The One-Child Policy

One of the most interesting things I learned about in my China Since 1911 class this semester was the one-child policy in China. This policy, enacted in 1979, limited families to one child each, with some exceptions for rural or ethnic minority families. It was a harsh measure that has shifted the way Chinese culture views family structure; almost all Chinese families now only have one child. In 2016, the law was extended to a two-child policy.


But was the one-child policy really necessary? According to the statistics, no. The famine during Mao’s Great Leap Forward caused a huge drop in birth rates. Afterwards, during the Cultural Revolution, he pushed for increased birth rates, with the idea that more people meant a stronger China. But when a census was taken under his successor Deng Xiaoping, the startling population figures caused something of a panic, and the one-child policy was enacted to slow China’s out-of-control growth. But look at the graph: births per women had already decreased from six to less than three by the time the one-child policy was put into place. The less harsh measures Deng had been using first, such as propaganda supporting fewer children, were working. The one-child policy only further decreased the number of children by approximately one. Thus, the one-child policy, one of China’s most world-famous examples of government control,  was unnecessary to lower the population.

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