China / Society

Looking to a new generation for regeneration

(China Daily) Updated: 2015-11-02 08:07

Reporter's log: Less is not necessarily more

By Shan Juan

On Thursday evening, I was spending some quality time with a few friends at a bar near the China Daily office. Just as my drink arrived, I got a call asking me to rush back to the office and write a story about the central government announcing a universal two-child policy.

I quickly proposed a toast to celebrate the overdue change that had made my generation the first to be born under the policy and, probably, the first to have children under its successor.

Nearly 40 years ago, as China embraced the milestone economic reform and opening-up policy, the family planning policy to restrict most couples to just one child was introduced to curb rapid population growth.

Today, China is the world's second-largest economy, and the policy helped to successfully prevent 400 million births over the years. Some deemed it a "necessary evil" that helped to fuel the nation's economic growth, especially per capita GDP, and substantially improve the quality of life and education.

The move later turned out to have a global impact too. In 2009, when the environmental lobby first began to make itself heard in China, a vice-minister from the then-National Family Planning Commission proudly announced that the policy had made a significant contribution to the stabilization of the global population, environmental protection and energy saving, especially via the prevention of at least 18 million metric tons of carbon dioxide every year.

Deep in my heart, I always longed for a sister. I felt so envious when one of my friends told me how her big sister taught her how to react to her first love letter and how they occasionally wore each other's clothes. That feeling of solitariness intensified when my sobbing mother saw me off at the railway station a decade ago. The only daughter had left her hometown and my parents to head to Beijing for work, leaving my parents to become an "empty nest" couple.

I was also deeply moved when I interviewed a couple who had just lost their 22-year-old son in an auto accident that left their lives bereft of happiness. The heartbroken mother told me about her numerous suicide attempts, and how, under the old family planning policy, she had aborted a second child when her son was 3.

The grassroots family planning worker who helped arrange the interview told me she was disheartened. She was distraught when she recalled performing abortions on women who had contravened the family planning policy. In later life she tried to make amends by helping couples who had lost their only child to have another, usually via assisted reproduction technology.

Families need children to live and prosper, and so do nations. The government is now counting on the universal two-child policy to help the population grow in a balanced way and reverse a decline in the work force that could upset future economic growth.

Also, less is not always more when it comes to environmental protection, according to Gill Greer, former director-general of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, and I agree with her.

What really matters is not how many people are on the planet, she said, but what they do — such as choosing not to drive a car. Greer insisted that if people have received a decent education, the size of family should be decided by the family itself.

China is still a long way from completely dismantling the entire family planning policy, but the two-child policy is a joyous start. However, bear in mind that the new policy is not compulsory. We must follow our own hearts within the boundaries laid down.

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