Disturbing the Descendants of the Dragon: One Child Policy and Women in China

By Somera, Nina | Women in Action, April 2008 | Go to article overview

Disturbing the Descendants of the Dragon: One Child Policy and Women in China


Somera, Nina, Women in Action


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The imperial dragon which has symbolised the greatness of Chinese civilisation and history has never been more vibrant and aggressive

China has hogged the headlines lately, stunning the world, particularly stalwarts like the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, and other members of the European Union, and Japan, with its increasing influence both in the political and economic spheres. Such power appears even more prominent given the dragging wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the subprime mortgage crisis, and the soaring cost of fuel, among many other issues which have weakened China's counterparts.

The recent issue of The Economist makes a point, describing China in its cover page as the site of the "new colonialists." With its growing economy and subsequently, a thirst for raw materials and other resources, China has helped fuel dictatorships in Africa, Latin America, and Burma with generous loan packages.

China s emergence, apart from causing greater insecurity to the West, has also increased the strain on the country's natural and human resources. Its smokestack industries have taken a tremendous toll on both the environment and workers. For instance, its coal mines which emit pollution into the air, which sometimes, even contaminates water reservoirs killing thousands of workers every year.

Aside from exploring and exploiting the natural resources of other countries and pushing the limits of its own environment, China has also tapped its classic solution: the one-child policy.

In March 2008, the Chinese government announced that it will continue to enforce its one-child policy, partly as a response to the burgeoning problem of climate change. Mr. Zhang Weiquing, director of the State Population and Family Planning Commission said, "Changes to the family planning policy now could lead to population rises, posing higher pressure on China's future development." (1) This, as nearly 200 million Chinese would enter the childbearing stage in the next ten years. China has also claimed that the policy which has presented the births of more than 300 people since it was introduced in 1979, has prevented the emission of 1.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year. (2)

The one-child policy appears to have mitigated the fear of former Chinese premiere Deng Xiaoping that the country would not be able to feed its people. Now that capitalism has cemented China's global political and economic foothold, and has flung open China's doors to the world, Beijing seems to have a greater purpose in maintaining its one-child policy.

But regardless of the national principles, priorities, and plans; communism and capitalism; culture and consumerism; and scarcity and abundance, women have been largely absent in policy decision-making, much less, genuine political discourses on reproductive health. This, even as their bodies bear the brunt of the practical consequences.

One--Child Policy

The People's Republic of China adopted the one-child policy in 1979. Back then, China's population was about to hit 1 billion, or nearly a hundred per cent growth in just 30 years. Seven hundred million were under 30 years of age. (3) While occupying only seven per cent of the world's arable land, China, at that time, had a quarter of the total world population.

A massive population was perceived to be a burden on China's process of mainstreaming economic reforms. Thus, Beijing approved the Population and Family Planning Law which prescribes family planning as a fundamental state policy and compels couples to maintain only one child.

Couples in urban districts are expected to have only one child. A second child may be permitted in certain cases: couples manage to have several years spacing between births; the first child is physically or mentally challenged; or for the purpose of progeny, particularly when couples are divorcees or when they come from one-child families.

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