At Chinas Third Plenum of the 18th Party Congress held in November, President Xi Jinping announced the long-awaited reversal of Chinas coercive one-child policythis move could add between 5 million and 10 million babies a year (or 25-50 million in five years). Is the shift to hum do, hamare do a case of better late than never?
Thirty years ago Judith Banister, the author of the influential Chinas Changing Population wrote, Chinese government is not so wise that it can be depended upon to make all the right economic and demographic choices Perhaps there is an element of truth in this. While the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has hitched its survival and legitimacy to economic growth, its demographic choices have been less than laudatory. Believing that fewer people would lead to faster wealth, Chinas stringent one-child policy (not applicable with respect to ethnic minoritiesUyghurs, Mongols, Tibetans etcand in certain poverty stricken rural areas) prevented 400 million births or so claimed by the CCP between 1979 and 2011. But this came at great social costsincluding pushing limits of human experimentation. As Banister noted, human trials came before animal trials and informed consent appears largely unknown.
Chinas economic transition has changed the societal landscape so dramatically that fertility has been declining, halving from 5.8 to 2.7 between 1970 and 1979. Today, the average number of children a couple produces has declined to 1.5 and in cities such as Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin has fallen below 1.00, below the replacement level of 2.1coaxed by ready availability of birth-control techniques and pinched by stress, rising costs of living, housing, increasing costs of primary school education and medical costs.
Chinas social cheer is turning tricklethe feted little emperors herald a society that is increasingly atomistic and individualistic. Cases of parental neglect that were unheard of in a society that values filial piety are, sadly, quite commonplace. For example, the recent case of a 94-year-old woman suing her children for neglect made headlines.
On the other hand, many young Chinese moan about being the new sandwiched classthe 4:2:1 or the six-pocket syndrome playing backwards (four grandparents, two parents and one child configuration). The little emperor now stands sandwiched between ageing parents and the demands of the nuclear familyhis own young child. Today China is witnessing the rising phenomenon of sheng nu and sheng nan, the so-called leftover women and leftover men unable to marry as they are unable to find