Hall (1987) examined the effects of the one child policy from a cultural/anthropological and ethnographic perspective. Her study revealed that such policies unwittingly result in a cultural change in attitudes, beliefs and even behaviors exhibited by children. For example, couples may lean toward the decision that having more than one child "cramps their economic style" and that may lead to the one child being spoiled and the 'babyhood' period being drawn out (Hall, 1987).
The author suggests that a country full of only children will result in children who grow into adults that will be self-centered and less likely to be concerned with the welfare of the country as a whole, and more likely to be concerned with their own personal satisfaction. This goes against the Chinese ideology that it is important to serve the country rather than oneself, and Hall suggests that "a citizenry made up of only children could spell trouble" (Hall, 1987:44).
There has been some push by the Chinese government and the Ministry of Civil Affairs in recent years to provide more funding for orphanages so they can provide better care and provisions for the children living in them (Banghan et. al, 1998). Also underway is a test program in six counties where a voluntary birth planning policy is being put in place, where birth planning is encouraged without strict adherence to quotas or fines and punishments for families that choose not to participate in the program (Sly, 1998; Banghan et. al, 1998). These policies might lessen the changes for abandonment. Revision of the adoption law will also help.
Greenhalgh (2003) suggests that the one-child policy is about "the nation's dreams for achieving wealth, modernity, and global power through selective absorption of Western science and technology" (163). The author suggests that modern science and technology are responsible for highlighting the connection between population and prosperity, and suggests that philosophers and scientists have come to conclude that human welfare, order and utility is enhanced when population controls are in place.
Population in China has been characterized by government officials as a 'national crisis' suggesting that a drastic solution be required for the well being of the Chinese people as a whole and the economic and global ascent of the nation (Greenhalgh, 2003).
Li (2002) presents evidence from the China Health and Nutrition Survey as well as other resources to provide ethnographic information regarding the recent effects of the one child policy among the Han Chinese. China has changed substantially from a demographic perspective from a country that was highly fertile to one that is considered a "nearly below replacement level of fertility" (Li, 2002).
Gradually as the net population in China failed to decline during the 1980s the policy became stricter and second births were forbidden in most cases; enforcement of the policy also became very strict and mandatory IUD insertions, abortions and sterilization became the norm rather than the exception to the rule (Li, 2002). However, coercive measures to enforce the policy were withdrawn in 1984; restrictions were also lifted and in some rural provinces couples were allowed to have a second child if the first child was a girl (Li, 2002).
During the late 1980s the policy became even more lax when the State Family Planning Commission declared that national policy would allow a second child be born in all "single daughter households" in rural areas (Li, 2002). My early 1990 three variations of this policy applied to the Han Chinese (Li, 2002). Economic incentives were applied along with the one child policy. Commonly used incentives including food rations, subsidies and housing/education assistance for many urban families, and more land for rural families (Li, 2002).
Initial problems with the policy included a lack of uniformity. In some areas the policy was more strictly administered that in others. Generally the policy is not as well enforced in rural areas because families growing up on farms generally need the extra help afforded by having more than one child. However in urban cities the policy is typically strictly enforced.
Studies suggest that the sex ratio of newborn children is climbing and has been climbing since the mid 1980s, with more boys being born than men (Li, 2002). Such imbalanced gender representation can have "negative social implications" including men not being able to find female partners (Li, 2002). There is some evidence to suggest that women are forced into prostitution or kidnapped and sold as wives for men living in remote areas where the ratio of men to women is high (Li, 2002; PRB, 2001). There are many that speculate that a one child policy raises the pressure to create a culture that is based on sex ratios.
Benefits vs. Problems
Do the benefits of the policy outweigh the problems? Statistically they do not. The fertility rate has declined among Han Chinese women in China. In fact the fertility rate is the lowest among all developed nations.
This has not however significantly impeded the net population growth. Rather the population in China continues to rise. In addition the Han population is becoming imbalanced, in part because the culture is one that supports the notion that a male is more valuable than a female member of the family. This is due in part to the fact that many consider a male member of the family critical for the social security and economic well being of the family over time.
Cultural and social reform will be necessary for change to be realized. In addition the ratio of males to females is rising in the country, causing problems including increased prostitution and evidence that women are being 'sold' as wives (Li, 2002).
The policy has created more pressure on females to produce male children, and has resulted in widespread abandonment of female children as well as female infanticide. This trend is unlikely to change unless the cultural norms of society change in a manner that encourages the birth of females as equal in value to male children.
Government and Han Chinese
How will the government and Han Chinese solve the problems that currently exist within the country? Various methods have been attempted and discarded in the past. Among these include forced coercion on the part of the Chinese government which resulted in forced IUD's and other measures to prevent parents from having more than one child.
One of the primary problems identified with the policy is that it varies from province to province. There are many 'exceptions' to the rule that exist depending on where a couple lives. In some areas it is acceptable to try for a second child if the firstborn is a girl. In other areas it is only acceptable to try for a second child if the firstborn is disabled. Rural dwellers seem to have more exceptions to the rule than people living in urban areas, and it is more common to see families with two or three children in rural and agricultural areas than in cities.
Attempts by the government to provide financial incentives to couples adhering to the policy have also failed by and large. Though some couples have taken advantage of them, a larger majority have paid fines for not adhering to the policy and having more than one child despite legislation encouraging one child.
Part of the problem is the net population growth rate in China is on the rise. This is due largely to the increased life expectancy in China due to better quality of living standards and health care available for citizens. Despite China's best efforts, it statistics show that though fertility rates on decreasing, the net population is still increasing, and has been estimated at 1.2+ billion per year (Li, 2002).
In addition the Han Chinese are unfairly impacted by one child policies, with the population of Han decreasing and the gender ratio of male to female citizens becoming more unbalanced with every year the one child policy is in effect. The cultural implications to this particular group of Chinese have not been examined in the long-term, but it is likely that the consequences will be severe.
Based on the information gathered from studies of the one child policy over the last two decades, there is adequate information to conclude that a one child policy can result in cultural and social changes that may impact the Han Chinese negatively over time. In addition there is evidence to suggest that the population in China is still growing rather than decreasing. What exactly is the solution? In recent years a voluntary one child policy has been instituted in six provinces which is showing some promise for success. A more flexible system that allows couples to have the option of one child, or a system that allows uniform exceptions to the rule (including the allowance of a second child in the case where the firstborn is disabled or female)…