China adopted a new ideal as a “birth-friendly nation.” To this end, Beijing has been searching online for propaganda rhetoric to make China’s households more palatable to the newly permitted child policy. The Internet community reacted differently than hoped – with an angry and derisive “shit storm”.
Once again, the Communist Party is asking China’s families to reinvent themselves. Everything that once applied and from which they suffered is to be forgotten practically overnight: 35 years of one-child policy with enforced birth control, surveillance, abortion, sterilization and harassment without end by a state even interfering in their bedrooms are to simply pass. Bearing children is once again the first civic duty, the Politburo decided on May 31. The party elite coined a new slogan: “Let’s be eager to create a birth-friendly society.” (努力构建 生育友好型社会).
The National People’s Congress (China’s socialist parliament) needed less than eight weeks to make 21 amendments to the People’s Republic’s Population and Family Planning Law, which has been in force since 2002. It was only in 2015 that the law was expanded to allow for the population to have two children. On Tuesday of last week, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress discussed the comprehensively revised new version. On Friday, after its first reading, it was already waved through and immediately put into effect.
The law allows for having three children, eliminates all penalties and fines for undeclared births, and promises families future government support. The adjustment extends from paid parental leave and more daycare facilities to birth-friendly adjustments to the financial, tax, insurance and educational systems, as well as to housing and employment. In the current five-year plan to 2025, the NDRC, the lead planning authority, plans to knock down the first pegs for China as a welcoming society; the age for marriage and for the birth of one’s first child is also to be lowered again. In 1990, Chinese married at an average age of 21.4. In 2017, they were 25.7 years old.
Search for pro-birth slogans
To drum up support, China’s Family Planning Association has launched a competition for new pro-birth slogans, with a deadline of September 15. After that, a jury will select 35 slogans and award prizes. Authors of the five best slogans will each receive 1,000 yuan (the equivalent of 130 euros).
For many Chinese citizens, Beijing’s changes have come too fast. The internet is filled with rage. Users recall cruel and incidents with impunity where all-powerful state controllers hunted down unscheduled heavily pregnant women in the countryside. They forced women to have abortions and had their homes demolished to intimidate neighbors. Babies born illegally were branded as “black children” or given extreme fines to their fathers.
Microblogs show photo montages of world-famous director Zhang Yimou, who was fined 7.48 million yuan (nearly a million euros) on January 9, 2014, as a “social tax” for violating the one-child policy for his three children. They depict Zhang exclaiming theatrically, “Give me back my millions.” As do many tens of thousands of ordinary Chinese who were forced to pay fines.
Calls for a critical reappraisal of the one-child policy
Party media news websites that praised the new birth policy and immediately took a virtual beating closed their comment functions because of too many “junk mails” (垃圾评论). Beijing censored calls ordering it to claim responsibility and come to critical terms with its one-child policy. Bloggers wrote slogans like, “If our leaders asked for our forgiveness, it would do more good than a 100 slogans.” (领导出来道个歉比想一百条标语管用.)
Mockery of the three-child family hides behind allusions. My favorite is a pun on the character “Jiu,” spelled differently but pronounced the same, which means either the number nine (九), or Chinese chives (韭菜). The saying “三三得韭” could be interpreted as “3 times 3 is 9”, or as “3 times 3 makes (you) chives.” The leek plant is considered synonymous with the people. It grows back even if it is cut off again and again.
One blogger suggested that in response to Beijing’s propaganda, a double slogan (duilian) traditionally be hung lengthwise on the front door: One side reads: Parents give birth to three children in one household and have four grandparents to care for. On the other side, it says: At eight o’clock to work, at nine o’clock home. This is extremely exhausting, and the million-dollar home loan has not yet been paid off. And above it: “This is the life of the chives” (一个家庭，两个夫妻，生三个孩子，养四个老人。八点上班，晚九点下班，费十分力气，还百万房贷。韭菜的一生).
Census puts pressure on CCP
Beijing has been on edge since the latest census, published in May. With a birth rate of 1.3, China has the world’s lowest birth rate. With 12 million new births in 2020, demographers fear that the current population of 1.41 billion will start shrinking for the first time in 2022. The army of 16 to 59-year-old workers is also shrinking. The third red flag is that the population pyramid is starting to tip over. According to the 2020 China Development Report, China is getting older faster than rich. 181.6 million Chinese are already over 65 years old.
Alarming reports about negative economic and demographic consequences of state interfered birth planning have made Beijing change its policy. In contrast, there is a lack of critical socio- and self-reflection. Only the Nobel Prize winner for literature Mo Yan addressed the problem in his novel “The Frog” ( 莫言:蛙), when he recounted the fate of a female abortion doctor in the countryside.
China’s forced birth control has been tragically successful. It is estimated that 180 million only children live in the People’s Republic today. Beijing’s social engineers have done a great job. What they have done to the nation’s soul is hard to imagine.