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China’s one-child policy

The Story

At 1.1 billion and counting, China has more people than any nation on earth. To fight the threat of economic ruin due to overpopulation, the Chinese government introduced its one-child policy in 1979. Each married couple is permitted just one baby, though rural residents are allowed a second if the first is a girl. But, as the CBC's Tom Kennedy learns nine years into the policy, three-quarters of Chinese couples aren't stopping at one.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Nov. 25, 1988
Guest(s): Aprodicio Laquian, Hong Qui Li
Host: Knowlton Nash
Reporter: Tom Kennedy
Duration: 2:56

Did You know?

• In 1979, when the one-child policy was introduced, the population of China was just under one billion. 

• According to a 1980 article in the Globe and Mail, one of the aims of the policy was to achieve zero population growth by 2000. 

• An estimated five million couples of child-bearing age signed pledges that they would have no more than one child. But the number represented only 30 per cent of such couples.

• The government projected in 1980 that the population would reach 1.2 billion in 2000, with the one-child policy. (It reached that number earlier than projected - in 1993.) 

• In 1984 the fertility rate in China was 2.3 births per woman. The government hoped the one-child policy would bring the number down to 1.7, which is where it stood as of 2005. 

• By comparison, Canada's fertility rate was 1.6 births per woman in 2005.

• To discourage children, the Chinese government forced couples to delay marriage. Those who had only one child received "one-child certificates" that entitled them to better child care, better housing, longer maternity leave and other benefits. 

• Punitive measures were introduced for urban couples who flouted the policy. Their salaries were reduced by 15 per cent until the child reached age 7.

• To help enforce the rule, China hired over one million part-time and full-time workers to ensure women used birth control and to encourage - some say force - abortions. 

• Women could also face a fine for becoming pregnant without first asking for permission. Anesthetic was not administered to women giving birth: "That way, you wouldn't even think about coming back twice," wrote Canadian reporter Jan Wong in her book Jan Wong's China.

• In traditional Chinese culture, sons are responsible for the care of their aged parents. Daughters leave the family upon marriage to live with and care for their husbands' families. Therefore, boys are often viewed as an investment for the future. In rural families, boys are also considered more valuable as extra labour on the farm. 

• China's sex ratio at birth in 2005 was 112 boys to every 100 girls. In Canada, the ratio is 105 to 100.

• In January 2005, China outlawed the practice of selective abortion. Many Chinese couples were using ultrasound to determine the sex of a fetus, then aborting if the results showed they were expecting a girl. 

• The government also took measures to support one-girl families, such as eliminating school fees and giving those families privileges in housing and employment.

• One of the unintended consequences of the one-child policy was a generation of "little emperors" - only children with two parents, four grandparents and no competition for their affection. "Many are showing distressingly little sense of family obligation," reported Time Canada in 2001. "In a once unthinkable breach of Confucian tradition, many are even refusing to care for their elders." 

• In a further relaxation of the one-child policy, if two "onlies" get married, they are permitted two children.

• In January 2005, China marked the birth of Zhang Yichi, who officially brought the population to 1.3 billion. 

• According to the Chinese government, the population would have reached 1.5 billion in 2005 if not for the one-child policy. 

• India is the world's second most populous nation, with 1.08 billion people. Its population growth rate is more than twice that of China.



Revolution and Evolution in Modern China more