Roll up those taxi windows, drag your bags through security… this only comes every ten years. Beijing’s bitter wind welcomed 2270 delegates yesterday to shine their shoes and take their seats in a room booked for the “18th National Congress”. While the U.S. lets out its breath to enjoy another four years under Obama’s leadership, China prepares itself for a new president and premier (7 of the 9 current Politburo Standing Committee members are retiring this year). Xi Jinping, the likely candidate to replace President Hu Jintao, emphasized four main questions to be addressed at this year’s conference, namely: What flag will we wave? What path will we follow? And in what state of mind? To continue advancing towards what kind of goals? (我们党将举什么旗、走什么路、以什么样的精神状态、朝着什么样的目标继续前进) Specific, I know. Citizens wait eagerly to see what solutions the committee generates for problems like insufficient health care, inflated real estate, and the growing gap between the rich and poor. As news stations flash snippets of animated discussions over round mahogany tables, the mysterious lure of the national government grows in the eyes of the people. Local and provincial governments may be corrupt or unfair, but loyalty towards the national government is a tradition that stretches back thousands of years, born from the people’s innocent dependency and undying hope in a power that remains faceless. Just as religion presses followers to have faith in what they cannot see, a government too can round up millions of supporters if only by providing a mirage of hope.
A child stands hand-in-hand with his grandmother, gazing up at a sky of paper dragons rippling with the wind. He, like most youth in China, is an only-child, who not only receives the full attention of his mother and father, but also enjoys frequent showers of affection from two sets of grandparents. It’s not uncommon to meet someone with this kind of background ever since the infamous “one-child policy” was enacted decades ago in an effort to curb population growth. With 1.35 billion people and counting, China has left its government with no other choice but to set a limit on the number of children per family. As anyone who spent 10 hours in traffic during this month’s week-long holiday will confirm, the phrases “人山人海” (people everywhere) “拥挤不堪” (extremely crowded) and “挤死了” (crowded to death) have yet to reach retirement status.
Still, a more interesting side of the population problem is best explored by asking why so many citizens don’t support the one-child policy— other than the fact that they can’t have two kids, of course. For some, one page of simple math equations is all it takes to prove that the policy is unnecessary and even counterproductive. The following article “人口政策应及时调整” (The Population Policy Should Be Adjusted Immediately) from 南方周末 (yes, I have a thing for this magazine) takes readers through calculations step by step to predict China’s future population growth. According to the article, the percentage of people not having children has risen from 3% to 12.5% today— only a few percentage points away from the 15-20% that characterizes developed countries. In theory, a family in a developed country would need to have around two children in order to maintain an ideal rate of generation-replacement. But due to miscarriages and gender discrimination, the real number is closer to 2.1. For China, the number of births per family should ideally hover around 2.3. However, since China’s gender discrimination at birth is so extreme that for every 100 girls born, there are almost 120 boys born, the real number of children each family should have in order to ensure ideal population growth and economic development for the country is closer to three. Kind of far away from one, no?
The article continues with a detailed look into the discrepancies between the real population size and the national census report, but I found the slew of heated comments that followed to be more noteworthy. My favorite was posted by a reader whose user name is “看守地球”, or “guard the earth”, which read:
Translated: “While so-called ‘experts’ consider cold population numbers, I think about these kinds of questions:
1) The one-child policy does not improve the quality of the population— those with an education will have less kids, while those without an education will have more (regardless of the policy).
2) The pressure that only-children bring to families goes without saying, and the blow that comes to families who lose an only-child is hard for the average person to imagine.
3) People, in addition to consuming, also create.
It’s likely that the policy will be adjusted again within the next five years— in fact, it’s already loosened up significantly. For example, if a husband and wife married today are both only-children, they may have more than one child. In addition, minority groups (there are over 55 minority groups in China) have always been allowed to bear multiple children in an effort to protect their national heritage.
I’m interested to hear the opinions and/or questions from all you readers out there, so leave a word or two if you have time!🙂