World travelers are always exposed to some of the world’s pressing social issues. These problems are overwhelming and easy to ignore, and many travelers do just that. They come home with photos, souveniers, dirty clothes, weary bones, and a myriad of other things. I do that, too. But, also, I gratefully return to the United States with concerns regarding issues such as population growth, environmental degredation, loss of historical and cultural heritage, poverty, hunger, racial and religious discrimination, poor living conditions, inadequate medical treatment, etc. (Fortunately, not all of those in one trip, or I’d quite traveling.)
But I came back from China impressed with the way the Chinese handled the previously-uncontrolled population growth.
What? No, you read that correctly. Not a misprint. Thirty years ago, China couldn’t house, feed, or educate the growing population or provide adequate jobs. In 1978, China adopted a population control policy which restricts the number of children of married urban couples to one child, although it allows exemptions for rural couples, the fifty-five ethnic minorities and parents without siblings. About 36% of the population is subject to the control.
Granted, this would be huge in the United States, but as a result of the policy, overall conditions have improved significantly for the Chinese people. While, undoubtedly, there are still many problems―and we hear about them all the time in the news―the PRC is now in a position to begin to get a better handle on the issues of historic preservation, environment, and human rights. Tiny steps, but, in my opinion, steps forward nonetheless.
The Chinese I talked to favored the policy and claimed it does not punish anyone for having more than one child, but any “additional” children aren’t entitled to the benefits afforded the first child, like free education and health care. But I’ve also read articles that characterize the policy as widely-hated and claim that, at its peak, the policy resulted in forced abortions, sterilizations, and even infanticide. Whether that is true or not, it seems the culture still values male children over female.
Now the PRC is considering recinding the policy because demographers predict that in the future there will be a shrinking workforce, i.e. not enough young workers to support an aging population, which has been the case in much of Europe for quite a while. You can’t win for losing! The government has commissioned feasibility studies to determine what might happen if the policy is eliminated or redefined. We shall see.
What’s your opinion?
I’d love to hear from people who have a personal experience with this policy. In the mean time, I see a potential story line for a novel.