Moral Issues and Concerns about China's One-Child Policy

A Cosmopolitan Perspective

Essay 2008 14 Pages

Philosophy - Practical (Ethics, Aesthetics, Culture, Nature, Right, ...)


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Chinese ”One-Child Family Plan” - Its History, Political Ideas and Goals and Its Conflict with Chinese Traditional Rural Values

3. Violence Against Women through the One-Child Family Plan
3.1 Forced Abortions and Sterilizations
3.2 Sex-selective Abortion and Abandonment of Baby Girls
3.3 The Effects on Human Trafficking and the „Floating Population“

4. Conclusion

5. References
5.1 Books and Articles
5.2 Online-Sources

1. Introduction

In 1979 China introduced the so-called ”One-Child Family Plan” (1CFP), also often referred to as the ”One-Child Policy” or ”One-Child Population Policy”, a birth control policy that was supposed to deal with the high population growth and its social and economical problems for the People's Republic of China. The One-Child Policy is a controversial topic that is frequently discussed inside and outside China, but its ”legitimacy” was again confirmed by the Chinese government in 2007. There are several concerns about the One-Child Policy, especially about abuses against women and girls, e.g. the abortion of baby girls, forced sterilizations and abortions, earlier ageing of the population, the effects on gender equalities, increasing effects on human trafficking, etc.

During my essay I will analyse the moral aspects of China's One-Child Policy. The main focus of the analysis lays on the rural areas of China, where the traditional patriarchal values are still very strong and are more important for daily life than they are in urban areas. I also include my own experiences from China, which I obtained through discussions and participatory observation.

First, I will give a brief introduction into the political ideas and theoretical goals of the One-Child Policy, followed (second) by a description of the reality of the One-Child Policies history and effects on China's population. A special focus lays on the One-Child Policy effects as forms of violence against women. The subjects of the analysis are for example forced abortions and sterilizations, as well as the killings of female babies, and the effect on human trafficking. Third, in my conclusion I will analyse these issues and concerns in a cosmopolitan perspective and interpret how far the One-Child Policy is morally justifiable.

2. The Chinese ”One-Child Family Plan” - Its History, Political Ideas and Goals and Its Conflict with Chinese Traditional Rural Values

During the 1970s China introduced the so called ”Two-Child Family Plan” a policy with the goal to rapidly reduce population growth and work against the overpopulation in China. Despite the substantial progress made in reducing the birth rates in China, the Chinese government after Mao Zedong saw the need to further reduce the birth rates in China, and implemented an one-child policy campaign.

Through propaganda, education, economic incentives, and administrative measures the Chinese government planned to further reduce the population growth extensively. Even rural couples were prohibited to have a second child, which was still allowed under the two-child policy. (Dalsimer and Nisonoff 1987 and 2006; Smith 2008; White 1994) The new policy also introduced rewards and punishments to secure compliance to the policy, as well as a timetable with quotas and target goals and dates.

The 1CFP was launched during a period of change and introduced together with new economic policies, e.g. the privatization and the reversal of the collectivization in agriculture, when the responsibility for agricultural work in the rural areas was conferred to the families in the rural areas and away from the rural collectives of the Mao era. This conferment of the responsibility to the rural families collided with the newly introduced 1CFP. Because old people in China rely on their families to take care of them in old-age, the traditional strategy for rural families lays in the maximization of labour-force. However, from a rural traditional Chinese view sons are more important for the care of the older generation, than girls are. In the traditional patriarchal Chinese concept the sons go on with the family-line, whereas women leave into their new family. This means that rural women after their marriage are not members of their own family any more, and therefore there is no need for their husbands to support the families in-law's. (Dalsimer and Nisonoff 2006 and Li 1995) ”Although rural families' incomes have increased substantially due to the new family-responsibility system, the reforms have precipitated shifts in labour allocation.” (Dalsimer and Nisonoff 2006: 286)

For urban Chinese, on the other hand, it seemed easier to accept the 1CFP, because of both negative and positive reasons. Even though the policy restricts the amount of children to just one child, parents do not depend so much on their children as a source of social security in old-age, because the urban Chinese working units provide benefits for housing, children day-care and several other benefits especially to one-child families, that are helpful and attractive for the urban families. (Dalsimer and Nisonoff 2006; Naughton 2007) Because of that reason and of the more liberalized attitude in urban areas, families do not rely especially on their sons; they rely more likely on their children in general. One of the main reasons to describe this phenomenon is the change of values, especially among the middle class in urban areas, who rely more on the extend families with other relatives and their children, and also often appreciate the emotional bonds girls can provide to their parents.

3. Violence against Women through the”One-Child Family Plan”

In the beginning, the new policy contained mandatory sterilizations for couples in childbearing-age that already had two children, but were still trying to get more. (White 1994: 137) The policy relaxed a bit from the year 1984 and allowed e.g. one extra child for rural families, whose first child was a girl (White 1994: 137) and also included softer regulations for the 56 national minority groups in China, who can have two or even more children. (Park and Han 1990)

Even though those policies were supposed to be ”gender-neutral”, in the meaning that they did not have gender-specific goals or targets, they had deleterious effects on women, since they discouraged childbearing and encouraged the desire for large families and especially for sons at the same time. (Dalsimer and Nisonoff 2006: 285)

The issues emerging from this collision between the two policies are going beyond the question about the conflict between modernization and traditional values in developing societies to the question about violence against women, because”the effects of the birth limitation policies are even more serious, because the terrain of struggle of the 1CFP is women's bodies” (Dalsimer and Nisonoff 2006: 286) and also contributed to the, first by Amartya Sen, examined”missing women” phenomenon. (Dalsimer and Nisonoff 2006: 286; Johnson 1993)

Especially the first versions of official documents concerning the 1CFP are full of euphemisms, which essentially instruct family-planning officials to use any means necessary to adhere to the birth quotas. The measures used to fulfill those requested quotas include practices like mandatory abortions, birth control surgeries, e.g. insertions of inter-uterine devices, compulsory sterilizations, as well as study classes and heart-to-heart talks with pregnant women. (Dalsimer and Nisonoff 2006: 286) A selection of these practices shall be further analyzed later in this essay.



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University of Helsinki – Department of Social and Moral Philosophy
Cosmopolitanism China One-Child Policy Chinesische Einkindpolitik



Title: Moral Issues and Concerns about China's One-Child Policy