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One Child Policy in China
China’s present position as a dominant world player in all aspects of global affairs may be deemed by many to imply that its unique one child policy proved successful. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping set forth an ambitious vision that targeted a quadrupled per capita nation’s income by the turn of the new millennium (Feng, Cai, & Gu, 2013). Policy planners observed that such a goal required drastic population control measures. Without controlling its population’s growth, it would essentially be impossible to meet the year 2000 objective. There was the urgent need to ensure that the growing economic pie was shared by fewer people. However, there were numerous ethnological problems that resulted from its effective implementation. As Fong (2015) provides, it was a socioeconomic challenge that was inappropriately overcome with scientific thinking which failed to ascribe any humanistic ideals. The female gender in the country was most affected since the policy perceived them as production functions.
Indeed, the 1980’s saw many other countries like India look to population control to secure future economic prosperity(Feng, Cai, & Gu, 2013). In 1983, the UN conferred the population award to China’s population planning minister (Feng, Cai, & Gu, 2013). This was despite information that it was a particularly callous policy. The communist bureaucratic machinery was overly effective in the manner it ensured one child per family (Settles, Sheng, Zang, & Zhao, 2013). As a labor intensive economy, many of the Chinese women worked among the numerous large collective entities that mass produced goods at uncharacteristic low costs. It was common to find female workers suffer greatly in instances where one got a second pregnancy. Women’s bodies were forcibly violated in pursuit of the country’s policy which the UN recognized as worthy of an award (Fong, 2015).
Rural China witnessed significant population increases that Mao Zedong did not approve off. According to Wang, Yang, Zhang, and Chang (2016), the Great Famine that lasted from 1958 to 1961 played a significant role in the Communist Party’s decision towards an authoritarian family control methodology. It was a period which saw the Chinese population fall by an astounding 30 million persons (Whyte, Feng, & Cai, 2015). At this time, couples generally made independent decision on family size relative to cultural traditions. To compensate against the unprecedented demise of family members to the famine, families tended to bear more children after the famine ended. By 1965, the fertility rate of Chinese women stood at 6.2 children (Wang et al. 2016).
The Cultural Revolution also exhibited a blatant reality to the leadership that succeeded Mao. Clearly, it was impossible for the political elite to base policies on anything else other than economic growth (Liu, 2013). The mentality adopted by planners simply failed to value its people as human beings but rather, as a numerical figure which needed planning and strict regulation. Those who got more than two children were severely punished. Other than negatively affecting women, it also served to corrupt conventional kinship structures common in Chinese society (Settles et al., 2013). Within the family units and by extension, the community, violent abuses against wives and mothers increased. Women were degraded to a great extent where even selective sex abortion became identified as a norm (Johnson, 2016). Natural reproductive freedoms consistent with mankind and by extension, the family, were intruded upon implying infringements on fundamental human rights.
The policy though now on its deathbed, was perceived by critics as positive given that it contained population growth from a global perspective. According to Liu (2013), some scholars have pointed to a positive correlation in family size with quality of life while others negate it. The quality-quantity trade off under the one child policy is dependent on numerous factors. In rural China, some communities and ethnic minorities were granted the opportunity to bear a second child especially if the initial one was born a girl. Countries with a relatively ineffective education system tend to require parents to invest more on human capital. In the Chinese context, relaxation of policy implementation in 1984 made it possible for some provincial administrators to allow families to get a second child (Johnson, 2016). The unfortunate truth about it was that girls ended up having less social value in comparison to boys. Liu (2013) posits that in many cases parents favored boys to the extent that if the family was unable to ensure sufficient nutrition for all members, that there was the tendency to meet the male child’s needs first. The outcome was men in the society tending towards increased incomes in comparison to that of women. Proponents of the policy ignored such facts and instead highlighted that as bearing a modest impact on the amassing of human capital desired for economic growth.
Qin, Zhuang and Yang (2017) published a report that also employed the quality-quantity trade-off theory to determine that the OCP generally improved its population’s living standards. From a historical standpoint, 1949 marked the starting points of an inclination among the Chinese leadership towards strict family planning. Indeed, the one child policy was formulated through a sustained approach (Qin, Zhuang & Yang, 2017). From 1949 to 1961, the concept was introduced into the Chinese public domain thereby triggering nationwide debate and global attention. From 1962 to 1978, the Communist regime began experimenting with birth control policies through family planning agencies that progressively overcame diverse twists and turns (Qin, Zhuang & Yang, 2017). From 1979-1991, the one child policy was implemented as a pivotal Chinese national policy. The eight years from 1992 to 2000 represented the fourth stage of China’s evolving population control endeavor (Qin, Zhuang & Yang, 2017). This was a time when the OCP not only stabilized but was also standardized as the burdens of population growth attained effective management status at face value.
