delayed scrapping its one-child policy out of fear that the population
would expand too rapidly, a senior official said on Tuesday — despite
the fact demographers say the birth rate was already dwindling before it
was introduced in 1979.
Beijing decided last month to relax the restriction — one of the most
draconian social experiments in modern history and for long the focus of
criticism overseas and resentment at home — and allow all couples to
have two children.
The government has been under domestic pressure to end the policy, which
has contributed to an ageing society and a shortage of workers.
Wang Pei’an, vice-minister of the National Health and Family Planning
Commission, told reporters that officials had been influenced by
research that implied an end to the one-child policy would lead to a
spike in births.
Mr Wang said a study of the nation’s population growth between 2006 and
2008 showed 80 per cent of Chinese couples wanted one boy and one girl.
That survey, combined with German research estimating families must
average three children to have at least one of each, alarmed family
planners, he said.
They instead opted for a phased approach, first allowing two urban
parents who were both single children to have a second child, then
couples where just one was an only child and finally allowing a second
child for all, Mr Wang said. He would not explain why those steps took
so long to roll out.
“The three steps weren’t public at the time,” he said. “It was very
Demographers say China’s zealous planners may have overshot amid low
birth rates among more prosperous urban Chinese. The concession on a
second child where just one parent was a singleton, which was expected
to result in 2m more births annually, led to fewer than 1m couples
requesting permission last year.
In February 2008, Zhao Baige, then vice-minister of family planning,
told foreign reporters in Beijing that China would ultimately scrap the
one-child policy but did not give a timetable. She also said planners
were alarmed at the severe imbalance in the numbers of boys and girls in
The average number of children that would be born to each woman had
decreased to an estimated 1.8 at the time. Now, with every couple
allowed two, planners project the average number for women of
child-bearing age will rise to 1.93, still below the replacement rate of
Mr Wang rejected the suggestion that China should do away with
population control policies altogether. 王培安反驳
China’s restrictions prevented further strain on limited natural
resources and allowed citizens to enjoy prosperity, full meals and
adequate clothing, Mr Wang said — a common defence of the policy.
“Development and the interests of the country are still incompatible
with a large population,” he said.
Couples in most of the rest of east Asia, as well as in western Europe,
have voluntarily chosen to have fewer children as living conditions
improve and costs rise, without resorting to China’s recipe of punitive
fines, forced abortions, involuntary sterilisation, or removal of
out-of-plan children by the state.