When I first came here, I assumed that all of my students would have no siblings. After all the government one-child policy began in 1979 and most of my students were born in the mid-80’s.
So I was surprised when my students started talking about their brother and sisters.
‘You have siblings?’ I would ask.
‘Yes,’ they answered, some as many as 2 or 3. Roughly about half of my students have at least one sibling and some even more. (Chinese people sometimes call their cousins brother and sister, so I made them clarify when they said they had siblings about what they really meant.)
So I was thoroughly confused. I mean, all we hear about in the west is stories of girl babies being given up for adoption (or worse) so the family could try for a boy, right? If everyone can only have one-child, then how do so many of them have siblings? Where they all breaking the law?
It turns out that the one-child policy should have an asterisk after it because there are a lot of exceptions:
- If you live in the country and your first child is a girl, you are allowed to have another baby.
- If both parents are only children they are allowed to have another child.
- The policy only applies to Han Chinese and not the ethnic minorities.
- The policy only applies to mainland China and not areas like T1bet, Hong Kong and other special districts.
- And of course if you are rich, you can just pay a fine and have kids to your hearts content.
All in all, only about 35% of the population is restricted by the one-child policy and in fact, based on the population of china, the current ratio is closer to 2 children per family rather than one.
And here’s another slightly controversial opinion I’ve come up with since living here: it might not be such a bad policy.
Before you jump down my throat, hear me out. I’m not saying it is a good thing and it has certainly caused, and will cause, problems such as human rights violations, gender imbalance, an aging population etc, but there are so many people in China right now it boggles the mind.
Think about it, China and the US are about equal size. (They tie for third largest country in the world. Which is bigger depends on if you count all the bits and pieces owned by the government but not the official country). The population of America is about 300 million. The population of China is 1.3 billion people. That is a full one billion more people in roughly the same amount of land.
It boggles the mind to think about, and even being here and seeing it, it boggles the mind. I don’t think I fully understand what 1.3 billion people mean. But I do see small signs of it.
For instance the nearest big city to us is Hangzhou. We live about an hour away. There is a local bus that runs express between our town and the city. It runs as soon as it fills up which is about every 10-15 minutes. Every 10-15 minutes all day long every single day about 80 people per bus go to the city. That is hundreds and hundreds of people everyday. (And that’s just a normal day. During the autumn holidays a students told me the buses were sold out for 3 days straight!)
Okay, I can hear you thinking, but that’s from a small area to the city. Of course lots of people go to the city. What’s even crazier is that the reverse trip is exactly the same. In fact one weekday late at night (not a busy traveling time) Ryan and I had to wait for 3 buses to fill and leave before it was our turn (and the line was huge behind us). I mean, this bus is the equivalent of Boston to Nashua, N.H., which runs maybe once a day and it isn’t even half full at that.
If the population was allowed to grow unchecked I think there could be a lot of problems. Not just with environmental problems (I mean 1.3 billion people are making enough pollution as it is) but with issues like famine, adequate healthcare and other infrastructure type services to take care of so many people.
It might sound like I’ve “drunk the kool-aid” but issues like this make me realize how little we actually understand issues of other countries. In our media all we hear about it the high death rate of baby girls, forced sterilization and other terrible thing. But there are two sides to every coin and living here has given me a deeper understanding of the other side not just on this issue but on lots of other issues in general.
It’s a big old complicated world out there.