From 2001 to 2012, the country’s fertility rate remained within the policy’s acceptable levels though some of its negative outcomes started becoming disturbingly vivid (Johnson, 2016). From 2013 to present, the challenges associated with the radical policy compelled China’s leadership to rethink the OCP given that its population began riling due to an increasing aging demographic statistic (Whyte, Feng, & Cai, 2015). The government opted to ease on family size control measures by propositioning a policy referred to as one couple, double children. In 2015, it was introduced as the two child policy (Johnson, 2016). For many critics of the original policy, especially those against its draconian levels of ruthlessness, backing away from it underscores its inherent failures. The general Chinese population therefore aged before they experienced the promise of a quadrupled income per capita growth rate.
Wang et al. (2016), underscores that Chinese culture favored high fertility rates. Families were at pains accepting the idea of birth control let alone family planning. To many, it was a notion imported from the west and strongly imposed on them. China’s intellectual elite was essentially awed by the essence of liberty, democracy, and science as projected by the west. The Western Enlightenment maxims and rational population management techniques became points of lengthy debate. Pioneering Chinese Marxists exhibited little concern on the issue of birth control given that they desired large populations to counter any external aggression (Wang et al., 2016). Women were considered critical to the envisioned quest for a social and economic transformation in the country. To the Marxists, China’s large geographical areas simply required socialism to activate high productivity that would sustain its populations without any problems.
Over the 35 year period to 2015, the Chinese people especially women bore the brunt of a policy purely founded on scientific discourse (Wang et al., 2016). The feminine gender underwent a myriad of coercive measures which essentially translate to human rights violations. These included mandatory abortions, sterilizations, insertion of intrauterine devices, imprisonment, and criminalizing births for mothers below 23 years (Wang et al., 2016). Women often fled home provinces to give birth in other regions for fear of losing the pregnancies before term. Such an individual once caught was quickly confined in prison. This not only attracted international condemnation but also that of central government in the country. 1984 saw the country’s leadership come out strongly to admonish such actions as destruction of houses, confiscation of livestock, stored grain, closure of businesses, and punishment of entire communities with punitive fines for a failure to duly report births (Wang et al., 2016).
The extent with which the female gender was affected by the one child policy is in many cases ignored. Wang et al. (2016) notes that forced abortions and sterilization presented disastrous effects on women’s physical health and by extension, mental well-being. Away from the urban centers, women in rural regions felt helpless relative to their womanhood. The outcome was a soar in suicide rate in such areas to the extent that it stood at a rate of 66% above that registered among men within the same geographical setting (Wang et al., 2016). This is a shocking statistical representation since in most societies; men tend to be more susceptible to suicide in comparison to the opposite gender. In the 1990’s, approximately 56% of global deaths by suicide among women were from China (Wang et al., 2016). The one child policy was undoubtedly a significant factor in the loss of lives among so many of China’s women denied the right to carry out a natural and essential purpose of their being. This is without considering the lives lost through forcible abortions.
The one child policy elevated national economic prosperity above all else. It sacrificed longer term gains in search for short sighted benefits that completely ignored personal rights and welfare. The country’s younger generation born in 80’s and 90’s are indeed equipped with greater human capital in comparison to earlier generations. They are of critical political, social and economic importance, are highly mobile, and are able to capitalize on technology to project power and a common voice. In the 60’s and 70’s, the Cultural Revolution exposed the ills of policies that fail to look at the possibility of humanistic challenges during implementation phases. A swift collectivization of lands from agricultural production to industrialization resulted in a manmade famine. The one child policy’s unprecedented outcomes remain mind boggling. Though these were quickly remedied in 1984, the stresses imposed on the feminine gender continued to reflect in the seemingly unreal suicide rates. The country though quite progressive at present, will continue grappling with consequences of the OCP. Treating a population problem with an inhumane and scientific approach was wrong from so many dimensions. Sex ratio imbalances; the violation of human rights especially that of women; challenges in elderly care; degradation of cultural values; and endangering political stability are simply salient problems.
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Fong, M. (2015). One child: The most of China’s most radical experiment. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. (Feng, Cai, & Gu, 2013)
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