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October 30, 2015

China shifts from a one-child policy to two: Will families?


After more than 30 years, China’s government has abandoned its one-child policy.

China introduced the one-child policy in 1979 as a way to control its surging population, now 1.4 billion people, in an attempt to off-set potential economic problems. Now fears of a labor shortage, a gender imbalance — families in rural areas favored boys for manual work — and an aging population loom large over the country. The policy change may have come too late for China, according to author Mei Fong.

Currently, China’s population is 1.4 billion people. For every elderly retiree in China, there are about five working adults, but in 20 years, that number will shrink to 1.6 for every retired person in China, Fong said. In an interview with PBS NewsHour, Fong expressed concern that there are not going to be enough people to pay for all the retirement programs needed to support such a large aging population.

The Chinese government has come under fire from the international community since it adopted the one-child policy decades ago, particularly for the harsh way authorities dealt with families who had a second child. “They call them heihaizi, black children, because they don’t exist. They’re non-people,” Fong said.

There are about 13 to 15 million of these children, some of whom are now adults. “But for all intents and purposes, they just don’t exist in China. They can’t register to buy a house. They can’t go to school,” Fong said. She told PBS that she was not optimistic that the government’s new two-child policy would include rights for the heihazi.

So will families in China choose to have more kids? It’s doubtful, Fong said. Almost no country has succeeded in convincing families to have more babies after it created a population control program.


Population control – the practice of artificially changing the human growth rate of a country

pension – a fixed sum of money paid regularly to a person following retirement

Warm up questions
  1. What country has the world’s largest population?
  2. Why would a country implement a population control policy?
  3. What do you know about China’s one-child policy?
Critical thinking questions
  1. What are some potential ethical questions that may arise if a government decides to enact a population control policy?
  2. Do you think China was correct in its decision to drop its one-child policy? Explain.
  3. What would you do if you heard that the heihaizi would not be given basic human rights under the new two-child policy?
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