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"For a prosperous, powerful nation and a happy family, please use birth planning."
Government sign in Nanchang.
The one-child policy ( ; literally "policy of birth planning") is the population control policy of the People's Republic of Chinamarker (PRC). The Chinese government refers to it under the official translation of family planning policy. It officially restricts the number of children married urban couples can have to one, although it allows exemptions for several cases, including rural couples, ethnic minorities, and parents without any siblings themselves. A spokesperson of the Committee on the One-Child Policy has said that approximately 35.9% of China's population is currently subject to the one-child restriction. The policy does not apply to the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kongmarker and Macaumarker, or Tibet.

The Chinese government introduced the policy in 1979 to alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China, and authorities claim that the policy has prevented more than 250 million births from its implementation to 2000. The policy is controversial both within and outside China because of the manner in which the policy has been implemented, and because of concerns about negative economic and social consequences. The policy has been implicated in an increase in forced abortions and female infanticide, and has been suggested as a possible cause behind China's gender imbalance. Nonetheless, a 2008 survey undertaken by the Pew Research Center showed that over 76% of the Chinese population supports the policy.

The policy is enforced at the provincial level through fines that are imposed based on the income of the family and other factors. Population and Family Planning Commissions ( ) exist at every level of government to raise awareness about the issue and carry out registration and inspection work. Despite this policy, there are still many citizens that continue to have more than one child.

China's National Population and Family Planning Commission has said that the policy will remain in place for at least another decade.


The one-child policy promotes couples having only one child in rural and urban areas. Parents with multiple births aren’t given the same benefits as parents of one child. Many times the parents have to pay money to the government in order to get permission to have another child

Current status

The limit has been strongly enforced in urban areas, but the actual implementation varies from location to location. In most rural areas, families are allowed to apply to have a second child if the first is a girl, or has a physical disability, mental illness or mental retardation. Second children are subject to birth spacing (usually 3 or 4 years). Additional children will result in large fines: families violating the policy are required to pay monetary penalties and might be denied bonuses at their workplace. Children born in overseas countries are not counted under the policy if they do not obtain Chinese citizenship. Chinese citizens returning from abroad can have a second child.

The social fostering or maintenance fee ( ) sometimes called in the West a family planning fine, is collected as a multiple of either the annual disposable income of city dwellers or the annual cash income of peasants as determined each year by the local statistics office. The fine for a child born above the birth quota that year is thus a multiple of, depending upon the locality, either urban resident disposable income or peasant cash income estimated that year by the local statistics. So a fine for a child born ten years ago is based on the income estimate for the year of the child's birth and not of the current year. They also have to pay for both the children to go to school and all the family's health care. Some children who are in one-child families pay less than the children in other families. The one child policy was designed from the outset to be a one generation policy.

The one-child policy is now enforced at the provincial level, and enforcement varies; some provinces have relaxed the restrictions. Many provinces and cities, such as Henanmarker and Beijing permit two "only child" parents to have two children. As early as 1987, official policy granted local officials the flexibility to make exceptions and allow second children in the case of "practical difficulties" (such as cases in which the father is a disabled serviceman) or when both parents are single children, and some provinces had other exemptions worked into their policies as well. Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquakemarker, a new exception to the regulations was announced in Sichuan provincemarker for parents who had lost children in the earthquake. Similar exceptions have previously been made for parents of severely disabled or deceased children.

Moreover, in accordance with PRC's affirmative action policies towards ethnic minorities, all non-Han ethnic groups are subjected to different rules and are usually allowed to have two children in urban areas, and three or four in rural areas. Han Chinese living in rural areas, also, are often permitted to have two children. Because of couples such as these, as well as urban couples who simply pay a fine (or "social maintenance fee") to have more children, the overall fertility rate of mainland China is, in fact, closer to two children per family than to one child per family (1.8). The steepest drop in fertility occurred in the 1970s before one child per family was implemented in 1979. This is due to the fact that population policies and campaigns have been ongoing in China since the 1950s. During the 1970s, a campaign of 'One is good, two is okay and three is too many' was heavily promoted.

In April 2007 a study by the University of California, Irvinemarker, which claimed to be the first systematic study of the policy, found that it had proved "remarkably effective". Other reports have shown population aging and negative population growth in some areas.

