Two Women and the One Child Policy

The first week I met my roommate, Anna, she took me on a tour of the neighbourhood while I peppered her with questions about her life. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” I asked, the words out of my mouth before I realized what the answer had to be. The one-child policy may not be perfectly enforced, but it reached almost all urban families like Anna’s.

Anna told me that she had missed having a brother or sister when she grew up (Anna herself is miles away from the “Little Emperor” stereotype of a spoiled only child) and she wanted to have two children: one boy and one girl.

Now Anna’s dream might come true. In the past, urban families who wanted a second child either had to keep the child hidden, take pay cuts or pay large fines. But now a humane modification to the One-Child Policy has been put in place: if you and your spouse are both only children, you may have two children of your own.

When Anna’s boyfriend broke up with her later that week, what hit Anna hardest was the fact that she had to delay her dream of getting married and having a family. “I ask for so little,” she said sadly, as her friends rubbed her shoulders

.

My xiao laoban or “little boss,” Jane, has a very different story. She’s 28 and happily married for two years. In conversation class today, work-life balance came up, and Jane and I stayed on the topic over lunch together.

I asked if Jane was pleased at the chance to have two children. “Ugh! I don’t want children!” she said, laughing, and explained, “they’re too much trouble, and definitely too expensive.” There is no free education in China, and LB would rather focus on her career than on paying a long string of tuition fees.

“But,” she added, “I think I will have children in a few years.” Jane might not want children for herself, but it turns out her husband, parents and in-laws all have a say in the matter. Jane’s parents deeply want grandchildren, and as an only child she is their one chance for them. Jane took it as inevitable that she would fulfil this obligation.

For all that the One Child Policy is draconian, it’s not only the state that coerces people.

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