Assessing China’s Family Planning Policy from a Micro Perspective

Author: Zixin Yang

Family planning policy is also called as “one child policy”, which was strictly enforced in the 1980s and 1990s in China. The policy is a birth-control regulation that prevent one family to have more than one child by using strict penalties to the family that disobeyed it, while it has exceptions such as in rural area, ethnic minority areas. Although the family planning policy successfully controlled the population of China, preventing it from rising sharply, the policy did bring sorrow and burden to the families in China.

Before the implementation of the policy, most people were born in a big family that had at least two children, and some families even had eight or ten children. In this case, the parents could get as much babies as they wanted and it was much easier to meet their requirements that having at least a male child[1]. Moreover, for the children with siblings, they could learn to get along with each other in their daily life and deal with various situations. Furthermore, if the parents got old or felt sick, their children could take turns to look after them.

After the family planning policy being carried out, however, each couple could only have one child except for some special situations. Some parents who were willing to but failed to have a male baby tended to blame each other for not giving birth to a boy. Usually, the wife was the one who suffered most, because in China’s tradition, when the couple got married, the wife would belong to the husband’s family and should perform the obligation to bear a boy to ensure the family continuity. Thus, when the only child was found as a girl, it would not only ignite the quarrel of the couple, but the wife would not be esteemed in the family. In a famous short play (Xiao Pin) Excessive Birth Guerrilla (Chao Sheng You Ji Dui), the wife and the husband quarreled with each other since they suffered concealing their three daughters and living a low standard life in order to have a male child. Therefore, the relationship between the couple and the family unity were severely challenged.

The children are also influenced by the policy. On one hand, the only child in one family has less opportunity to contact with other children, instead, they spend most time with their parents and the elders. Since the elders acts as teachers or parents, they usually teach the children skills, praising or punishing, instead of treating the children equally. Under the control of their parents, the children are more eager to act as a listener, a follower, instead of the leader. Moreover, the whole family tend to pour their love to the only child, which usually leads to spoiling the child. As the parents normally satisfy the child’s needs, when the child plays with other kids, they are less likely to share, to act modestly, which may resulting in displeasure or even fighting. Having less communication and interaction with the peers, these children could not realize their intact socialization.

On the other hand, in the long term, the only child will have much more burden than the other children with siblings. After they grow up, their parents will get old and become weaker. In China’s tradition, the children have the obligation to support their parents after they go to work. With one or more siblings, they can share the burden with each other. However, for the only child who has no brothers or sisters, they have to support two parents by his or her own salary and energy, which is much more difficult.


[1] People have the obligation to assure family continuity which requires a male offspring in the traditional view of China.