Effects on population growth and fertility rate

Since the introduction of the one-child policy, the fertility rate in China has fallen from over three births per woman in 1980 (already a sharp reduction from more than five births per woman in the early 1970s) to approximately 1.8 births in 2008. (The colloquial term "births per woman" is usually formalized as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR), a technical term in demographic analysis meaning the average number of children that would be born to a woman over her lifetime if she were to experience the exact current age-specific fertility rates through her lifetime.)

In total, the Chinese government estimates that it has three to four hundred million fewer people in 2008, with the one-child policy, than it would have had otherwise. Chinese authorities thus consider the policy as a great success in helping to implement China's current economic growth. The reduction in the fertility rate and thus population growth has reduced the severity of problems that come with overpopulation, like epidemics, slums, overwhelmed social services (such as health, education, law enforcement), and strain on the ecosystem from abuse of fertile land and production of high volumes of waste. Even with the one-child policy in place, however, "China still has one million more births than deaths every five weeks."

Non-population-related benefits

Impact on health care

It is reported that the focus of China on population control helps provide a better health service for women and a reduction in the risks of death and injury associated with pregnancy. At family planning offices, women receive free contraception and pre-natal classes. Help is provided for pregnant women to closely monitor their health. In various places in China, the government rolled out a ‘Care for Girls’ program, which aims at eliminating cultural discrimination against girls in rural and underdeveloped areas through subsidies and education.

Increased savings rate

The individual savings rate has increased since the introduction of the One Child Policy. This has been partially attributed to the policy in two respects. First, the average Chinese household expends fewer resources, both in terms of time and money, on children, which gives many Chinese more money with which to invest. Second, since young Chinese can no longer rely on children to care for them in their old age, there is an impetus to save money for the future.

Economic growth

The original intent of the one-child policy was economic, to reduce the demand of natural resources, maintaining a steady labor rate, reducing unemployment caused from surplus labor, and reducing the rate of exploitation. The CPC's justification for this policy was based on their support of Mao Zedong's and the Marxist theory of population growth, an idea which Marx took from Thomas Malthus.


Other policy alternatives were available

One type of criticism has come from those who acknowledge the challenges stemming from China's high population growth but believe that less intrusive options, including those that emphasized delay and spacing of births, could have achieved the same results over an extended period of time. Susan Greenhalgh's (2003) review of the policy-making process behind the adoption of the OCPF shows that some of these alternatives were known but not fully considered by China's political leaders.

Exaggerated claimed benefits of the policy

Another criticism is directed at the exaggerated claimed effects of the policy on the reduction in the total fertility rate. Studies by Chinese demographers, funded in part by the UN Fund for Population Activities, showed that combining poverty alleviation and health care with relaxed targets for family planning was more effective at reducing fertility than vigorous enforcement of very ambitious fertility reduction targets. In 1988, Zeng Yi and professor T. Paul Schultz of Yale Universitymarker discussed the effect of the transformation to the market on Chinese fertility, arguing that the introduction of the contract responsibility system in agriculture during the early 1980s weakened family planning controls during that period. Zeng contended that the "big cooking pot" system of the People's Commune had insulated people from the costs of having many children. By the late 1980s, however, economic costs and incentives created by the contract system were already reducing the number of children farmers wanted.

As Hasketh, Lu, and Xing observe: "[T]he policy itself is probably only partially responsible for the reduction in the total fertility rate. The most dramatic decrease in the rate actually occurred before the policy was imposed. Between 1970 and 1979, the largely voluntary "late, long, few" policy, which called for later childbearing, greater spacing between children, and fewer children, had already resulted in a halving of the total fertility rate, from 5.9 to 2.9. After the one-child policy was introduced, there was a more gradual fall in the rate until 1995, and it has more or less stabilized at approximately 1.7 since then." These researchers note further that China could have expected a continued reduction in its fertility rate just from continued economic development, had it kept to the previous policy.

Human rights

The one-child policy is challenged in principle and in practice for violating human rights. Reported abuses in its enforcement include bribery, coercion, forced sterilization, forced abortion, and possibly infanticide, with most reports coming from rural areas. A 2001 report exposed that a quota of 20,000 abortions and sterilizations was set for Huaiji County in Guangdong Provincemarker in one year due to reported disregard of the one-child policy. The effort included using portable ultrasound devices to identify abortion candidates in remote villages. Earlier reports also show that women as far along as 8.5 months pregnant were forced to abort by injection of saline solution. There have also been reports of women, in their 9th month of pregnancy or already in labour, having their children killed whilst in the birth canal or immediately after birth. Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute announced that the One child policy is "an ongoing genocide." He argued that free market capitalism will solve the overpopulation and overconsumption problems of developing nations.

