Is reform of the One-Child policy likely?

16 Apr

Chairman Mao believed in “the more the better”, meaning that a higher population meant more workers, which meant a healthier, faster growing economy. As a result of this belief the population of China reached a height of 800 million in the 1970’s, leading to worries that there would soon be a food shortage and forcing the government to take action to control the country’s population growth. Later, in 1979 the One Child policy was introduced by Deng Xiaoping as a temporary measure to curb population growth and aid economic development. While this policy was initially introduced as a temporary measure, it remains in place more than 30 years on and China is now starting to feel the economic and social consequences.

It has been estimated that population growth has decreased by about 300 million people over the first 20 years of the policy, which has now left China facing the problem of an ageing population. The total Chinese population over 65 is rising, at one of the fastest rates in the world; it is predicted that by 2050 there will be almost 400 million Chinese over 60 – a quarter of the population. This would put tremendous strain on economic growth in most developed countries, but may prove to be even worse for China, where it is traditionally for the young to care for the old and there is a lack of pension schemes for the elderly. This is made worse by the fact that the mainland’s labour force, which currently stands at 930 million, will begin to fall in 2025 at a rate of about 10 million a year, posing a great threat to China’s fast economic growth.

As well as economic consequences the policy has caused many social consequences; “being an only child in a family often makes a person selfish and unable to face hardships of life.” A Russian scholar points out that there are two generations of Chinese adults who never had the benefits of growing up in the competitive environment of siblings; they instead grew up in a pampered environment that tends to create a society of self-centred people.

It is for these that there have been calls for a reform of the one child policy and signs that this may in fact be on the agenda. Former leaders Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao both didn’t mention that they were looking to ‘maintain a low birth rate’ in their reports to the party congress last year, something that has been consistently mentioned by leaders for the last decade. Also the government has removed some power from the agency that oversees the one-child policy, sending strong signals that the highly controversial policy is being loosened. What’s more China has recently seen the removal of some family planning restrictions, for example Chinese couples are permitted to have a second child if both the father and the mother are only children. All of this points to the idea that the policy is being loosened, something that some people, such as Secondary school principal He Youlin believe would help reduce pressure on the labour force and lower retirement age, as well as allowing a happier family life and healthier child development. Professor Liang Jianzhang of Peking University pointed out that “if we do not adjust the policy now, we may lose the last chance to solve the issue of our aging population, which may lead to a series of serious economic and social problems.” As a result of the unexpected consequences of the policy that will affect the nation for decades, there is a belief that the new administration could eventually phase the one child policy out.

However, despite predictions that the policy may be coming to an end, there are many people who maintain that it will remain in place. Although the one-child policy has been in place for more than 30 years, China is still the world’s most heavily populated country, and according to the government, the increasing demands of its 1.34 billion citizens is putting strain on its resources. This idea is supported by senior politicians Song, who argues that China needs to maintain a low birth rate in order that economic development can continue. He believes that if this is not continued, the country would see a huge surge in population growth, resulting in resource shortages, such as food, stating that that by abandoning the one child policy there would be grain shortages of 150 million metric tons a year. Some, such as Song believe that zero population growth is the “ultimate goal of human society” and President Xi believes that the population but still be controlled for the reasons mentioned above, however while it is unclear at the moment whether or not there will be any major reform of the one child policy, many scholars believe that the President will have no choice but to create a two child policy soon. A retired family planning scholar said “this situation cannot remain unchanged” so as to avoid detrimental consequences and policy reform is already being discussed in Beijing.

In conclusion it appears that there are strong debates over the future of the one child policy and it is quite possible that things will soon change. While some argue that the policy should simply be removed, it is quite a sensitive issue that must be thought about carefully so as to avoid a population boom and bad economic and social consequences. While it remains unclear whether or not there will be any drastic reform to the policy, there are signs that the policy could be phased out Province by Province, as some remain less populated than others. However for the time being it seems that the debate over policy reform will continue for some time before any changes are made, despite the majority being in favour of reform.



Sources: (2012) China’s One Child Policy [Accessed: 15.04.13]

BBC (2013) China’s one-child policy impact analysed [Accessed: 15/04/13]

BBC (2010) China’s pension system waltzes into crisis [Accessed: 15.04.13]

The Epoch Times (2013) China’s One-Child Policy May Be Relaxed Province by Province [Accessed: 15.04.13]

Forbes (2013) Why China Is Finally Abandoning Its One Child Policy [Accessed: 15.04.13]

Reuters (2013) Insight: The backroom battle delaying reform of China’s one-child policy[Accessed: 15.04.13]

South China Morning Post (2013) Leadership torn over future of one-child policy in China [Accessed: 15.04.13]

The Voice of Russia (2013) One-child policy threatens China’s economy [Accessed: 15/04/13]

The Wall Street Journal (2013) One-Child Policy: Law Still in Effect, But Police, Judges Fired




2 Responses to “Is reform of the One-Child policy likely?”

  1. ja11g12 April 16, 2013 at 4:49 pm #

    The One Child Policy will eventually reach a point where it will have to be reformed. China’s fertility rate is currently below the replacement level of 2. Meaning that soon China’s population will begin to shrink leading to a decreasing workforce. Without this workforce, it will be difficult for China to maintain economic growth on its current path and it will have to diversify economically leading to further problems.

  2. Zoe Skousbo April 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    In the light of China’s age crisis which becomes increasingly imminent, a reform of the one-child policy or at the very least some form of alteration seems urgently required in order to balance the population. Whilst China’s workforce is currently still expanding, this growth rate is expected to drastically reduce over the next decades; the social and economic implications of this, coupled with a growing aging population cannot be underestimated. Ending the one-child policy may also ease worries of overly pampered single children of the expanding ‘me’ generation which is seen as a huge threat to the traditional fabric of both Chinese cultural values and society. These conflicting reports from the Chinese government and their attitude towards this predicted problem offer a glimpse of cautious optimism in that there are at least some sections of the Chinese elite who are aware of the implications should this problem lay unaddressed for too long. There are many similarities between China’s current projected economic and societal structure faults and those which befell Japan – a shrinking labour force and expanding old population. Furthermore, research by the UN shows that in actual fact the one-child policy has had much less of an effect than the Chinese claim that their policy prevented 400 million births. There is a battle within the Chinese government to influence the Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the issue which seems to have polarised the Chinese leadership, the fact that those in favour of reform include many top ranking officials provides hope that the policy can be changed before it is too late; providing this moment has not already passed.


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