Rumors were swirling all last week that the Chinese government would announce a major relaxation of the 35-year-old “one-child policy.” Sure enough, on Thursday, October 29, it happened.
At the end of Party meetings in Beijing, it was announced that China’s couples (both rural and urban) would be allowed to have two children instead of just one. Of course, the National People’s Congress (China’s legislature) must “approve” the changes, but that body is not in the habit of rejecting Party proposals.
While this news is widely welcomed, both inside and outside of China, it’s important not to overstate the significance, or mischaracterize what is happening. Most headlines have been along the lines of “China Scraps One-Child Policy,” leaving the impression that the government has decided not to interfere in the matter of how many children a couple can have. That is not the case. There has been no change of heart as to the nature of the relationship between the citizen and the state.
A more accurate headline would be “China Adopts Two-Child Policy.” Instead of saying “you may only have one child,” it is now saying “you may only have two children.” In other words, the state still mandates the number of children and the bureaucratic mechanisms of enforcement remain in place.
The decision is based on demographics. China's population is aging rapidly, with fewer workers to support them, and the government needed to do something to address that. This relaxation of the policy is a first step.
Will it work? Only time will tell. Ameliorating the social effects of this 35-year policy will likely take a very long time, and may require even further adjustments to the policy.
Here’s a brief round up of some of the reporting and commentary on the announcement:
- Here is the official announcement (in English) from Xinhua, China’s official news agency.
- The New York Times conducted some quick “person on the street” interviews in Beijing to gauge local reaction.
- Reason magazine suggests that, even though the change is welcome, it comes too late for China to avoid demographic implosion.
- The folks at What’s on Weibo echo that sentiment, and highlight some reaction to the news on Weibo.
- The Guardian presents four helpful graphs that explain the impact of the policy on Chinese society and its economy.
- TIME magazine provides a helpful reminder of how/why the policy was enacted in the first place.
- The BBC reports on how Chinese are reacting to the news online.
- The Guardian reports on the concern, particularly among urbanites, that raising children is too expensive and too much trouble.
- The BBC highlights five numbers that sum up China’s one-child policy.
- Finally, the Washington Post has an excellent piece on the deep scars being left in Chinese society by the policy.