The relaxation of China's One Child Policy is necessary, and long overdue

Today, having too few people of working age threatens to impede growth

Related Topics

“Done because we are too menny”. The suicide note of Jude the Obscure’s son was impossibly pitiful, not least because his tragic act was borne of good intentions. The Chinese Communist Party had a similarly well-meaning motivation when it introduced its “family planning policy” – known to the world as the One Child Policy – in 1979.

China was opening up to global trade and dismantling Chairman Mao’s command economy. But the Chinese were “too many” insisted the leaders of Beijing and the paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. The country’s massive population would hold back growth and keep China trapped in the net of degrading poverty. So one more mechanism of social control was needed: Chinese couples were to be forbidden from having more than one child.

China, of course, went on to enjoy three decades of stellar growth and rising living standards after its introduction. The cadres and officials of Beijing claimed vindication for the policy. Would that take-off have happened, they ask, if population growth had not been curbed? We cannot know the answer. But I suspect the answer is “yes”. China would still have grown without the policy. And people would probably have opted for smaller families out of choice as their incomes rose.

In any case, it is now clear that the restriction has become an economic curse for China. The share of the population aged over 65 in the country is set to explode from around 10 per cent today to 25 per cent by the middle of the century, thanks largely to the abnormally and socially enforced low birth rate. That raises the nightmare that China will “grow old before it grows rich”. What now threatens to impede the country’s economic advance is not too many people, but too few of a working age.

Spurred by this demographic threat, the Beijing leadership today announced that the One Child Policy will be relaxed. From now on if one parent is themselves an only child the couple will be allowed to have two babies. The news does not come as great surprise to China watchers; such a move had been mooted for some time and the policy had already been partially relaxed. But it is a significant moment nonetheless.

The One Child Policy has been responsible for terrible horrors in China – including forced abortions – and it implanted a dull ache of economic insecurity in the hearts of millions. The hope must be that this decision by the leadership in Beijing is merely a prelude to the full reversal of a well-meaning but inhumane policy.

Ben Chu is the author of Chinese Whispers: Why Everything You’ve Heard About China is Wrong.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Newly Qualified Teachers

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently looking fo...

Year 3/4 Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Job Share Year 3/4 Teacher...

Day In a Page

Read Next

The racist abuse of Mario Balotelli on Twitter is disgusting, but it can be stopped

Anna Jonsson
A survey by Which? found that some of the UK’s biggest airports, including Heathrow, left travellers the most agitated  

Third-runway momentum is gathering. We need to stop it in its tracks

Mary Dejevsky
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments