One child, two child, three child four

Well, it’s all (the 3rd Plenum) happening isn’t it. Chinese people can now have more than one child. This monumental change in policy is perfectly timed to coincide with my arrival in China – this may or may not be a coincidence. Perhaps I am a force of liberty and stabilisation. To begin with, though, it was never a blanket policy. Families could always have more than one child, of course, but they’d have to pay a fine at each birth. Naturally, families in rural areas are allowed two children if the firstborn was – shock – a girl. In super rural areas farming families are allowed to have more children simply to work the land. The policy has been changed over the years in response to the freak social problems it spawned, and in 2007, it was made so that if both parents are the only-child, they can have two kids. These latest changes now mean that only one parent has to be an only-child for them to have two kids.

This change sounds like a big deal. In the West we’re pretty far removed from the reality of China, and so we put things like the One Child policy into little ideological bubbles and scrutinise from outside. It strips people of the one basic and fundamental human right – the freedom to create and determine one’s family. Making changes to this policy is therefore sure to gain a few brownie points in the West.

And what will the Chinese people do with their newfound freedom? Actually, not a lot, if my in-depth investigations conducted on a Tuesday evening at English Corner are to be believed. English Corner is where the die-hard Anglophones at the uni go to talk in English. Usually around 40 students, and a couple of middle aged men who no-one is quite sure where they’re from. But we get into lively discussions about all sorts, and this week we ended up talking about the One Child policy. It turns out that, although the legal restrictions have been lifted, the social and financial ones remain as tightly locked as ever before. Most people can’t afford to raise more than one child. In the UK, every child you have is a stretch on resources, but we usually wouldn’t let the prospect of not being able to afford the little darlings’ riding lessons, piano lessons and ballet class stop us from having more than one child. For some, the One-Child policy has bread a new attitude. Every single penny the parents have is ploughed into shaping their one child into the perfect model of humanity. Money buys accomplished children, educated children, designer clad children. Think Chinese Dragon Mums type C4 documentary – parents want their child to be at the absolute top of their game, and when you think about how stiff the competition for schools and jobs is, it’s no wonder. The pressure these kids are under is colossal. A Chinese friend told me yesterday that her parents no longer speak to her, because she didn’t become an academician, as was expected of her. They feel that she’s squandered her opportunities and wasted her life (she’s 22), because she wants to become a graphic designer. Rather than the perfectly pruned career pathway they were expecting, she’s wandered off the beaten path and followed her own heart.

Children of the One Child policy grew up alone, and will one day have to work out how to support their parents and their grandparents, alone. So getting a good job is pretty important, and this is why parents spend so much money on their child, in school and outside of school too. The weight of expectation upon children of the One Child is heavy. To have two kids is to effectively halve the opportunities you can provide for your child – halve their chances at life. It’s turned into the ultimate rat race, and it’ll take a little more than a piece of paper to change people’s mindsets when there are more than one billion Jones’s to keep up with.

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2 thoughts on “One child, two child, three child four

  1. That is fascinating, Heather. The pressure on the whole family must be terrific, the worries immense.
    My approach was to have a few kids and hope they don’t all turn out to be duffers. Still hoping…

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