Melanie McDonagh: Soon there will be brothers and sisters again in China

Share
Related Topics

China – at least, its biggest commercial city – is to modify its one-child policy. The authorities in Shanghai have declared that "eligible couples" – viz, two only-children – will be allowed, indeed, encouraged, to have a second child.

Just don't run away with the idea that this is an outbreak of liberal, pro-choice individualism on the part of the authorities. As Xie Linli, the director of the Shanghai Population and Family Planning Commission, said: "We advocate eligible couples to have two kids because it can help to reduce the proportion of the ageing people and alleviate a workforce shortage in the future."

Mmm. So the obvious downside of the one-child policy has only just occurred to them? Population growth is a bit like a pyramid selling scheme: unless you've got income coming in at the bottom, you can't continue paying out to those at the top.

Regardless of its obvious economic advantages – and the proportion of over-60s in Shanghai, now more than a fifth, will rise to a third by 2020 – it's hard to think of a measure that will do more, at a stroke, to increase the sum of human happiness, apart from letting people decide the size of their families for themselves. And that's something the Chinese have not been allowed to do for decades: the opposite of the one-child policy was Mao's previous insistence that the Chinese should have large families. The upshot is, there'll be more people who know what the words sister and brother mean in a human, not linguistic, sense. There'll be Chinese in a generation's time who will know what it is to have an aunt or uncle; cousins, even.

This is not to say that I don't see the advantages of only children. I and half the population of China have that much in common. Being an only child means that your place in the universe is secure. You don't have any of the tiresome competition for attention. There's no squabbling about the pecking order, or inheritance. You are, in your own family at least, the Little Emperor.

Spoilt, I grant you, and occasionally lonely, but with the internal self-sufficiency that comes from having to amuse yourself quite a lot of the time. As Wilkie Collins put it, in his novel, No Name: "Miss Marrable was that hardest of all born tyrants – an only child. She had never granted a constitutional privilege to her oppressed father and mother, since the time when she cut her first tooth."

From the parents' point of view, the advantages are equivocal, apart from the purely selfish circumstance that you have more of your own money. Your hold on posterity is fragile. One of the unbearable implications of last year's Chinese earthquake was that so many of the casualties – perhaps 68,000 – would have been only children. A society where the old exceed the young is unbalanced.

In Confucian terms, the individual's pre-eminent obligations are to parents, grandparents and ancestors. Now we have something like descendant worship.

The partial reversal of the one-child policy – which was enforced by compulsory abortions and involuntary sterilisations – will have an environmental impact on the rest of us. But we should give those environmentalists who rejoice in draconian population policies for other people very short shrift.

I've come across any number of supposedly liberal academics who, sotto voce, will tell you of the immense benefits of China's one-child policy. Well, they'll just have to come to terms with this advance in freedom. For anyone who cares at all about human liberty, it's something we should celebrate.

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas