BEIJING, China — The average Chinese will readily acknowledge that their Government’s one-child policy makes sense. After all, the country’s population now stands at a staggering 1.3 billion, and according to officials, the number would likely have exceeded 1.5 billion by the end of the 20th century had China not implemented an aggressive one-couple, one-child family planning policy.
But the policy’s long-term negative effects, namely an ageing population, self-centred children and the burden placed on single offspring to take care of elderly relatives have spurred renewed debate in this Asian country about the need for a review of the measure implemented three decades ago.
Professor Heng Xiojun, vice-president of the China Foreign Affairs University (CFAU), is among those in academia who welcome the debate.
“I think each family having two children is better, but we understand the policy,” Professor Heng told a group of Caribbean journalists during a lecture at the CFAU in this city last Wednesday. “But two is better; it’s better for the child; it’s more balanced.”
According to Professor Heng, children who have no siblings tend to become “little emperors” and “little queens”. In other words, they don’t grow to appreciate the value of sharing.
His colleague, Professor Wang Yan, director of the CFAU’s Foreign Affairs Office, agreed.
“I’m personally not supportive of the one-child policy because the country is ageing,” she said in her lecture to the Caribbean journalists.
Professor Wang’s analysis formed part of the programme designed to create greater understanding of China’s culture, politics, foreign policy and further promote friendly relations between China and the Caribbean.
The 19 journalists from nine Caribbean countries have been in Beijing since last Tuesday and are scheduled to leave on October 27.
Both professors have one child each, given that they are of Han ethnicity, the largest of China’s 56 ethnic groups and the ones to which the one-child policy applies. People from other ethnic groups, including farmers who may have a shortage of labour, are encouraged to have two children, while people from other ethnic minority groups with extremely small populations are not restricted by the policy.
Government data place the Han population at 1,159.40 million, 91.59 per cent of the country’s total, while the other ethnic minorities combined amount to 106.43 million.
Of the total 1.3 billion population, 750 million live in rural areas, while 550 million reside in cities or towns, according to official statistics.
The result is that China is experiencing high population density averaging 135 people per square kilometre.
Broken down by regions, the data show that more than 400 people per sq km live in the country’s south-east coastal areas and fewer than 10 people per sq km reside in the west plateau areas.
Professor Heng told the journalists that the decision to implement the family planning programme resulted from the Government’s concern at China’s rapid population increase between 1962 and 1972 when 300 million births were recorded.
But even as the one-child policy contributed to 200 million fewer births over the past three decades, Professor Heng acknowledged that it is resulting in a greying of the population.
“We now have more than 100 million people above the age of 65,” he said, pointing to one of the main side effects of the policy, which, he explained, encourages late marriage and late childbirth with fewer but healthier babies.
That fact is not lost on the CFAU Assistant President Professor Zhu Liquin, who is worried, even though she’s convinced that the Government has to maintain the policy in order to ensure the country’s social and economic development.
“We’re going to face enormous problems,” she told the journalists on Thursday, adding that gender imbalance was another of the issues facing China.
The proportion of females to males now stands at 100 : 116, according to Government statistics.
“We’re beginning to worry about our future,” added Professor Zhu who, because of her ethnicity, has only one child — a daughter — who will be among the many expected to care for retired parents without sibling support.
Professor Zhu’s concern was acknowledged by 20-year-old CFAU student Huang Xiao Chun.
“Yes, we are having fewer young people to support the old. Maybe later their pension will rely on all our taxes, but I think if we want to change the number there must be a transition time,” he told the Observer on Friday.
Huang, who is majoring in English and who wishes to pursue a career in the foreign service, said, though, that he supported the one-child policy, despite the fact that he’s from one of the ethnic minority groups.
“I think it’s reasonable because we have too many people and it is a big burden for our nation because the resources are limited,” he argued, adding that the one-child policy was a challenge to the current generation to ensure sustainable development for their descendants.