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Resistance to a Two-Child Policy
Summary:With a rapidly aging population, many demographers say it’s time to relax the One-Child Policy and increase the number of people who can have two kids. However, the family planning system, which relies on fines on people who’ve given birth “illegally” for an estimated one-quarter of its revenue, is pushing back.

By Xie Liangbing (
谢良兵) and Lǚ Xiangrong (吕向荣)
Issue 633, Aug 19, 2013
Nation, page 9
Translated by Zhu Na
Original article:

This summer, a Zhejiang Province lawyer named Wu Youshui (吴有水) submitted a request for information to 31 provincial family planning commissions and provincial finance departments. He wanted data related to fines for violating the “One-Child Policy” in 2012. 

Family planning commissions in Guangdong and Zhejiang said that the information is “for internal use and cannot be made public.” But within a month, 19 other provincial finance departments and 12 provincial family planning commissions had given written replies. Data showed that the amount of money collected in “social child support payments” (社会抚养费), the way that the government refers to fines imposed on families that have more children than permitted by the family planning regulations, was about 10 billion yuan in just 10 provinces.

The implication of this number is clear: If China’s One-Child Policy is extended to a universal “Two-Child Policy,” billions of yuan in government revenue will be lost. 

In 2010, there were five working age Chinese for every retiree. But by 2020, that ratio is expected to drop to three-to-one. Experts from several different fields have agreed it’s time to loosen the One-Child Policy in order to address issues stemming from China’s aging society, but vested interests may stand in the way.

Currently, most couples can have a second child if they were both the only child in their family. But in some provinces, couples who qualify for a second child must wait a certain number years before having it. Recent media reports suggest that these requirements could be revised by the end of the year or early next year. The revised rules would do away with the waiting period and allow couples with just one spouse from a one-child family to have a second child. 

When the reports came out, theysparked heated debate; so much so that the National Health and Family Planning Commission issued three statements within one week. Commission Spokesman Mao Qunan (毛群安) stressed that China must unswervingly adhere to the fundamental national policy of family planning in the long-term. However, Mao never appeared to directly deny the media reports in his remarks. He has repeatedly said that family planning policies won’t change, they’ll simply “improve.”


Rumors about relaxing policies had already begun as early as 2010. Mention of this relaxation was even inserted in the national population “Twelfth Five-Year Plan,” but implementation has been plagued with difficulties. However, the population experts EO spoke with all said a consensus has emerged that widening the field of couples who qualify for a second child is necessary, though no specific timetable has been set.

In June of this year, Shandong Province, with its nearly 100 million-strong population, removed the requirement for a long gap between the first and second child for couples that qualify. This was widely interpreted as a signal that family planning policies were finally being relaxed. China now has 19 provinces that have removed this second child birth gap for couples that are both only children.

Zeng Yi (曾毅), demography professor from the National School of Development at Peking University, advocates allowing everyone to have a second child while encouraging them to wait until they’re older to do so. He says now is the best time to relax these policies.

This proposal has received support of many relevant officials and even got a nod of approval from Li Keqiang when he was vice premier of the State Council. Many expected a major policy shift would be announced after the 18th Party Congress in November of 2012. But it never came, so people looked to the “Two Sessions” in March of this year with anticipation.  

On Mar 7, Ma Xu (马旭), head of the Science and Technology Research Institute of The National Population and Family Planning Commission and deputy to the National People's Congress, said China should adjust family planning policies, but give specific guidance according to local situations. Reform shouldn’t simply allow everyone to have a second child in a “one size fits all” approach

Ma’s view is similar to that of Zhai Zhenwu (翟振武), a demography expert at Renmin University. Zhai and his team once devised a “three step program” for relaxing the policy incrementally according to region. It would have started in 2010 and first relaxed second child regulations for Northeast China and Zhejiang Province. The second step would relax the policy in Beijing and Shanghai and the final step would apply the reform across China by 2015. 

It was learned that Zhai’s program once gained support of major leaders in the National Population and Family Planning Commission. After some minor modifications, it was even submitted to the State Council in the second half of 2010. But it has never been formally adopted.


Cheng Enfu (程恩富), the head of the Marxism Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, believes that China should adopt an even stricter One-Child Policy. He said that China’s population development and policy design is at a crossroads. Though the aging population is an issue, relaxing family planning policies isn’t a desirable solution. He hopes China’s total population can be gradually reduced to 500 million. He admits though that not many others agree with him.  

Sociology Professor Lu Jiehua (陆杰华), a population expert from Peking University, said that many top leaders are nervous about relaxing family planning policies. “They’re especially considering the per capita GDP,” Lu said. “After the policy is relaxed, there might be a short-term population boom. Officials worry about per-capita GDP being diluted.”

In fact, many have opposed relaxing population policies based on fears that it would cause an immediate “population explosion” that could bring long-term demographic problems. However, pilots in several cities have shown that this probably wouldn’t be the case. Shifting to a Two-Child Policy hasn’t caused immediate “birth booms” in these pilots areas.

Another factor delaying reform lies in the layout of the family planning system. In recent years, an ongoing shake up of major personnel in the family planning system has taken place. And in March this year, the National Population and Family Planning Commission and The Ministry of Health merged into a single agency.

However, the greatest resistance to reform is coming from special interests related to family planning.  

According to statistics from the National Population and Family Planning Commission, as of Dec 12, 2005, there were 508,713 people working in the family planning system nationwide; of which 104,753 were civil servants. The budget for 2012 showed that 81.3 billion yuan was spent by family planning authorities.

Couples who violate family planning policies by having more children than the rules allow receive a fine, but there’s no standard for how much the fine is. Sometimes it’s a flat rate and sometimes it’s based on the annual salary of the parents. It can be as low as a few thousand yuan and as high as several hundred thousand yuan for each extra child. In the absence of data from relevant departments, this inconsistency makes it hard to measure how much is collected in family planning fines nationwide each year. But estimates have put the annual number at about 20 billion yuan – representing a quarter of the family planning system’s spending.

Wang Xiaojun, director of the Xi’an National Audit Office (NAO), said in an article he wrote on the NAO website that many illegal births aren’t reported by local officials and that the fines collected are often embezzled and never make their way onto government balance sheets.

Links & Sources
Economic Observer: Beijing Delegate Hints at Loosening of One-child Policy
Economic Observer: Policy Makers Consider Changes to China\'s One-Child Policy
Economic Observer: Should China Loosen the One-Child Policy?


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