China tones down hardline slogans on one-child policy

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China is trying to soften the propaganda slogans it uses to promote its one-child policy, making its calls to have fewer babies less offensive.

Slogans such as "Raise fewer babies but more piggies", and "Houses toppled, cows confiscated, if abortion demand rejected" as well as "One more baby means one more tomb" have been declared crude and counter-productive in the efforts to quell the number of births in the world's most populous nation.

The messages are painted on walls and houses all over China, but the government body charged with implementing the one-child policy, the National Population and Family Planning Commission, believes the slogans are coarse, poorly worded and can damage the government's image.

"If such low-quality slogans, which may cause public complaint and resentment, are not corrected ... the country's family planning efforts in the new era will be hindered," said a report from the commission. Family-planning experts have come up with 190 less alarming slogans, such as "Mother Earth is too tired to sustain more children".

The one-child policy was implemented in 1979 because because of concern that the rising birth rate would put too much strain on resources. The policy is commonly blamed for an alarming rise in the male-to-female ratio. In most Western countries, more girls are born than boys. But in China, the census of 2000 revealed that 117 boys were born for every 100 girls, way above the normal level of 100 females to 104-107 males. That level has been attributed to sex-selective abortion.

Farmers believe sons are better able to provide for the family, support their parents and carry on the family name - powerful enticements in a country with little by way of a social security blanket. In an effort to change this mindset, one new slogan says: "Both boys and girls are parents' hearts."

The one-child policy is often viewed in the West as an attack on human rights, but there is growing debate about the policy in China too.

In May, in Shuangwang, southern China, there were riots after residents were fined for breeching the family-planning rules.

The government argues how it has successfully slowed population growth. There is now an average birth rate of 1.8 children per couple, compared with six when it was introduced. And there are many exceptions.

People in the cities can have a second child if both the husband and wife come from one-child families and farm couples are allowed to have another child if their first was a girl. Many ethnic minorities are allowed to have two children, and there are no restrictions on the number of children that Tibetans can have.