China’s New Two-Child Policy

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:

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Image credit: Population control: restrain within 1.2 billion by kattebelletje via Flickr.