China Paper – China One Child Policy
The One Child Policy was instituted in 1980 by Deng Xiaoping to prevent what Deng believed would be an impediment to China’s economic development and modernization: population growth. This Policy had been debated at least since 1920, when fears of unchecked population growth led a considerable number of Chinese intellectuals to advocate Western-style birth control and family planning measures.
Deng Xiaoping became the paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China in 1978 after the death of Mao Zedong in 1975. Mao promoted population growth in China largely out of the belief that having a large population was critical for national strength and defense. Deng took the opposite approach and, being convinced by scientific-minded advisors from the West and China itself that China was experiencing runaway population growth, put the One Child Policy in place in 1980.
The policy was tweaked and adjusted over the years to allow for many exceptions, allowing ethnic minorities, rural-dwellers and others to have more children. It was ended in 2015. In retrospect, it has won both praise and criticism from many within China and throughout the world. Those who champion it credit it for having prevented an estimated 400 million extra births which, in their view, would have hampered China’s rapid economic development. They claim that it was necessary despite the suffering it caused during its 35-year lifespan.
However, the One Child Policy has many critics who claim that the Policy was too strict, and that the undesirable outcomes resulting from the Policy have created long-term problems for China. First, the Policy was responsible for the emergence of a sizeable disparity between males and females that has left some 30 million men in China without prospects of finding a spouse.
Second, the shrinking family size has resulted in the “4-2-1” family structure, 4 grandparents, 2 parents and 1 child. This has made caring for the elderly an increasingly difficult task. The policy has also caused China’s labor force to shrink, which will contribute to slowing China’s economic growth. Economic problems aside, the shrinking family size due to the Policy has given rise to social and psychological issues. A phenomenon dubbed “little emperor syndrome” has arisen due to children being treated as the center of the family. The children often suffer from loneliness.
Third, the One Child Policy’s implementation involved many human rights abuses, some very serious. And last, the iconoclastic treatment of Chinese traditions of filial piety and positive sentiments towards childbirth by the proponents and architects of the policy has created a contentious issue between the government and the many Chinese who still value and adhere to these traditions, and as a result wish to have larger families.
In 2015, the government removed all remaining one-child limits, and in July 2021, all limits were removed.