Welcome to the Roundtable, a forum for incisive commentary and analysis
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
on cases and developments in law and the legal system.
By Lindsey Li
Lindsey Li is a rising freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
Enacted in 1979, China’s infamous and controversial one-child policy has been both lauded as the most effective population control mandate in modern times and criticized as a stark invasion of privacy and a severe violation of basic freedom. However, with the repercussions of a shrinking workforce and “a structural slowdown in the economy” looming ahead, questions arise as to whether the recent legal modifications to China’s long-standing one-child policy are enough to reverse the damage it has already done. 
Prior to today’s population control measures, the world’s most populous nation, at just under 1.2 billion people, was experiencing a birthrate “as high as four children per family,” which often led to food shortages and famine.  In order to ensure that resources were equally distributed amongst individuals to most efficiently contribute back to society, the Communist Party passed the one-child policy. Using grotesque methods such as “forced abortion” and “massive fine[s],” China’s government ultimately managed to decrease births by about 100 million at the turn of the century. 
Unfortunately, the narrative doesn’t end there. Though the policy appears to be without consequence on the surface, low fertility rates and a rapidly aging population have become the status quo as a direct result of the law. These trends will “inevitably put immense strains on the economy” and on the “government’s ability to pay people’s pensions.”  In fact, experts estimate that China could become home to “the most elderly population on the planet in just 15 years, with more than 400 million over the age of 60.” 
Despite these impending fears, however, the Communist Party merely relaxed the 36-year policy in late 2013 (by allowing couples that grew up as only children to have two children) rather than abolishing it completely. Why? Corrupt officials still receive money from the fines paid by couples that disobey the one-child policy. The ruling also preserves the Communist Party’s tight-fisted control over the general population.  However, this poses a paradox: the Communist Party is losing its legitimacy and control during an economic downturn at the expense of desperately attempting to maintain legitimacy and control through the one-child policy, the cause of the economic downturn.
Even so, the mindset of a generation bombarded by government propaganda promoting the ideal of single-child families cannot be easily changed. Many couples, especially in large cities such as Shanghai, believe the financial costs of having a second child to be too great. Moreover, career ambitions and health risks such as pollution and lack of available healthcare have served as insurmountable barriers for most urban couples that are considering expanding their families.
It’s rather easy to dismiss these opinions as intangible ones attached to strangers with whom we have no personal connection. As such, I decided to survey six friends – which isn’t a statistically significant number but includes a variety of regional cultures – ages 16 to 22 in the various cities I visited in China this summer (Shanghai, Hangzhou, Kunming, Yuxi, Guangzhou, and Nanjing) to gather their thoughts on this issue, which has personally affected each of them. Surprisingly, I found that though they unanimously wished that they grew up with a sibling, four out of the six believed that having multiple children in the future and delegating financial resources, attention, and time would prove to be an equally impossible task. Thus, it becomes increasingly clear how a choice so freely made in America can have such dire implications for young adults with the same goals and desires in life on the opposite side of the world.
 Xin, Zhou. “The Place Where China Began Its One-Child Policy Is Dying.” Bloomberg Business. March 24, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-24/no-country-for-kids-these-towns-show-what-china-will-become-i7nsvv1y.
 Moore, Malcolm. “What is China’s one-child policy?” The Telegraph. October 30, 2014. Accessed July 9, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/china/11197594/What-is-Chinas-one-child-policy.html.
 MacLeod, Calum. “China eases ‘one child’ policy to boost births.” USA Today. March 4, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/03/04/china-one-child-policy-births-beijing/24069319/.
 Denyer, Simon. “’One is enough’: Chinese families lukewarm over easing of one-child policy.” The Washington Post. January 25, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/one-is-enough-chinese-families-lukewarm-over-easing-of-one-child-policy/2015/01/22/bdfeff1e-9d7e-11e4-86a3-1b56f64925f6_story.html.
 McKenzie, David. “For China, three decades of one-child policy proves hard to undo.” CNN. March 31, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/03/30/asia/china-one-child-policy-undo/.
 Qing, Dai. “Relaxing China’s One-Child Policy.” The New York Times. June 12, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/13/opinion/relaxing-chinas-one-child-policy.html?_r=0
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