Very interesting post on China Adopt Talk today. See full article below.
There has been a lot of discussion about various news articles recently published about the one child policy, and for the most part I’ve stayed away from discussing them.
There are two reasons I’ve stayed away, the first being that it’s a very complex issue and there is no way to say whether doing away with it would be a good or bad thing for China or the world.
And the second is that it makes me very uncomfortable to hear people who are in the process of an adoption freak out about the news stories. China should do what is best for her people, and the idea that people might want this kind of policy to stay in place in order to make sure babies make it into orphanages is just mind staggering. It makes my heart hurt. So, I’ll stay away from that and go back to my first reason.
Let’s look back in history for a bit to understand why the policy was put in place to begin with. After years of food shortages and people literally starving to death, the country was finally able to feed most everyone. But the government looked ahead and realized that if families continued having lots of kids that in another decade or two there would (again) not be enough food to feed everyone. Realize that in the late fifties and early sixties it is estimated that between 20 and 43 million people died, most of starvation. In some areas one out of every four people died of starvation. Imagine 16 of your friends and family, with four of them dead to starvation and you perhaps not far from it. Can you imagine how scary it would be to have the money to buy food but no food available to buy?
So, in the late 70’s when the one birth policy was put in place, it was done so in part to keep the population from exploding back to what it had been when there wasn’t enough food to feed everyone. This is a bit simplified of course since there was more at work during the famine than just population, but it’s a complicated subject and I’m trying to do this in a blog post and not a book.
If you’ve visited China then you know that there is plenty of food now. Well, there may be some shortages right now because the winter storms disrupted the crops, but in general terms, if you have the money to buy food, there is affordable food to buy.
It has been my experience that most Chinese people understand the reasons for the one child policy. I say this based on conversations I’ve had with them. They are sad that they are only allowed one child, but they understand the reasoning for the policy and they are not bitter about it. Many of them appreciate that it has kept the country from going back to the days of food shortages and say that it is necessary, even though they are sad that they can’t have more children.
But now the government is having to deal with a reality where there are enough people who can afford the pay the fines for more than one child that it has become noticeable. And those who can’t afford to pay the fines are crying foul. I’ve seen it myself, the fancy hotel elevator with the well dressed family that has three kids. Walk around the areas where the rich shop and you’ll see families with more than one child. But go out into the countryside and you will mostly only see families with one child. Now there is some bitterness, where there was not before.
The government is looking for a solution to this, and has begun putting political pressure as well as the threat of fines to keep their wealthy people limited as well.
And, they are starting to put out hints that they are reconsidering the law. But I really don’t see them doing that any time soon. And even if they do change it, my guess is that there will still be restrictions in place, they’ll just loosen it even more than it has already been loosened. It hasn’t been the “one child policy” for a long time. First, it’s really the “one birth policy” since twins and triplets are okay. And second, there are now many ways to legally have more than one child without paying fines. In some areas if your first child is a girl you get one more chance, though if your first child is a boy then you are done. Also, two only-children parents are allowed to have two kids, no matter the gender of the first.
But, back to our discussion of the ramification of taking the one child policy away. Let’s shift directions.
Think about this: There are almost as many honor students in China as there are students in America.
In 2005, there were 74.9 million children under age 18 in the United States (source)
In 2005 there were 352.7 million children under age 18 in China (source)
If you figure the top 20% of the population are the honor students, then China has 70.6 million honor students. I’ll say it again: There are almost as many honor students in China as there are students in America.
To further think about this, then realize that China has around 14 million college students (source) and the U.S. there were 15.9 million people in college in 2004 (source). They have almost five times as many kids as we do, and yet almost the same number attend college. I’ve been told that it’s harder for a Chinese student to make it into a relatively unknown college in China than it is for an American student to make it into Harvard in the U.S.
Now let us look at arable land. As of November 2005, China had approximately 122 million hectares of arable land, covering 13 percent of its territory. This amounted to 0.27 hectares per capita, less than 40 percent of the world per capita average, one-eighth the U.S. level, and one-half the Indian level. (source). According to Google conversions, 122 million hectares = 301.5 million acres.
The United States had 470 million acres of arable land in 2001 (can’t find anything more recent) (source).
Are you beginning to understand the problem here? If China’s population starts exponentially increasing then in todays global market we will be looking at worldwide food shortages.
I’ve tried to give you an idea of the population disparity. How crowded China is. Without seeing it for yourself, it’s hard to get it across. When trying to explain what it was like to go to a market in China I told my mom it was like a store in the U.S. the day before Christmas. Every day. And the traffic? Like the traffic around the mall the day before Christmas. Every day.
The Chinese government will do what is best for China. The one child policy is harsh, and cruel and sad. But the alternative could (in the long run) also be harsh, and cruel, and sad.
As I said, I haven’t talked about it because it is a complex issue. When I think of the individual people I know in China then I’d love for them to be able to have a huge family. But, when I think of the overall effect of this happening across China, I’m actually pretty glad I’m not the one making that decision.