The ubiquitous “Made In China” stamp appears on many goods Americans purchase. But manufactured items aren’t the only things made in China — Chinese babies are produced there as well. And the Chinese government is hoping more bundles of joy will be produced in the near future as a result of the recent relaxing of birth limits. Yes, the ruling Communist party has now given its permission for Chinese couples to have three children, up from the previously allowed two.
While Americans were celebrating Memorial Day on May 31st, the Chinese government announced it was relaxing birth limits on the number of children Chinese couples may have. How benevolent of President Xi Jinping and his fellow government officials. Why was this action taken? Well, it wasn’t because Chinese officials suddenly took a shine to young children and decided it would be great to have more of them around. No, indeed. It was a very calculated call on their part.
Driving this announcement that the cap on child production would be raised to three is the rapid aging of the Chinese population which is placing a strain on both the economy and society. The government is concerned that the number of working age people is dropping too fast while the number of those over 65 is rising. What’s a government to do when there aren’t enough workers to make goods to be stamped “Made in China?” Why allow more workers to be produced!
China has a long history of sticking its nose into the bedrooms of its citizens. Restrictions on the number of children a married couple is allowed to have have been in place for years. The most restrictive limit was the one-child policy first adopted in 1979. That limit was imposed to address China’s booming population which had swelled from over 542 million to approximately 975 million over the preceding 30 years. The one-child policy was enacted out of concern the population explosion would spiral out of control and strain water and other resources. Too many Chinese babies were being made in China, so production was decreed to be downsized.
The Chinese government meant business when the one-child policy was in place. Enforcement of the limit included mandatory IUD’s for new mothers, heavy fines for exceeding the baby limit, and forced abortions. Because Chinese society favors males, couples made sure the one child they had was a boy using infanticide, abandonment, or abortion when necessary. As a result, there are millions more Chinese men than Chinese women today. Good luck for these Chinese bachelors finding wives.
After 35 years of the one-child policy, China announced it was raising the limit to two children in 2015. This move was taken to address the resulting gender imbalance from the one-child policy and the country’s aging population. Despite relaxing the limit on the number of children allowed, Chinese births continued to fall. Chinese citizens were reluctant to have more children for several reasons: the high cost of raising children in Chinese cities; the need to care for elderly parents, and the interruption to their jobs. Chinese couples simply didn’t have time for child-rearing with a six-day work week with overtime often required. “996” (working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week) put the kibosh on having more kids. Working 9 to 5 would probably seem like a vacation to Chinese employees.
The Chinese government strictly enforced the two child limit as well. Hefty fines of 180,000 yuan ($20,840) were imposed on those daring to have more children than allowed. Guess those Chinese workers had to work seven days a week to pay off that fine.
Despite the switch to the two child policy, the number of births in China dropped every year since 2017. The country’s fertility rate was merely 1.3 in 2020, a figure insufficient to maintain the size of its population. By the end of this century, China’s population, now at 1.4 billion, is expected to decline by half a billion, allowing India to surpass China as the world’s most populous country. Will this event lead to more of our manufactured goods bearing the stamp “Made in India?”
Seems like the Chinese government is a victim of its own success. Back in the 1960’s when the average Chinese mother bore more than six children, restraining population growth was a good idea. But the Chinese are overachievers. The government has convinced its citizens that less is more, so few want to have additional children now. What’s a government to do? Other Asian countries facing declining populations, such as Japan and South Korea, have opted to offer stipends to couples who have additional children as an incentive to procreate. Yes, I can see Ma and Pa explaining to the latest addition to their family that he/she was wanted so the family coffers could be increased.
Then there’s the psychological method of convincing people to have more children. The Chinese government has cleverly used stamps for that purpose. In 2016 after the two-child policy was adopted, a stamp for the Year of the Monkey depicted two baby monkeys kissing their parent. One look at that stamp, and a Chinese couple was sure to head to the bedroom to produce baby number two, right? Perhaps foreshadowing the rise to three children being allowed, a 2019 stamp for the Year of the Pig showed two adult pigs with three happy piglets.
Whether or not they want to have additional children, many Chinese women bristle at the idea of government interference with their reproductive choices. Child-bearing limits are seen by these women as an unwelcome attempt by the powers that be to control their bodies. Just by having these thoughts, Chinese woman are clearly demonstrating their government does not control their minds.
A valid question is how far the Chinese government will go to protect its economy and world standing. If it has the power to restrict the number of children a couple has, couldn’t it also mandate the number of children to be produced? I’d like to think that bundles of joy are just that–children conceived and birthed because their parents truly desired to have them and to expand their family. Having a baby simply to make sure there are enough workers to produce goods to be stamped “Made in China” is appalling and sad.
Were you aware the Chinese government has imposed limits on the number of children a couple can have? How much say should the government have in the size of a family? Should citizens be offered monetary incentives to produce children?