world (Hellerstein 2011; Wolf 2018, 13).
The answer to why this is, is not so straightforward and relates to socio-economic changes as well as cultural factors that come into play.
One reason is that there is a general belief in the ‘safety’ of cesarian births that influence women’s choices for a (nonmedical and planned) C-section (Black & Bhattacharya 2017, 2).
An insightful study into this matter is that of researcher Eileen Wang (2017), who found that anxiety about giving birth and fear of pain is also a major reason for nonmedical cesarian deliveries on maternal request, especially considering that only a minority of Chinese women are given any form of pain relief during labor. Besides traditional concepts, this is also because China faces a shortage of anesthetists and because obstetricians are not always well-informed to prescribe other forms of pain medication (2017, 5).
As noted by Wang, epidurals are denied to laboring women not just because anesthesiologists are too busy, but also because of various other factors: different from a scheduled C-section on their agenda, they are not always available during nighttimes and in weekends to administer anesthesia to women in labor, do not have the time to monitor a patient for hours during labor (whereas a cesarean could be done in an hour), or were not even trained to administer epidurals (2017, 5).
According to Wang, the concerns about labor pain result in more requests for C-sections, both before and during labor. With relatively low awareness and availability of labor pain relief methods many Chinese women simply opt for a C-section as a way to control their pain.
But there are also other factors that contribute to the relatively high rate of women requesting C-sections for nonmedical reasons. One of them is the importance placed in the astrological calendar: having a baby on that one ‘lucky day’ or within that ‘lucky year’ is considered enough reason to plan a cesarian birth for many Chinese families.
In early 2015, ahead of the Chinese New Year, many women rushed to the hospital to make sure their baby was born in the Year of the Horse (2014) as the Year of the Goat (2015) was coming up. There is an old Chinese saying that nine out of ten people born in the Year of the Goat are incomplete and will suffer from great misfortune throughout their life (“十羊九不全”).
Another factor that leads to more cesareans on maternal request relates to the existing concerns among women that vaginal delivery will affect their figure or sex life (Wang 2017, 2).
Responses on Chinese Social Media
Since the Beijing news conference of May 27, the hashtag “Reducing Unnecessary Cesarean Section Surgery” (#减少非必需剖宫产手术#) has taken off on Chinese social media.
“What do you call ‘unnecessary cesarian’?” one of the most popular comments said: “Isn’t it that so many women in labor choose to have a C-section because natural childbirth is too painful?”
Other commenters also called for a normalization of pain relief in labor, saying that the high percentage of C-sections lies in the fact that Chinese women lack access to “wútòng fēnmiǎn” (无痛分娩) or “painless birth,” meaning vaginal delivery with pain relief.
Some Weibo users also stress that women should have the freedom of choice on how they wish to give birth, saying: “C-section or natural should be my own choice” and “If you leave me no choice I might as well not give birth at all.”
Multiple commenters write: “The lower the C-section rate, the higher the suicides,” referring to an incident that occurred in Shaanxi in 2017 when a pregnant woman committed suicide by jumping from the fifth floor of the hospital after she was allegedly denied a CS delivery.
Other Chinese netizens also complain about the fact that it seems to be men who are promoting the new policies to combat the high C-section rates, writing: “Isn’t there a way to have them suffer the pain of labor instead?”
In her study, scholar Eileen Wang also argues that the lack of pain relief is one of the major issues that should be addressed by policymakers who are hoping to reduce the number of C-sections in China. Further improving the childbirth experience by, for example, integrating a midwifery model, is also essential in making natural childbirth more attractive for Chinese women, Wang argues.
For now, many hospitals in China are still offering C-section “packages”: some prices start at RMB 5800 ($840) for a C-section, other hospitals have packages that start from RMB 88,000 ($12,741) including a three-day hospital stay in a private room.
“It’s a pregnant’s woman body, so she should decide how she wants to deliver her baby,” one commenter on Weibo writes: “It should be a woman’s right to decide.”
By Manya Koetse
Biler, A., Ekin, A., Ozcan, A., Inan, A. H., Vural, T., & Toz, E. 2017. “Is It Safe to Have Multiple Repeat Cesarean Sections? A High Volume Tertiary Care Center Experience.” Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences 33(5): 1074–1079.
Black, Mairead & Sohinee Bhattacharya. 2018. “Cesarean Section in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong— A Safe Choice for Women and Clinicians?” PLOS Medicine 15(10): 1-3.
Caijing. 2019. “卫健委：全国剖宫产率为36.7% 积极推广分娩镇痛.” Caijing , May 27 http://economy.caijing.com.cn/20190527/4591594.shtml [5.31.19].
Hellerstein, Susan Celia. 2011. “Cesarean Delivery in China Analysis of Cesarean Deliveries Without Indication.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: 20s.
McNeil, Donald. 2017. “Study Finds Lower, but Still High, Rate of C-Sections in China.” New York Times, Jan 9 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/09/health/c-section-births-china.html [6.2.19].
Wang, Eileen. 2017. “Requests for Cesarean Deliveries: The Politics of Labor Pain and Pain Relief in Shanghai, China.” Social Science and Medicine (173): 1–8.
WHO. 2015. “WHO statement on caesarean section rates.” World Health Organization, April https://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/maternal_perinatal_health/cs-statement/en/ [6.2.19].
Wolf, Jacqueline H. 2018. Cesarean Section – An American History of Risk, Technology, and Consequence. Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Featured image by Sohu News.
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