End of the one-child policy

In late 1970s, China embarked on the one-child policy - forcibly limiting couples to one child - in a desperate effort to curb population growth. China's booming population was a runaway train and the government could foresee the upcoming misery and chaos if something wasn't done.  That something was the new policy.  Of course, there were exceptions to the rule - for rural farmers, ethnic minorities, parents of disabled children and, in some cases, where the first child was a girl (after all, it is the sons that carry on the family name everywhere). 

This year marks the 30th anniversary of that policy. Those original singular children have been having their own children for a while. China is no longer the poverty-stricken country of the 70s. It has, through rapid industrialization and transformation into a manufacturing juggernaut, managed to improve its lot tremendously.  Prosperity, at least the financial kind, is everywhere. Yet the policy endures.

But today, there are strains on the horizon. The demand for sons has not dropped as the government had hoped and so there is an acute shortage of young women for the men to marry. Also, long term macro-economic forces are at work. As the population shrinks, the Chinese economic clout may get blunted. But there is a bigger worry - especially for the communist party that continues to have a monopoly on the political life in China.

Recently, there have been two tragedies that have shaken the Chinese population. The first was an earthquake in Sichuan which destroyed a lot of buildings and other infrastructure but it had a special affinity for shoddily built schools. Tens of thousands of school-going children died. The second was man made - mixing melamine with milk powder which has led to tens of thousands of children to hospitals and a handful of deaths. Both of these tragedies have disproportionately struck children and often the parents are old enough that having another child is difficult.

This has led to widespread anger amongst the parents. In Sichuan, parents refused to back down from demands that the people involved in the shoddy construction of schools be brought to justice. The government acted more swiftly regarding the melamine scandal and many involved are behind bars. But this has exposed a weakness in the communist party's grip. When an only child is harmed due to negligence of the government, the parents can no longer be restrained by the fear of what may happen to them.

Thus I believe that the Chinese government would end the one-child policy to defuse a potentially difficult situation down the road when another tragedy exposes the limits of the government's powers.  The question now is - are the Chinese, burnt by the global turmoil, willing to risk having another child?

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