In 2002, China outlawed the use of physical force to make a woman submit to an abortion or sterilization, but it is not entirely enforced. In the execution of the policy, many local governments still demand abortions if the pregnancy violates local regulations.

The one-child policy includes eugenic regulations. Both partners have to be rigorously tested before they marry. If one spouse has an "unsatisfactory" physical or mental condition, ranging from dyslexia to schizophrenia, they are banned from marrying. The Chinese government claimed that these regulations are intended to "improve the quality of the Chinese population." In the mid-1990s the Chinese government somewhat backed away on this policy. According to a UNESCOmarker debate, Chinese genetic testing is conducted with the consent of the individual and is not based on racist or sinocentric attitudes.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) funding for this policy is heavily criticized in the United States. The United States Congress pulled out of the UNFPA during the Reagan years, and U.S. President George W. Bush referred to human rights abuses as his reason for stopping the US$40 million payment to the UNFPA in early 2002. In early 2003 the U.S.marker State Departmentmarker issued a press release stating that they would not continue to support the UNFPA in its present form because they believed that, at the very least, coercive birth limitation practices were not being properly addressed. The U.S. government has stated that the right to "found a family" is protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This, coupled with the International Conference on Population and Development's view that it is the right of the individual, not the state, to determine the number of children, represents a clear conflict between China's policy and U.S. accepted and adopted human rights conventions.

The "Four-Two-One" problem

As the one-child policy begins to near its next generation, one adult child is left with having to provide support for his or her two parents and four grandparents. This leaves the older generation with more of a dependency on retirement funds or charity in order to have support. If personal savings, pensions, or state welfare should fail, then the most senior citizens would be left entirely dependent upon their very small family or neighbors for support. If a child cannot care for their parents and grandparents, or if that child cannot survive, the oldest generation could find itself destitute. To combat this problem, some provinces allow families where each parent was an "only child" to have two children. In 2007 all provinces but Henanmarker adopted this new policy.

Some parents may over-indulge their only-child. The media referred to the indulged children in one-child families as "little emperors". Since the 1990s, some people have worried that this will result in a higher tendency toward poor social communication and cooperation skills among the new generation, as they have no siblings at home. However, no social studies have investigated the ratio of these over-indulged children and to what extent they are indulged. With the first generation of one-child policy children (those born in the 1980s) reaching adulthood, such worries are reduced.

However, some 30 delegates called on the government in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in March 2007 to abolish the one-child rule because they believe "it creates social problems and personality disorders in young people." and "It is not healthy for children to play only with their parents and be spoiled by them: it is not right to limit the number to two, either." The proposal was prepared by Ye Tingfang, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who suggested that the government at least restore the previous rule that allowed couples to have up to two children. According to this scholar, "the one-child limit is too extreme. It violates nature’s law and, in the long run, will lead to mother nature’s revenge."

Unequal enforcement

Government officials and especially wealthy individuals have often been able to violate the policy in spite of fines. For example, between 2000 and 2005, as many as 1,968 officials in central China's Hunanmarker province were found to be violating the policy, according to the provincial family planning commission; also exposed by the commission were 21 national and local lawmakers, 24 political advisors, 112 entrepreneurs and 6 senior intellectuals. Some of the offending officials did not face penalties, although the government did respond by raising fines and calling on local officials to "expose the celebrities and high-income people who violate the family planning policy and have more than one child."

Side effects on female population

China, like many other Asian countries, has a long tradition of son preference. The commonly accepted explanation for son preference is that sons in rural families may be thought to be more helpful in farm work. Both rural and urban populations have economic and traditional incentives, including widespread remnants of Confucianism, to prefer sons over daughters. Sons are preferred as they provide the primary financial support for the parents in their retirement, and a son's parents typically are better cared for than his wife's. In addition, Chinese traditionally view that daughters, on their marriage, become primarily part of the groom's family. High male-to-female sex ratios in the current population of China do not occur only in rural areas; the ratio is nearly identical in rural and urban areas.

Gender-based birthrate disparity

The sex ratio at birth (between male and female births) in mainland China reached 117:100 in the year 2000, substantially higher than the natural baseline, which ranges between 103:100 and 107:100. It had risen from 108:100 in 1981—at the boundary of the natural baseline—to 111:100 in 1990. According to a report by the State Population and Family Planning Commission, there will be 30 million more men than women in 2020, potentially leading to social instability. The correlation between the increase of sex ratio disparity on birth and the deployment of one child policy would appear to have been caused by the one-child policy.

However, other Asian regions also have higher than average ratios, including Taiwanmarker (110:100) and South Koreamarker (108:100), which do not have a family planning policy, though still lower than that of mainland China. Many studies have explored the reason for the gender-based birthrate disparity in China as well as other countries. A study in 1990 attributed the high preponderance of reported male births in mainland China to four main causes: diseases which affect females more severely than males; the result of widespread under-reporting of female births; the illegal practice of sex-selective abortion made possible by the widespread availability of ultrasound; and finally, acts of child abandonment and infanticide.

In a recent paper, Emily Oster (2005) proposed a biological explanation for the gender imbalance in Asian countries, including China. Using data on viral prevalence by country as well as estimates of the effect of hepatitis on sex ratio, Oster claimed that Hepatitis B could account for up to 75% of the gender disparity in China.

However, Monica Das Gupta (2005) has shown that "whether or not females 'go missing' is determined by the existing sex composition of the family into which they are conceived. Girls with no older sisters have similar chances of survival as boys. Girls conceived in families that already have a daughter, however, experience steeply higher probabilities of being aborted or of dying in early childhood. Gupta claims that cultural factors provide the overwhelming explanation for the "missing" females."

The disparity in the sex ratio at birth increases dramatically after the first birth, for which the ratios remained steadily within the natural baseline over the 20 year interval between 1980 and 1999. Thus, a large majority of couples appear to accept the outcome of the first pregnancy, whether it is a boy or a girl. If the first child is a girl, however, and they are able to have a second child, then a couple may take extraordinary steps to assure that the second child is a boy. If a couple already has two or more boys, however, the sex ratio of higher parity births swings decidedly in a feminine direction.

This demographic evidence indicates that while families highly value having male offspring, a secondary norm of having a girl or having some balance in the sexes of children often comes into play. For example, Zeng et al. (1993) reported a study based on the 1990 census in which they found sex ratios of just 65 or 70 boys per 100 girls for births in families that already had two or more boys. A study by Anderson and Silver (1995) found a similar pattern among both Han and non-Han nationalities in Xinjiang Province: a strong preference for girls in high parity births in families that had already borne two or more boys. This evidence is consistent with the observation by another researcher that for a majority of rural families "their ideal family size is one boy and one girl, at most two boys and one girl".

A 2006 review article by the Editorial Board of Population Research ( ), one of China's leading demography journals, argued that only an approach that makes the rights of women central can succeed in bringing down China's high gender ratio at birth and improve the survival rate of female infants and girls. A section written by East China Normal Universitymarker demography professor Ci Qinying, "Research on the Sex Ratio at Birth Should Take a Gender Discrimination Approach," argued that researchers must pay closer attention to gender issues in demography," China’s Sex Ratio at Birth: From Doubts About its Existence to Looking for a Solution." Population Research 1/2006 issue 原载《人口研究》2006年第1期.

"If we do pay more attention to the problem of the rising sex ratio, still the focus is on the rights of males such as the right to marry, and ignores women’s rights such as the right to survive, the right to reproduce, the right to health, etc. This approach inflicts even more harm on women. If this approach is taken, women will never be able to escape their subsidiary position and their role of satisfying the desires of others. Robbing females of their right to exist [shengmingquan 生命权] is for the sake of giving birth to males – that is putting the right to survive of males first. Moreover, protecting women’s right to exist is merely for the purpose of provide a wife to sons. A measure to ensure that a counterpart is available to ensure that male can exercise his right to marry. In both case, the male is primary and the female is subsidiary."" China’s Sex Ratio at Birth: From Doubts About its Existence to Looking for a Solution." Population Research 1/2006 issue 原载《人口研究》2006年第1期].

"Therefore, how a researcher approaches the question of the sex ratio at birth – from what point for view, considering whose rights – is critical. This depends upon the values of the researcher, the humanistic orientation of the researcher and the consciousness the researcher has about gender and gender discrimination. Protecting the right to exist, the right to reproduce, and the right to health of girls should be at the very core of policy and action measures to control sex ratio at birth. That is because females are the biggest victims of the rising sex ratio. The rising sex ratio is in fact robbing females of their right to exist and completely discriminates against females." and a human rights perspective in demographic research is crucial." China’s Sex Ratio at Birth: From Doubts About its Existence to Looking for a Solution." Population Research 1/2006 issue 原载《人口研究》2006年第1期].

