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China’s One-Child Policy

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China’s One-Child Policy
Work presented to
Heather Fradin
School of Extended Learning
149 Skills for Success in University Study



Concordia University
School of Extended Learning
December 2012
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Table of contents
Introduction ……………………………………………………………………… 3
China’s Utopia……………………………………………………………………. 4
Elite Status………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 4
″Little Emperors″ ………………………………………………………………………………………… 5
Parental Pressure………………………………………………………………………………………… 6
Paying off schooling fees……………………………………………………………………………….. 6
Unrealistic expectations…………………………………………………………………………………. 6
Restricted childhood……………………………………………………………………………………… 8
Major Sex unbalance……………………………………………………………………………………. 10
Lower fertility and birth rates…………………………………………………………………………… 10
Sex ratio affecting typical boy-girl relationships…………………………………………………. 11
Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 13
Works cited……………………………………………………………………………………………………. 14
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Introduction
«More than 24 million Chinese men of marrying age could find themselves without spouses in
2020, with sex-specific abortions as a major factor (Pascu, 2011) ». Wang Guangzhou, a
demographic researcher, has pointed this shocking fact out among many others as some of the
issues that the People’s Republic of China will have to deal with in the coming decades. Such
problematic are believed to be direct consequences of the implementation of the infamous OneChild
Policy. Introduced in 1979, this policy was created to control China’s rapidly growing
population and reduce the strain on increasingly scarce resources. The One-Child Policy is
known to be one of the largest and most dramatic population-control campaigns in the world and
the country is still feeling the aftermath impacts of this plan today. This paper will discuss how
this procedure socially and psychologically influenced China’s demography of today. Indeed, the
One-Child Policy created a present teenage generation composed mainly of singletons who are
socially and psychologically influenced by undergoing a tremendous amount of parental pressure
to provide economically for the family, a major lack of work opportunities and tremendous sex
ratio imbalances, greatly compromising a possible stability in their future relationships. This
paper will describe the typical Chinese utopia which children grow to aspire and strive for, their
pressure to pay off incredible amounts of generational accumulated debts and their socialization
being affected growing up in a gender imbalanced environment.
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China’s Utopia
Elite Status
First of all, although the One-Child Policy was established in order to create a generation of
″high quality″ young adults with the strong education and aspiration to make of China a strong
competitor in the capitalist world system, this policy has psychologically and socially changed an
entire generation of singletons, the teenagers of today, who were trained to be part of the First
World, by making them feel frustrated by their parents’ low incomes and the lack of career and
educational opportunities to help them reach this desired First World way of life (Fong, 2004).It
was very common in the urban society that older people would complain about the singletons’
strong sense of entitlement in a world where there is hardly any resources for such a thing as an
‟elite status”. In her book Only Hope, Vanessa Fong has a very precise way to describe the
members of the Chinese society who belonged to the elite status.
Teenagers frequently talked about wanting to become ″wealthy″ (fuyü or you qian), ″big money″
(dakuan), ″cadres″ (ganbu), ″officials″ (guan), ″managers″ (jingli), ″white collar″ (bai ling), or
″intellectuals″ (zhishifenzi). I use the term ″elite″ to refer to people in any of these high-status
categories, and the term ″non-elite″ to refer to everyone else. Though some families I knew were
wealthy by Chinese standards, none were wealthy by First World standards (Fong, 2004, p.23).
Having spent four years studying the demographic change in urban Chinese areas, the
Chinese-American author describes many interesting case studies to explain the impacts
worldwide. What is astonishing about this sentence is that she tutored over 107 families and none
of them would reach First World standards. The children that she tutored in her book, mostly
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singletons, would be considered spoiled and unable to adjust because they grew up with First
World expectations in a Third World setting, in which case their ambitions would clash with the
limitations of their society’s level (Fong, 2004).
″Little Emperors″
The singletons were often called little ‟Little Emperors” by the older generations because they
were treated in such a way that no generation had seen before: they had a television, their own
room, three meals a day, sometimes a full washroom with a shower, etc. These things were
hardly seen when the parents and grandparents of these said singletons grew up with easily six,
seven siblings (Fong, 2004).
Another strong reason by which the Chinese leaders decided to create the One-Child
policy was to produce a generation of citizens with First World levels of health, consumption and
education (Fong 2004). It was forced upon the population in such a way that children would
grow up believing that they would all have an important place on the job market, when really,
their diplomas greatly outnumbered the number of career opportunities available. They would
also believe that their country was developing at such at rhythm that they would be unaware of
how truly poor they were. Although they did want to get inspired by foreign countries to make
their country richer, they were still at a point where they had very limited resources in most
families such as food, sanitation, money for good schools, tutoring, etc (Pascu, 2011). This
would mostly affect people living in the urban regions, where the policy was imposed heavily
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(Pascu, 2011). This would create intense competition for dakuan (big money) and therefore, a
chance to pay off the family’s debts (Fong, 2004).
