It’s not surprising that a plan that has supposedly prevented almost 400 million births (more than the entire population of the US), has also caused some side effects that have changed every stage of life.
One of the big side effects has been a drastic change in family relationships. As you have probably heard, Chinese families have one child and four grandparents. That tied with China’s growing wealth has led to unfathomable levels of spoiling (sadly not an official measure yet). In China, McDonalds and KFC are considered relatively expensive outside of the major cities, yet in even smaller, poorer areas, you see grandparents and parents shelling out the big bucks on their kids in packed restaurants while abstaining from the food themselves.
The other day as my wife and I walked through a store called “Children Kings,” I was starting to say that adoration for children here was completely different from what it is in the US, but my wife thought that was a bit too strong (America is very good at spoiling children too). Finally we agreed that China hasn’t created something new, but instead has brought it to a new level.
A single child not only inherits the wealth of the entire family, but also shoulders all of the hopes of the family. The amount of pressure on students to succeed is immeasurable in many cases. In the countryside there is currently no pension, so the children are their parent’s actual retirement plan.
This has led to another interesting shift: the growing value of daughters in the family. This isn’t a result of effective propaganda, but from the reality that sons are more likely to leave to work in the city, while daughters will stay behind and care for their parents. This is a far cry from the idea earlier this century that a girl was only a “small happiness,” now a girl is a sign of stability for her aging parents.
The third shift I want to bring up is the way the policy has changed marriage. For men who do not have the skills to find work in the cities, it is very hard for them to find a wife in the countryside. Women have little interest in farmers. In Longzhou my friend Terrence told me about a man in his village who had “bought” a wife from Vietnam. What exactly bought meant, I’m not sure, and Terrence lacked the human trafficking vocabulary to define it. When the woman arrived in his village she was miserable, and the man discovered it wasn’t easy to have a happy family when he couldn’t even talk with his wife. Terrence said that after a few weeks she ran away, and the whole village laughed at how foolish the man was.
From birth, to marriage, to retirement, the One Child Policy has changed everything.
Tomorrow expect something a bit cheerier.