Cash rewards for family planners
Yang Jiguo, 71, never expected that her decision of having a small family 37 years ago would bring an "insurance" for her old age.
Starting last month, Yang, a farmer from Nanmen Village, Dali Town of Dali City in Yunnan Province, began to receive a "pension" of 600 yuan (US$72) every year till her death, from the central and local governments.
This annual grant is a kind of reciprocation for her contribution towards the country's family planning programme - and an effort of the Yunnan provincial government to promote voluntary birth control in rural areas.
Yang gave birth to a son in 1967 and was determined to have only one child.
She believed that raising more children meant less opportunity for a good living and education for the siblings. One child meant all her efforts could be concentrated.
Now, her son Yang Jianchun is 37 years old, married and works on his own land.
Following his mother's example, junior Yang also gave up having more kids and applied for a single-child certificate for his son from the local government.
To his surprise, his decision has brought about more benefits for the family and especially for his 13-year-old boy. The couple are awarded 1,000 yuan (US$120) by the local government for maintaining a nuclear family. The child is remitted of tuition fees which are 160 yuan (US$19) each semester until he finishes his nine-year compulsory education, and will receive an additional 10 to 20 points added onto his examination scores when later applying for a senior middle school and a higher-learning institute.
"We just did what the government encourages us to do, and to have a small family is also for our own benefit. Yet the government did not forget us," junior Yang said.
For city and town dwellers, the 600 yuan (US$72) pension and 320 yuan (US$39) tuition fees a year might seem like small fry. Yet to rural families like Yang's who depend on farming, the unexpected "income" can be of great help and improve living and education standards.
Yang Jiguo said she would spend the money to buy some necessities for the whole family and meanwhile save some money for her grandson.
What happened in Yang's family illustrates how the new practice is promoting voluntary family planning in the remote mountainous province in Southwest China.
The provincial government hopes such practice - which is called the "reward, priority, exemption and subsidy" policy - may help keep a steady population growth that is in harmony with the economic and social development of the country. Such practice also speeds up the construction of a better-off society in Yunnan Province, said Vice-Governor Wu Xiaoqing.
With a population of 43.8 million, Yunnan is the 12th biggest among the 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions across the mainland in terms of population. Each year, about 800,000 babies are born in Yunnan.
It is estimated the population will surpass 52.3 million by 2020 if population growth maintains at the present rate.
Last year, the birth rate of the province stood at 17 per thousand, while the national average is 12.41 per thousand.
The rapid increase has turned into a hurdle that impairs economic and social development.
He Yaoyun, deputy director of the Yunnan Provincial Population and Family Planning Commission, listed a "bill" to illustrate the effects of over population .
The province produced a total of 179.39 billion yuan (US$21.6 billion) in gross domestic product (GDP) in 1998, ranking 18th among all provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions in the mainland. However, the per capita GDP stood at 4,356 yuan (US$525), which is ranked 24th.
For comparison, last year, the total GDP reached 245.88 billion yuan (US$29.6 billion), remaining at 18th place, yet the per capita GDP was 5,619 yuan (US$677), at 29th place.
"No matter how small a problem is, it would become an extra big one when multiplied by 1.3 billion; and no matter how big the total GDP is, it would become nothing when divided by 1.3 billion," Wang Jinlong, director of Lijiang Population and Family Planning Commission said, quoting the remarks of Premier Wen Jiabao.
Estimates made by the Yunnan provincial government indicate that if the population growth rate remains unchanged, the province has to keep an annual economic growth rate of 10.17 per cent in the next 18 years to reach the goal of building a better-off society, which is defined by a per capita GDP of US$3,000 by year of 2020. The total GDP then will have to reach 1,276.5 billion yuan (US$153.8 billion), five times more than the amount in 2002.
The amount of arable land for each person in the province has also been decreasing sharply, from 2.27 mu (0.15 hectare) per person in 1949, to 1.52 mu (0.10 hectare) in 1980, and to 1.06 mu (0.07 hectare) in 2000. Experts estimate the amount of arable land per person would drop to 0.96 mu (0.064 hectare) by 2010 if the population growth rate stays at its present rate. And by 2020, the figure would reach 0.85 mu (0.057 hectare), approaching the alarm-line of 0.8 mu (0.05 hectare) set by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
Worse still, 91.2 per cent of the 800,000 new-borns are in rural areas, and 62.17 per cent of them in poverty-stricken regions. The increase in the poor population has become a major challenge in raising household incomes for rural families in Yunnan.
Based on these calculations, the provincial government is determined to try a new strategy to boost the transformation of the traditional reproduction concept, which favours more than one child, preferably male, to a new one that prefers fewer children to ensure a better standard of living.
Meanwhile, financial support will be given to only-child families to ensure parents enjoy a happy life when they grow old - which is one of the major worries of single-child parents in rural areas across China.
Early last year, the Provincial Population and Family Planning Commission proposed the framework of the "reward, priority, exemption and subsidy" policy, and carried out investigations in different localities.
With support from the National Population and Family Planning Commission, the provincial government promulgated a provisional regulation on giving rewards and subsidies for families that practise family planning in rural areas.
Thirty-four counties and cities were selected for a pilot project in August last year, and the number grew to 41 at the end of the same month.
Large scale publicity activities were carried out to get all rural population informed of the new policy.
Meetings were held in different localities to hand over the awards and bank deposit cards to eligible people.
Wei Xiangxian, 61, felt proud when she attended the awarding ceremony in her hometown of Qihe Town, Gucheng District of Lijiang City on October 14.
She appeared in the media, which gave a great deal of coverage to the event.
She now receives an extra 700 yuan (US$84) every year, and her husband who is three years younger than her will also enjoy the same treatment in two years.
Wei had only one daughter who is now 24. Wei gave up having more kids because the family could not afford it, she said.
She said she was happier thanks to the unexpected gift from the government.
A total of 30 elderly people in Gucheng District received their first payment the same day.
And the policy appears to be working - more and more rural families have volunteered to have only one child.
In nine months between August of last year to May this year, over 54,000 rural households in the 41 pilot areas applied for one-child certificates, 2.3 times more than the accumulated figure in the past 24 years, according to data provided by the Yunnan Provincial Population and Family Planning Commission.
"Holding the bank deposit card, we are assured, the new policy set our minds at ease," said He Zhitong, 60, a farmer in Datong Village, Shigu Town of Yulong County, Lijiang City.
He, whose only daughter is now in her third year of junior high school, said that she worries most about education for his daughter, now they will take full advantage of the new policy to support his daughter for better education.
"I never thought of such benefits when I applied for a single-child certificate several years ago," he said.
He hoped that more people would follow his example and have fewer kids. "Only with family planning, can the country become more prosperous and enjoy a better living," he added.
His remark is echoed by his neighbour Xiong Yaozhong, 61. "The new policy really gives full account of our interest and worries," Xiong said.
Xiong added: "600-700 yuan (US$72-US$84) per person is not a big sum, yet it is much for so many households in the province and even the whole country."
Sources with the Yunnan Provincial Population and Family Planning Commission confirmed that the provincial government has to spend some 300 million yuan (US$36 million) this year for the implementation of the new policy.
The central government has allocated 32 million yuan (US$3.86 million) as a subsidy for pensions for single-child parents in rural areas in Yunnan, the rest will be paid by provincial and local governments.