YOU wouldn’t think the release of a new stamp would cause much excitement, regardless of the situation. But the latest commemorative new year offering from the Chinese government has got people talking. Why? Because the happy family of pigs shown on the stamp includes three children.
Social media users have been speculating that the stamps are a subtle signal from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that there could soon be a change to the restrictive two-child policy.
The stamp commotion follows a Bloomberg report from May that found the State Council had plans to scrap population controls completely and were looking into the likely impacts of a nationwide reversal.
An end to the four-decade-old policy would remove a major source of international criticism. And the leadership hopes it will also slow down the country’s rapid pace of aging.
While it will certainly achieve the first objective, whether it will lead to a baby boom is far from certain.
China has changed dramatically since 1979 when the one-child policy was first implemented. In today’s more affluent, more educated society, Chinese people are showing little sign of wanting kids.
The CCP first changed its restricted birth policy in 2015. Suffering one of the lowest fertility rates in the world and a diminishing working-age population, the leadership scrapped the one-child system in favour of a still-strict two-child approach.
The following year, once the change had taken effect, China did indeed see a baby boom with an 11.5 percent increase from the previous year. A total of 18.46 million live births took place in 2016, nearly half of whom had an older sibling.
But the frantic procreating didn’t last. The birth rate fell by 3.5 percent the following year, suggesting the one-child policy may not have been the only thing standing in the way of Chinese families growing.
Despite having every opportunity to marry – given China’s surplus of 30 million men – it seems women just aren’t that interested. In particular, urban, educated women, just the demographic the CCP wants to produce the next generation.
Women are increasingly delaying marriage and pregnancy, despite government discouraging conceiving past the age of 29. Instead, they are turning their focus to work and refusing to settle for the unfair cultural norm of being burdened with childcare and caring for elderly family members.
In a 2017 survey of more than 40,000 working women by Zhaopin, one of China’s largest online recruitment websites, about 40 percent of respondents said they did not want to have any children, and nearly 63 percent of working mothers with one child said they did not want to have a second.
The main reasons given were the expense of raising a child, lack of time and energy, and concerns over career development.
The declining marriage rates also mean people are less likely to have children.
Across the country, 3 million couples registered their marriages with the Ministry of Civil Affairs (as reported by SCMP) in the first quarter of 2018, down from nearly 4.3 million in the same period of 2013 – a substantial decline of 30 percent.
The government has actively worked to discourage unmarried women having children, imposing fines and restricting access to social welfare if they do fall pregnant.
But all are not created equal in the eyes of the CCP and, while they have been firing pro-baby propaganda campaigns at educated Han women, ethnic minorities in the rural areas still face restrictions.
The predominantly-Muslim Uighur community in the northwestern region of Xinjiang face coercion to stop their high birth rates.
But urban women have a new found autonomy that shows no signs of reversing as people grow more affluent and China’s middle class continues to boom.
According to a study by consulting firm McKinsey & Company, 76 percent of China’s urban population will be considered middle class by 2022.
Given the shift in mentality, removing the two-child policy is unlikely to have the desired impact of bringing a baby boom and evening out China’s aging population. But it will finally put an end to one of the biggest social experiments in human history.