China's yuppies turn their backs on baby talk: Young high-flyers are concentrating on careers and ignoring traditional family values, writes Teresa Poole in Peking

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The Independent Online
'OF THE three unfilial acts,' Mencius, the Chinese philosopher, wrote, 'the failure to leave progeny is the greatest one.' Nearly 2,300 years after his death, one married couple in the north-eastern city of Harbin thinks this disciple of Confucius is wrong.

Both are Chinese high-flyers, he a government official and she an accountant, and they have created a pristine home out of a typically drab Chinese apartment. The large colour television, video player, and telephone-answering machine have all been fitted with matching maroon velvet covers. No, the husband says, they do not plan to have the one child permitted. A child would disrupt work and home.

In China's cities, the traditional family model of three, four or five generations under one roof is hard to find after 15 years of reform. Couples in their twenties and thirties have different family values. A small but growing number do not want children, most prefer not to live with their parents, they are more likely to divorce, and the women also want careers.

Chinese sociologists now write about 'Double-Income-No-Kids' (Dink) couples. Tian Sen, president of the Chinese Centre for Research of Contemporary Society, said that career ambition, particularly among women, was the most important reason why some couples did not intend to have children. He said there were more than 1 million Dink couples by the beginning of last year. 'Many young couples, valuing their careers and love lives, are reluctant to have a child that would deprive them of most of their free time,' he wrote recently.

A survey by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, quoted by the official China Daily, found most Dink couples were well- educated and lived in large cities. They gave the following reasons for not having children: a baby would be a great financial burden (60 per cent), they worried about how their children might live (55 per cent), and children would lower their living standards (47 per cent). But some couples thought a child might bring stability to a marriage, and that the next generation would suffer if more intelligent couples were childless.

Less radical ways in which the traditional family structure is breaking down can be seen with the Dinky (Double-income-no- kids-yet) couples who, encouraged by the one-child policy, are waiting longer to have their single offspring. At the Lufthansa shopping centre in Peking last week a computer teacher and his office manager wife, both in their late twenties, were inspecting the latest Benetton imports. 'We don't have children yet because we want to enjoy being a couple longer.

'People pay more attention to the quality of family life. They care more about material things like having good interior decoration,' said the husband.

What young urban couples want more than anything is the luxury of their own home away from their parents, a demand the government is unable to satisfy, given the extreme shortage of urban housing. The teacher and his wife have their own bed-sitter but it is too small for cooking, so they reluctantly eat at her parents' home.

Professor Tian said urban professionals were not merely selfish. 'There is a generation gap. Young people have their own way of life, for instance, their incomes are often higher than their parents. They prefer to live the way they want,' he said.

Traditional values are further challenged by the sharp increase in divorce. About 909,000 couples divorced last year, compared with 300,000 in 1991, with the biggest rise in cities. Couples are now more at liberty to escape unhappy marriages, whereas before they would have been trapped. Professor Tian said: 'Divorce is a kind of progress, a kind of liberation.'