Parental Pressure
Paying off schooling fees and unrealistic expectations
The singletons’ parents mostly growing up in Third World conditions, it seemed unrealistic and
completely out of reach to wish for First World living standards. For children living at the dawn
of the twenty-first century, it was not a wish, but a duty and a heritage obligation (Fong, 2004).
Although it was known that only a handful of them could make it to the top of the pyramid,
every little boy and girl in the nation had to drag themselves and their families to the top of a
class structure as China increasingly adopted capitalistic values. I say drag their family as well,
for the parents would invest incredible amounts into schooling fees and favours to get their
single children in the very best academic institutions. In fact, many of Vanessa Fong’s case
studies involved rich and low-achieving children whose parents would have to pay extreme
amounts to see their children accepted into a specific academy…Corruption, in this generation,
was definitely an option.
Heavily in debts and starving themselves for the singletons’ success, the parents would
realize down the line how the sacrifices, compared to the payoff, were outrageously superior. In
Prema’s 2012 article, the description of a regular family’s grandparents’ behaviour is simply
alarming : they would either skip meals, eat terrible quality food, eat leftovers when alone at
home but would leave all the good nutriments for the child, having grown up in Third World
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conditions and could not care for a healthy lifestyle. Seldom even went on and said that
nourishing diets were a waste of money on their aging bodies (Prema, 2012).
They could skip as many meals as possible to save money, the singletons’ parents could
not make their children have better grades on their own: they would turn to abusive tutoring such
as every day after school and full weekends to make sure that their child was not only up-to-date,
but dominant in their groups. As for paying off the schooling fees and other family debts, the
parental pressure would grow through the generations, where the payments went from being
divided between seven and more children, to only one (Fong, 2004). Therefore, the debts are no
longer shared and so is the anxiety. Even if the intent was to offer the children the best education
possible, the amount of stress caused on a child at such a young age changes a mindset and
cannot be returned. Children turned into adults too early and against their will would therefore be
the country’s only hope for capitalist development and First World conditions (Fong, 2004).
Also found in the book Only Hope are comparisons between singletons and nonsingletons
when it came to emotional breakdowns linked to receiving grades. It was shown that,
in most cases, singletons were prone to more tearing episodes while studying, even for young
adult males. The pressure was definitely higher on these children, whereas non-singletons
usually received mediocre grades with less trouble (Fong, 2004).
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Restricted childhoods
As another social and psychological impact due to the One-Child policy, the child development
and socialization levels would be increasingly affected throughout the decades following the
implementation of the said policy mainly because the tremendous amount of parental pressure
endured by the singletons’ would reduce their leisure time to practically nothing. Being confined
to the four walls of their rooms or study rooms at their school’s supervised library, the children
would hardly ever live the first and not significant boyfriend or girlfriend, movie and mall dates
with friends or afternoons at the park playing sports. They would be stuck to their books like
PHD students do, only they were as young as ten years old (Singer, 1998)!
Certain parents would also decide to alienate specific children from their own child’s
study time for multiple reasons: if they came from a poor family (this would be considered
defective for their family’s reputation), were considered more excited than average or had
difficulty focusing, had a boyfriend or girlfriend and could influence their child to desire a
similar situation or simply low-achieving children who did not want to put in the effort to help
the country’s capitalist development (Fong, 2004). By having their parents choose most of their
mates and barely letting them see each other outside of school context, singletons would have a
painful time developing their social skills as much as their emotional openness, being forced to
very little contact with friendship and romantic relationships. Fong also stated in her case study
analysis that most children would not go out with friends in social contexts voluntarily because
they had grown to be embarrassed about their family’s financial status and that they did not want
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it to show by not being able to pay, for example, for a concert ticket or a meal at a restaurant. By
focusing on their school, at least, they did not get in trouble with their parents or with their social
image (Fong, 2004).
In the book Only Hope, Vanessa Fong offers a shocking comparison between 120 evenly
divided regular children and singletons in the city of Shanghai in a 1970s study. The children in
the study were aged between 5 and 6 and although they found out that the singletons were better
in school and smarter on most topics, they were also incredibly timid, hostile to authority,
receiving orders and also to other children, did not have a care in the world for other people’s
property, had terrible eating habits, could not take care of themselves, uncooperative and had a
strong disrespect for the elders. However, this is only one study and it was conducted in the years
following the implement of the policy. It does not make all singletons monsters but it does
demonstrate socially inept children. It also shows quite an impact on a children’s generation and
on the ones to come, all scarred by a political idea (Fong, 2004).