"Social controls on methods of selective reproduction are needed not only because of the higher birth ratio that results but also because selective reproduction harms the body and soul of the mother and robs unborn infants (regardless of being boy or girl) of their right to live. Selective reproduction itself should be more closely regulated and brought under control."" China’s Sex Ratio at Birth: From Doubts About its Existence to Looking for a Solution." Population Research 1/2006 issue 原载《人口研究》2006年第1期].

"Even aside from the question of the rising sex ratio at birth, we should also intervene against and oppose elective abortion. Elective abortion robs unborn female infants of their right to live and their right to exist, accentuates the social custom of favoring males over females. Not only does it harm women’s bodies it also reduces women to the role of a mere tool for reproduction. Women bodies and spirits are suffering grievous wounds. Therefore no matter what the results of an elective abortion might be, we should intervene against and oppose elective abortion. The rise of the sex ratio at birth is only one among several reasons for intervening on selective reproduction."

The authors of another review article, "Girl Survival in China: History, Present Situation and Prospects," which was presented at a 2005 conference supported by the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), concluded that "The Chinese government has already set the goal of achieving a normal gender ratio at birth by 2010, and to achieve preliminary results in establishing a new cultural outlook on marriage and having children. The government is working to change the system, way of thinking and other obstacles to attacking the root of the problem. Only if equality of males and females is strongly promoted ... will the harmonious and sustainable development of society be possible."

Abandoned or orphaned children and adoption

The social pressure exerted by the one-child policy has affected the rate at which parents abandon undesirable children, and many live in state-sponsored orphanages, from which thousands are adopted internationally and by Chinese parents each year. In the 1980s and early 1990s, poor care and high mortality rates in some state institutions generated intense international pressure for reform.

According to Sten Johansson and Ola Nygren (1991) adoptions accounted for half of the so-called "missing girls" in the 1980s in the PRC. Through the 1980s, as the one-child policy came into force, parents who desired a son but bore a daughter in some cases failed to report or delayed the reporting of the birth of the girl to the authorities. But rather than neglecting or abandoning unwanted girls, the parents may have offered them up for formal or informal adoption. A majority of children who went through formal adoption in China in the later 1980s were girls, and the proportion who were girls increased over time (Johansson and Nygren 1991).

The practice of adopting out unwanted girls is consistent with both the son preference of many Chinese couples and the findings of Zeng et al. (1993) and Anderson and Silver (1995) that under some circumstances families have a preference for girls, in particular when they have already satisfied their goals for sons. However, research by Weiguo Zhang (2006) on child adoption in rural China reveals increasing receptivity to adopting girls, including by infertile and childless couples.

In 1992, China instituted its first Adoption Law. Officially registered adoptions increased from about 2,000 in 1992 to 55,000 in 2001. However, according to one scholar, these figures "represent a small proportion of adoptions in China because many adopted children were adopted informally without official registrations. . . ."

International adoption rates climbed dramatically after the early 1990s, increasing to the U.S. alone from about 200 in 1992 to more than 7,900 in 2005.

According to the Los Angeles Times, many babies put up for adoption had not been abandoned by their parents, but confiscated by family planning officials.


Gender-selected abortion, abandonment, and infanticide are illegal in China. Despite the Chinese legal position, the US State Departmentmarker, the Parliament of the United Kingdommarker, and the human rights organization Amnesty International have all declared that China's family planning programs contribute to infanticide.

Anthropologist G. William Skinner at the University of California-Davis and Chinese researcher Yuan Jianhua have claimed that infanticide was fairly common in China before the 1990s. It is unknown how prevalent infanticide has been in recent years.

Fertility medicines

A 2006 China Daily report stated that wealthy couples are increasingly turning to fertility medicines to have multiple births, because of the lack of penalties against couples who have more than one child in their first birth; according to the report, the number of multiple births per year in China had doubled by 2006.

Children born outside of China

In the Summer of 2006, new documents came to light indicating that Chinese nationals with children born abroad will be treated the same as Chinese nationals with Chinese-born children. This evidence has led the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to remand a litany of cases involving Chinese nationals seeking political asylum back to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

In August 2007, the Board of Immigration Appeals ruled that the new documents, even assuming that they are genuine, reflect only "general birth planning policies [...] that do not specifically show any likelihood that [...] Chinese nationals will be persecuted as a result of the birth of a second child in the United States."

See also


Further reading

  • Better 10 Graves Than One Extra Birth (ISBN 1-931550-92-1, Laogai Research Foundation)

External links

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