One-child policy helped nation, leaders say, but others point to families’ suffering

Communist Party leaders have praised the one-child policy for preventing the mainland population spiralling out of control.

But critics say it has created a generation of spoilt brats and reinforced a cultural preference for male heirs who can better take care of their parents in old age – if couples are allowed only one child, many want a boy.

“The parents put all their eggs in one basket,” said Huang Zheng, born in 1980. “This generation carries the burden of too much pressure. But it has already become the norm – everyone is in the same situation.”

Growing up as an only child brings added pressure to meet parental expectations, many say, not to mention pressure from grandparents who may have just one grandchild to dote on.

Zhang Bowen, born in 1985, said modern life on the mainland presented double stress – as an only child, he alone is responsible for the welfare of his wife and child and his parents.

“I would like to have had a sister or a brother,” he said. “Because I would have felt less lonely when I was growing up … As your parents get older, it would be good to have brothers and sisters to share the responsibilities.”

While taking pictures of children and their parents for this story, some were very shy, as though not used to company, while others jumped into poses straight away, as if they were used to hamming it up for the camera. One child born in 2008, without any encouragement, immediately started doing kung fu moves.

“I don’t want to have older brothers or sisters or younger ones either, because I don’t want them to mess up all the things in the house,” he said.

One girl, born in 2009, has her toys stacked in the living room, dominating the family space.

She, too, didn’t want a brother or sister: “My mother would dote on him or her.”

Authorities, pointing to a population of nearly 1.4 billion, says the policy has averted 400 million births since 1980, saving scarce food resources and helping to pull families out of poverty.

Couples violating the policy are fined, or in some cases forced to undergo abortions. But late last year, Beijing changed tack and said it would allow millions of families to have two children, part of a plan to raise fertility rates and ease the financial burden on a rapidly ageing population.

Experts also say the mainland urgently needs a baby boom to help replenish its workforce.

The working-age population has shrunk by almost six million in two years to 920 million, the National Bureau of Statistics says. The elderly population is projected to hit 360 million by 2030, from today’s 200 million.