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Major sex unbalance
Lower fertility and birth rates
Lastly, low fertility rates would also be a part of the cultural model of modernization, women
being punished for extra children by heavy fines, arrests, forced sterilizations, surveillance,
abortions or imposed contraception when the policy was just imposed and was at its peak. This
being said, citizens living in rural areas would therefore strongly hope to have a baby boy, as it
would be their only chance of making the family wealthy but mostly, comfortable (Prema, 2012).
Men are known for better endurance than woman in manual work and intensive strength
requiring activities and it was therefore a general cultural aspiration to have male offspring.
Thus, woman who gave birth to a daughter instead of a son were not only blamed by the husband
and parents-in-law, but subject to rigorous gynaecological exams and even loss of benefits at
work or their job (Prema, 2012).
Scholars and demographers have also found many plausible links between the skewed
Chinese gender ratios and female infanticide, parents refusing to register their daughters (once
again mainly in rural areas), parents’ abandonment, lethal neglect of baby girls, sex selective
abortions, or some combination of these factors (Pascu, 2011). Even though some villages have
been known to legalize second births against the government’s will, most Chinese officials were
not that brave and have respected the policy’s strictness by imposing the various punishments
seen previously (Prema,2012).

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Sex ratio affecting typical boy-girl relationships
Prior to the One-Child policy, girls were raised to accept losing in most aspects of their lives: the
father figure always ruled the household and the heavy-industry-based economic system
favoured boys. However, after the policy was imposed, most families realized that, is their
daughter was their only hope to succeed financially in a struggling country, these girls had to be
raised as champions. They needed to destroy boys in academic environments and be superior on
the job market (Fong, 2004). Although it was a good thing that they were no longer degraded as
human beings, the pressure could only be higher, for nobody had seen women on the top of the
pyramid quite yet. Therefore, daughters were taught to have the same ambitions as males,
receiving the same encouragements and pressure and following the same rigorous study schedule
(even if every single parent tried to have their child outnumber the other children in the amount
of studying hours). This would later cause a certain level of hostility between both sexes, when
men would expect women to be more docile and lenient that their powerful selves (Fong, 2004).
The females who did not make it very far on the job market, however, would become these quiet
and obedient wives. There was therefore a status war, a competition never seen before between
boys and girls to achieve the very same goals, where a very complex relationship between gender
and stratification would arise (Fong, 2004).
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The post-Mao urban economy started providing different types of job, other than heavyindustry
stereotypical positions. The economy was actually looking good for young women who,
although did not carry the strength genes or the technical skills or scientific expertise to work in
coal petroleum or machine industries, it provided increasingly favourable conditions for young
women (Fong, 2004). By competing with foreign countries, China could no longer count on only
heavy industries, but needed to expand sectors such as education, hospitality, commerce, catering
and many others, where women abilities such as caring ,patience, social skills in customer
service and warmth would be needed (Fong, 2004).
Women would also feel another type of power, later on, when men would chase them by
dozens for the sex unbalance was starting to be very clear to society: the chance of getting
married for men exceeding forty, especially in the country side, was getting scarce. And it is
planned to be this way for the next decade (Pascu, 2011).
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Conclusion
In conclusion, although it accelerated modernization, China’s One-Child Policy also produced
diploma inflation, a widespread fear of parents having no support in old age and still have debts
to pay for and mostly, a generation of teenagers born and bred to become a part of the First
World through unrealistic expectations of how their professional lives should be. It also created a
wave of complaints by the older generations about the said ″spoiled″ singletons and a very
obvious sex unbalance that will still be heavily dealt with in the years to come. Involving
psychological and social impacts on the younger generations, the state-mandated fertility
transition created ″little Emperors″ who are all trying to squeeze into the exact same road to
success while their country does not develop as fast as they would like it to, therefore trying to fit
into this road that is not unwinding fast enough (Fong, 2004). Through desiring the elite status
and living a restricted childhood, experimenting extreme parental pressure to pay off family
debts and carelessly watching their family members undergoing tremendous sacrifices for their
academic performance, the singletons have yet to show the world that the One-Child policy was
not only worth its negative impacts, but also beneficial by creating a generation of perseverant,
ingenious and thriving boys and girls (Fong, 2004).
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References
Fong, V. L. (2004). Only hope: coming of age under China’s one-child policy. Stanford, Calif.:
Stanford University Press.
Pascu, M. L. (2011). China’s “One-Child Family” Demographic Policy – Analyzing the
consequences of the measures taken to confine the demographic growth in
China.. Bulletin of the Transilvania University of Braşov, 7(53), 103-110.
Prema, N. (2012). China’s ‟One-Child Policy″: Time for change is now!. World Future
Review, 4(2), 134-140.
Singer, M. (1998). Educated youth and the cultural revolution in China. Ann Arbor: University
of Michigan, Center for Chinese Studies.

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