China’s one child policy – 30 years on
September 25, 2010

From today, any Chinese under the age of 30 is a single child, responsible for caring for two parents and four grandparents, raised to be the apple of their parents eyes and expected to excel beyond their wildest dreams. Programmed under the controversial population control policy that restricts parents from having more than one progeny Chinese parents have been part of one of the largest socio-economic experiments worldwide.

Its been 30 years since the Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping proclaimed the one child policy on 25th September 1980, following alarm amongst economists about a lack of resources and an uncontrollable population rise. The policy was then described as a “last resort” to ensure enough resources – food, clothing, housing, transportation, education, health, jobs – per person. Couples were limited to one child only, except some ethnic minorities and couples with “persistent problems. Influential missile scientist Song Jian then wrote: “Without a one-child policy … people will have nothing to eat and nothing to drink! There will be so many Chinese that all the roads will be covered with people! However at the time, the policy was meant to be temporary: “Within 30 years, the present tense population growth issue can be relieved. Then, a different population policy can be applied.”

However, while China’s one child policy has been successful in stemming the population and controlling resource utilization, the socio-economic implications have transformed mandarin society. In prohibiting couples from having a second child regardless of economic stature, education, or geography, demographers expect China to get old before it gets rich, marketers have to re-learn how to sell to little emperors, educational institutions are learning to deal with over-zealous parents, sociologists are studying people so consumed with themselves that they can’t settled down with a mate, and industry is dealing with single people at the peak of their productivity levels.

What fears demographers and sociologists the most is that going forward, China is looking at a population decline and a rise in the dependency ratio. A higher dependency ratio creates an added burden on the social security plans of a government. While communist, China’s iron rice bowl provided cradle to grave social security for its people, the system was dismantled 20 years ago, now China’s pension system can only hope to cope with the growth of its elderly. In order to support a rapidly aging population, consumer force and subsequent productivity levels, Beijing will need to implement drastic socio-economic policies to support its people and industry.

Additionally, as materialistic China gets hungrier and is lured into the cauldron of consumerism, the number of parents that want to have more than one child is rising. A growing urban workforce that is increasingly exposed to western media, wants to have more kids, yet Chinese officials stick to the claim that the one child policy will not be abolished for at least another decade, even as the policy implemented in 1980, stated a “different,” relaxed policy within 30 years. Until then only ethnic minorities, farmers whose first child is a girl and couples where both are only children are allowed to have two children.

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