Thirty years of Chinas one-child policyWhen China introduced its drastic population controls, officials promised that it wouldlift them after 30 years - an anniversary which falls this weekend. Malcolm Moore talksto families about what the one-child policy has meant to them.Yang Zhizhu with his two daughters 3-year-old Yang Ruoyi and 9-month-old Yang Ruonan.By Malcolm Moore in Shanghai 6:00PM BST 25 Sep 2010CommentsYang Zhizhu knew the dire consequences of breaking Chinas one-child policy. He would bestripped of his professorship at a Beijing university and hit with such a large fine that his family wouldbe destitute.But when he found out that his wife, Chen Hong, was pregnant for the second time aged 38, theydecided they could not let the opportunity pass."We never planned this, but despite the problems we knew it would cause, we were over the moon,"he said. "How much longer can the one-child policy last, anyway?"RELATED ARTICLESWhen China introduced its drastic population controls, officials promised that it would lift them after30 years - an anniversary which falls this weekend. Aware of the resentment the policy would cause,the government said it was a temporary measure in response to Chinas high unemployment andfood scarcity."In 30 years, when our current extreme population growth eases, we can then adopt a differentpopulation policy," read the announcement from the Communist Party Central Committee.But today, the one-child policy remains firmly in place and government officials cannot shake theidea that it has played an important role in Chinas economic miracle.With only one child to care for, parents have been able to save more money, enabling banks tomake the loans that have funded Chinas huge investments in infrastructure.Meanwhile, officials claim the policy has conserved food and energy and allowed each child bettereducation and healthcare."We will continue the one-child policy until at least 2015," said the National Family PlanningCommission earlier this year.In his home in Beijing, Mr Yang, 44, remains delighted at Yang Ruonan, his six-month-old baby girl,and defiant over his decision. Outwardly bubbly, he said former students were helping him and hiswife financially to care for his two daughters, the older of whom, Yang Ruoyi, is now three.Not all offenders against the one-child policy are so fortunate. Many of Chinas 11 million abortionseach year are forced on unwilling mothers by family planning officials.Nevertheless, Mr Yang lives under the shadow of the Chinese law. At the beginning of the month, acurt notice from the Beijing family planning department informed him that a fine of 220,600 yuan(£22,000) would, at some point, be "forcibly collected".
Earlier this year, officials visited the head of the China Youth University of Political Science, whereMr Yang taught law, and persuaded the college to fire him.The university continues to pay him a stipend, but at 360 yuan (£36) a month, it is not a living wage."My wife and I manage to get by. She is not working, but I have some savings and I do some part-time legal work," he said.Unable to pay the fine, Mr Yang chose to protest, parading himself in Beijing with a sign offering tobecome a slave if a donor would pay 640,000 yuan to clear his debt and set his family up. "It wasmore of a protest than a serious offer, but I would still consider it if someone came forward," he said.The fine is known as a "social upbringing fee" and is designed to cover the cost to the state of asecond child. But Mr Yang says he has no reason to pay. "We feed our own children, our seconddaughter is not even registered. Without that she has no rights."He added: "The only reason the one-child policy is still so popular is that more than a milliongovernment officials now work directly or indirectly for the population control department. They arenot going to take away their own bread."The government believes the policy has prevented 400 million births, which would otherwise havestretched the resources of China, and the world, to breaking point.Critics, however, say it has created a rapidly ageing society, with each only child having to care fortwo parents and four grandparents. In 2009, almost 13 per cent of Chinas population was over 60and the share is growing rapidly. Meanwhile, a preference in Chinese families for boys over girls hascreated a surplus of 24 million men who will not be able to find a wife to marry."Everyone has blindly accepted the fact that population control has helped Chinas economy, but ithas never been proven," said Liang Zhongtang, 62, a former member of the expert committee of theNational Family Planning department."In fact, by 2030, no matter what policy China adopts the population will start to shrink. And I havenever seen a country with a shrinking population and sound economic development. Westerncountries may have shrinking populations, but they have immigrants to make up their labour force.China does not have large immigration, so aiming for a zero or negative birth rate is very risky."Professor Liang said population growth had been the scapegoat for unemployment and foodshortages at a time when the Communist party could not blame the disastrous reign of ChairmanMao.Not everyone is bound by it even now: in the countryside, parents are allowed to try for a secondchild if their first is a girl. Even so, it still causes severe bitterness, with many refusing to pay theirfines and fighting bitterly against compulsory abortions. In the cities, a generation of lonely childrenhas been burdened by the pressure of having to live up to their parents expectations, and by theworry of eventually having to bear the financial burden of caring for them.
Wang Yuanyuan, an accountant at Carrefour who was born in the first year of the one-child policy,said being an only child had blighted her life. "My parents were obsessed with me, I was smotheredat home and they tried to interfere with my life all the time," she said. "I had to end my firstrelationship because the boy was three years older and my parents said it was unlucky."Then she had to reject a good job offer that meant moving away. "My mum and dad both cried allday and begged me not to leave. Im angry they ruined that chance for me."Across China, there are proposals to loosen slightly the rules next year, to allow couples to have twochildren if one of them is an only child.But Hu Angang, 57, a director of China Studies at Tsinghua University, said it was now time for thegovernment to remove the policy altogether."I proposed at the end of last year a two child policy, and while the government has not adopted myproposal, senior officials have stopped praising the one-child policy," he said. "The challenge is nowto avoid a hard landing."