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ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, November 21 Issue


The two big stories that came out of China this week were China's announced "adjustments" to its infamous one-child policy and the upcoming departure of US Ambassador Gary Locke.

Initial headlines concerning the one-child policy changes initially gave the impression that the policy was to be significantly relaxed, or perhaps even scrapped, neither of which is true. In this weeks' ZGBriefs we included a special section with links to nine different articles concerning the changes to the policy.

The Washington Post's published an article titled Six Questions on China's One-Child Policy, including a description of what is being changed:

What part of the policy is being changed?

China announced Friday that couples can have a second child if either of the parents is an only child. The change affects a limited group of only-child adults of child-bearing age, many of whom were born under the current policy.

But the rest of the policy remains in place as does the vast, powerful family-planning bureaucracy, with offices in every city, town and village, that was created to enforce the original decree. The leaders are likely changing the policy because of an aging population and a possible future labor shortage.

Gady Epstein, in the Economist's Analects blog, writes about how the changes will affect the vast government bureaucracy that enforces the policy:

But the bad guys may not be quite as bad. The loosening of the one-child policy announced on November 15th, allowing couples to have a second child if either parent is an only child, is meant to signal the beginning of a more family-friendly bureaucracy. The enforcers still have leverage, but in this respect central authorities are asking them to restrain their use of it.

But will this work?

Some years in the future, the national policy will be two children per family, says Mao Qun'an, spokesman for the National Health and Family Planning Commission (the newly named combined ministry). That will further narrow the scope for ugly abuses. The forced abortions and sterilisations, illegal under the policy but still carried out from time to time, will become much more rare, for lack of law-breakers. The enforcers will have far fewer opportunities to levy fines for violating the policy (or accept bribes to ignore violations).

Will all that be enough to break the enforcers of years' worth of habit-forming behaviour? Much will depend on how rigorously the Communist Party sets population-control targets, and how it grades and rewards its officials for enforcing them.

Writing in The New York Times, Fudan Professor (and UC Irvine Professor) Wang Feng called for the scrapping of the scrapping of the policy:

History will look back at China's one-child policy with bewilderment, even disbelief. Of all the countries in the world that faced the fear of population explosion in the latter half of the 20th century, only China went to such extremes, and for so long. Moreover, the policy was formulated and imposed on the population after China had already achieved most of its modern fertility decline, with the number of children expected for each couple more than halved between 1970 and 1979, from 5.8 to 2.7.

Then, commenting on the reaction to the policy adjustments, he writes:

The phasing-out of the one-child policy has overshadowed all the other decisions coming out of the influential twice-a-decade meeting known as the Third Plenum. The public has embraced the change with unexpected enthusiasm and good will. They see the change as a clear and irrevocable move, a break from empty promises. They see it as a regaining of personal freedoms. And they see it as a sign that the government in Beijing is finally catching up with the times. This seemingly small measure has generated enormous good will, and political capital, for China's new leadership. It will also help blunt criticisms of abuses like forced abortions and sterilizations, and of the practice of sex-selective abortions.

But China has only begun to embark on the journey to end its one-child policy. Couples in which both husband and wife have a sibling are still left out. New only-child families, in other words, are still being created. The real test for China now is how quickly it can implement the new policy change and then move on to phase out the policy completely. To squander that hard-earned political good will could be suicidal.

The Sinosphere blog (NYT) has a good overview of Ambassador Locke's tenure and the surprise announcement that he will be leaving Beijing soon:

The American ambassador to China, Gary F. Locke, the first Chinese-American to hold the post, announced Wednesday that he was stepping down to rejoin his family in Seattle.

Appointed by President Obama, Mr. Locke held the job, one of the most important and difficult American diplomatic posts, for a little more than two years, a relatively short time for a top ambassador.

Mr. Locke's early informal style drew attention even before he landed in Beijing, when he bought his own Starbucks coffee at the Seattle airport with his young daughter, creating a flurry of interest among the Chinese public.

That informality, including wearing a backpack on his inaugural trip to Beijing, may not have helped his standing among the protocol-conscious Chinese leadership, Chinese and American officials said.

The Global Times continues its interesting coverage of Christianity in China with two stories. The first, College Christians at 4 percent: Survey, reports on a survey done by a professor at People's University that indicates that 4% of university students in Beijing are Christians:

The most recent survey, conducted in 2011, was by Sun Shangyang, a professor from Peking University. Sun polled 2,000 students from 13 universities and found that 3.9 percent of the respondents said that they believed in Christianity.

"The percentage shows that the group of Christian college students is steady in the competition of all the other religions on campus," Wei Dedong, a vice dean of the School of Philosophy at the Renmin University of China, who wrote the article for China Ethnic News, told the Global Times on Thursday.

"The percentage is relatively low, which, from another perspective, could demonstrate how strong an influence traditional Chinese culture has cast on students," said Wei.

According to Yang's study, the percentage of Christian students varied with the subjects the students mostly studied. Those whose core subjects included the arts, sports or social studies were more inclined to be drawn to Christianity.

As to why Chinese university students become Christians, the journalist writes,

Another question Yang's research answered was on the role of media in awakening students' interest to learn about Christianity.

Yang found that those who were introduced to the religion by families or friends were more likely to become Christians while those who first learned about the religion from books, movies or Internet were likely to remain non-believers.

"Reading and watching movies are more passive compared with interacting with one's friends and relatives, which explains why friends or family of Christians have a higher possibility to become Christians themselves," Wei said, adding religion classes offer students a perspective more academic and objective.

The second article, The Bible Business, is about the history and growth of Bible publishing in China:

According to official figures, China had more than 25 million Protestants and 6 million Catholics by 2012, and this doesn't even include the large number of believers who prefer to attend unofficial, underground churches rather than those sanctioned by the government.

To meet the spiritual needs of the rapidly growing number of Christians, China printed more than 105 million Bibles from 1987 to 2012, of which 60 percent were distributed to churches inside the country and 40 percent were delivered overseas.

In this factory, employees operate machines round the clock for three shifts a day. Its warehouse stores millions of different versions of the Bible which are ready to be delivered worldwide at any time. The special King James Version which was used for Prince William's wedding in 2011 was made here.

China, the world's biggest atheist country, has now become the world's largest Bible-printing state.

The author then talks about the distribution challenges in China, and references a US-based ministry that is trying to meet the needs, particularly of rural Christians:

Although there are no restrictions on individuals buying Bibles in China, they cannot be found in public bookstores outside of official churches, making it difficult for people who are not Christians or don't go to official churches to get them.

"As a matter of fact, some Christians from rural areas may still not be able to afford a Bible of their own or lack access to them," Eugene Wood, President of Word 4 Asia, a US-based consulting organization, told the Global Times.

In China, it is illegal to print the Bible privately, and cases of businessmen being punished for doing so have appeared in the media from time to time. Some foreigners and organizations like Wood's try to make up the Bible deficit in their own way.

"We would raise money in America and purchase Bibles from Chinese Christian authorities through legal means and then distribute them to people in rural areas in person," Wood said.

Wood's organization has been distributing Bibles in rural areas of China by purchasing them from the China Christian Council in Jiangsu Province since 1998.

Image credit: Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is senior vice president of ChinaSource and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University... View Full Bio