Pressures loom for 'dragon babies' in China
Updated: 2012-01-28 13:54
BEIJING - Although the dragon seems scary to some people, many young Chinese couples are determined to have a child this year despite pressures their offspring may face in the many years to come.
A doctor in Hong Kong has forecast a 5-percent rise in the newborn population in the Year of the Dragon, which started on Monday, and Shanghai, China's largest city, is expecting 180,000 dragon babies this year.
Maternity wards in Shanghai's hospitals were even crowded during the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday.
At the 10th People's Hospital, more than 40 babies were born during the first five days of the Lunar New Year. Medical workers were forced to put extra beds in every maternity ward to accommodate the new mothers and babies.
Zhou Wen said her son's birth in the Year of the Dragon was a surprise. "He was due about a week before the New Year. I think he'll bring us good luck, as the dragon is a symbol of wisdom and bravery."
Zhou and her husband named the child Wang Zhoulin, with "lin" meaning "dragon." The same character has been given to several other "dragon babies" born at the same hospital.
Fight for resources
In Beijing, every bed at the city's Maternity Hospital has been booked through August. The hospital has decided to receive a maximum of 1,000 expectant mothers every month in order to secure spots in the delivery room when their babies are due.
Li Jing, an expectant mother in Jinan, eastern Shandong province, is already fed up with having to wait several hours for a prenatal check.
"I sort of 'planned' for the baby to be born in the Year of the Dragon, because the whole family believes a dragon baby is auspicious," said Li, who is due in April.
"But so many dragon babies are due this year. It will be hard for them to enter kindergartens and schools in a couple of years," she said.
Li has good reason to worry, as all the recent baby booms, which happened in the last Year of the Dragon in 2000, the auspicious year of the "Golden Pig" in 2007 and in 2008 - the year China hosted the Olympics, were followed by shortages in resources ranging from available delivery room beds to openings at kindergartens and primary schools.
Jinan-based office worker Yang Qin remembered having to offer "deal sweeteners" to a kindergarten chief, and then to a primary school principal, to secure a place for her daughter, who was born in 2000.
"When my daughter was in kindergarten, there were 25 children in each class, compared with 18 in previous years. When she entered primary school, more than 500 children competed for 160 places," Yang said.
In Beijing, some "Olympic babies" have been waiting to enter kindergarten, despite the government's efforts over the past two years to open more kindergartens to accommodate the children born in 2008.
The baby boomers' parents are also often under greater financial pressure.
Local media have reported price hikes for maternity nanny services in Beijing and Tianjin.
In Tianjin, new parents have to pay 6,000 to 8,000 yuan ($952 to $1,269) for a well-trained nanny to nurse their baby in the first month. The price is higher than many working couples' combined monthly income.
Despite the high costs, Gui Ying, a trained nanny for newborn babies, has signed seven contracts that will keep her busy until the end of the summer.
As Shandong University Professor Wang Zhongwu sees it, the baby boom partly reflects young couples' high expectations for the next generation.
"Most of these young couples were born in the 1980s and grew up as the only children at home," Wang said. "Naturally, they hope to create the most favorable conditions for their own children, including the children's birth signs."
Yet these young parents may also have created obstacles for their children, given limited resources and the possibly irrational allocation of such resources, he said.
"Besides, children can feel the pressure when they know their parents' expectations."