The end of China’s One-Child Policy: A legacy of leftover women, little emperors, 4-2-1 and bridal headhunters

The world’s most ambitious social engineering policy may be coming to end. A state-own Chinese think-tank, China Development Research Foundation, concluded that China’s One-Child policy needs to stop. In its report last November, the think-tanked recommended a national two-child policy for 2015 with the elimination of limits to birth by 2020. China’s leader, Xi Jingping, has also indicated undertaking a revision of the policy.

If it does get scrapped, it would conclude a controversial chapter in China’s history. Since the policy was adopted in 1979 it has faced protests from the outside world and human rights observers over practices of forced abortions and inspired infanticide.

China also faces growing gender disparity issues largely because of the one-child policy. In most countries, women make up the base of the pyramid and men the tip at the top. Because of Mao Zedong’s social engineering, the pyramid has turned upside down.

There are fewer women who are at the tip of the pyramid, rising up the social stratus and a massive male population at the base of the lower economic strata. This has considerably strained Confucianist traditional family values in the nation.

Career women are suddenly more selective with life partners, preferring a partner that is their equal in a respectable profession. Beijing has responded by demonizing single women. Women, especially in their 20s (and close to their 30s) are targeted in Chinese propaganda campaigns.

Zhongdian, one child posterA television show called “30” was produced to project the stressful lives of single 29 year-old career women known as “leftover women” who suffer from the miseries of the dating world. Women have an expiry date of 30 years and afterwards men no longer find them “desirable.”

The show drives home the idea that women should leave stressful careers to have husbands pamper them. Intelligent women see through the façade but during the holidays their traditional parents expect them to bring home male breadwinners. So much so that agencies have started up “rental boyfriends” services.

Essentially, it is what it sounds like: fake boyfriends for a day to meet the client’s family. The industry has been so widely successful that popular films and television shows have spawned romantic and comical storylines of clients and rental boyfriends falling in love. It also raised awareness among parents who try to catch their children in a lie by asking elaborate details of their relationship backstories.

Likewise, for men the demand has fueled the emergence of bridal headhunter agencies. These agencies scout prospective women, in malls and shops, soliciting young attractive women into dates with wealthy clients.

But for the poor and populous men, they will have tougher times finding girlfriends since wealthy businessmen snatch them all up. Chinese men, generally, seek less-threatening paragons of femininity. Consequently, men are increasingly marrying socially “lower” ethnic Chinese women, minorities like Koreans or finding brides abroad. In other words, women are marrying up, while men are marrying below their social status.

Another criticism of the one-child policy has been the legacy of the “little emperor” complex and “4-2-1 problem.” The policy has left parents putting only one egg in one basket, in a manner of speaking. The only child across China is often spoiled and has poor relationships with their parents in the future. In addition, “4-2-1 problem” places pressure on the only child in adulthood to provide support for his or her two parents and four grandparents.

China is further renouncing its welfare efforts to care for retired seniors. The onus ultimately falls on retiree’s savings, charity and their only child for financial assistance. Consequently, China recently enacted a mandatory parental visitation policy as a result of rising neglect by adult only children.

Coupled by a cutthroat economic reality deteriorating Chinese family bonds, the problem has exacerbated to such alarming rates that there has been escalation of parental abuse and inheritance theft. While it was enforced to curb social maladies related to overpopulation the economy and environment, the one-child policy has produced a nest of other social maladies.

It is almost certain that Xi Jianping will remove the one-child policy. However, it is equally wise to install a two-child policy this year rather than two years from now. Given the already manifested aftermaths of one-child it would be prudent to nip it in the bud.

* Images by Andrew Turner (top) and Adrian Zwegers via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons

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