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One Child

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he one-child policy has been spectacularly successful in reducing population growth, particularly in the cities (reliable figures are harder to come by in the countryside).

In 1970 the average woman in China had almost six (5.8) children, now she has about two. The most dramatic changes took place between 1970 and 1980 when the birthrate dropped from 44 per 1000 to 18 per 1,000. Demographers have stated that the ideal birthrate rate for China is 16.7 per 1,000, or 1.7 children per family.

One way the government records progress in its birth control programs is by monitoring the "first baby" rate--the proportion of first babies among total births. In the city of Chengdu in Sichuan for a while the first baby rate was reportedly 97 percent.

One Chinese official said the one-child policy has prevented 300 million births, the equivalent of the population of Europe. The reduction of population has helped pull people out of poverty and been a factor in China's phenomenal economic growth.

Some argue that economic prosperity has done as much as the one-child policy to shrink population growth. As costs and the expense of having children in urban areas rise, and the benefits of children as labor sources shrink many couples opt not to have children. Susan Greenhalgh, a China policy expert at the University of California in Irvine, told Reuters, "Rapid socioeconomic development has largely taken care of the problem of rapid population."

Population Control in China Under Mao

The Chinese have made great strides in reducing their population through birth control. But that has not always been the case. Mao did nothing to reduce China's expanding population, which doubled under his leadership. He believed that birth control was a capitalist plot to weaken the country and make it vulnerable to attack. He also liked to say, "every mouth comes with two hands attached." For a while Mao urged Chinese to have lots of children to support his "human wave" defense policy when he feared attack from the United States and the Soviet Union.

Soon after taking power in 1949 Mao declared: 'Of all things in the world, people are the most precious.' He condemned birth control and banned the import of contraceptives. He then proceeded to kill lots of people through vicious crackdowns on landlords and counter-revolutionaries, through the use of human-wave warfare in North Korea and through failed experiments like the Great Leap Forward.

In the 1970s Mao began to come around to the threats posed by too many people. He began encouraged a policy of 'late, long and few' and coined the slogan: 'One is good, two is OK, three is too many.' In the years after his death, China began experimenting with the one-child policy.

The "Later, Longer, Fewer" policy that is the cornerstone of China's birth control program was put into effect in 1976, around the same time that Mao died. It encouraged couples to get married later, wait longer to have children, and have fewer children, preferably one. The program forced married couples to sign statements that obligated them to one child. Women who had abortions were given free vacations.

2010 Census and One-Child Policy

"A challenge for the census-takers are children born in violation of the country's urban one-child policy, many of whom are unregistered and therefore have no legal identity," Anita Chang of AP wrote. "They could number in the millions. The government has said it would lower or waive the hefty penalty fees required for those children to obtain identity cards, though so far there has not been much response to the limited amnesty." [Source: Anita Chang, AP, September 3,2010]

Many say they have been reassured by the government's declaration that information cannot be used to levy fines, which often run as high as six times an annual income for extra births."This is only about statistics, but people are worried that they could get fined for having an extra child and they'll avoid the census," Duan Chengrong, head of the population department at Renmin University told AP. "Like in the U.S., the Chinese these days are paying more attention to their privacy."

Bureaucracy and Population Control

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