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

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee