China sticks to one-child policy as 30 years pass
Professor urges change in law after being fired for having second baby
YANG Zhizhu knew the dire consequences of breaking China's one-child policy. He would be stripped of his professorship at a Beijing university and hit with such a large fine that his family would be destitute.
But when he found out that his wife, Chen Hong, 38, was pregnant for the second time, they decided they could not let the opportunity pass. "We never planned this, but despite the problems we knew it would cause, we were over the moon," he said. "How much longer can the one-child policy last, anyway?"
When China introduced its drastic population controls, officials promised that it would lift them after 30 years -- a date that falls this weekend. Aware of the resentment the policy would cause, the government said it was a temporary measure in response to China's high unemployment and food scarcity.
"In 30 years, when our current extreme population growth eases, we can then adopt a different population policy," read the announcement from the Communist Party Central Committee.
But today, the one-child policy remains firmly in place and government officials cannot shake the idea that it has played an important role in China's economic miracle.
With only one child to care for, parents have been able to save more money, enabling banks to offer the loans that have funded China's huge investments in infrastructure.
Officials claim the policy has also conserved food and energy and allowed each child better education and health care. "We will continue the one-child policy until at least 2015," said the National Family Planning Commission earlier this year.
In his home in Beijing, Mr Yang, 44, remains delighted at Yang Ruonan, his six month-old baby girl, and defiant over his decision. He said former students were helping him and his wife financially to care for his two daughters, the older of whom, Yang Ruoyi, is now three.
Not all offenders against the one-child policy are so fortunate. Many of China's 11 million abortions each year are forced on unwilling mothers by family planning officials.
Nevertheless, Mr Yang lives under the shadow of the Chinese law. At the beginning of the month, a curt notice from the Beijing Family Planning Department informed him that a fine of 220,600 yuan (€25,800) would, at some point, be "forcibly collected".
Earlier this year, officials convinced the college where Mr Yang taught law to fire him. The university continues to pay him a stipend, but at 360 yuan (€42) a month, it is not a living wage.
"My wife and I manage to get by. She is not working, but I have some savings and I do some part-time legal work," he said.
Unable to pay the fine, Mr Yang chose to protest, parading himself in Beijing with a sign offering to become a slave if a donor would pay 640,000 yuan (€70,000) to clear his debt and set his family up.
"It was more of a protest than a serious offer, but I would still consider it if someone came forward," he said.
The fine is known as a "social upbringing fee" and is designed to cover the cost to the state of a second child. But Mr Yang says he has no reason to pay. "We feed our own children, our second daughter is not even registered. Without that she has no rights."
He added: "The only reason the one-child policy is still so popular is that more than a million government officials now work directly or indirectly for the population control department. They are not going to take away their own bread."
The government believes the policy has prevented 400 million births, which would otherwise have stretched the resources of China, and the world, to breaking point.
Critics say it has created a rapidly ageing society, with each only child having to care for two parents and four grandparents. Last year, almost 13 per cent of China's population was over 60 and the proportion is growing rapidly. Meanwhile, a preference in Chinese families for boys over girls has created a surplus of 24 million men who will not be able to find a wife.
"Everyone has blindly accepted the fact that population control has helped China's economy, but it has never been proven," said Liang Zhongtang, 62, a former member of the expert committee of the National Family Planning Department.
"In fact, by 2030, no matter what policy China adopts, the population will start to shrink. And I have never seen a country with a shrinking population and sound economic development. Western countries may have shrinking populations, but they have immigrants to make up their labour force. China does not have large immigration, so aiming for a zero or negative birth rate is very risky."
A generation of lonely children has been burdened by the pressure of having to live up to their parents' expectations, and by the worry of eventually having to bear the financial burden of caring for them.
Across China, there are proposals to loosen slightly the rules next year, to allow couples to have two children if one parent is an only child.
But Hu Angang, 57, a director of China Studies at Tsinghua University, Beijing, said it was now time for the government to remove the policy altogether.
"I proposed at the end of last year a two-child policy, and while the government has not adopted my proposal, senior officials have stopped praising the one-child policy," he said.