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The Legacy of China’s One-Child Policy

2 minute read

This year marked the death of the world’s most despised social-engineering experiment: China’s one-child policy, which was unveiled in 1979 in the belief that communist cadres could reduce the number of mouths the People’s Republic needed to feed. In the end, it turned out that nature works; populations naturally taper as a society grows wealthier. But for the 13 million or so unregistered Chinese, most of whom were born in contravention of family-planning regulations, the one-child policy’s devastating effects still endure.

Some costs of China’s family planning, which limited most urban families to a single child, are well known. Because of the abrupt lowering of the birth rate, China will grow old before it grows rich. The nation is already facing a labor shortage. Because of a traditional preference for boys, the nation is missing millions of girls. How will China deal with this excess in testosterone? Because of a scheme of forced abortions and other invasions of privacy, many Chinese lost faith in their government.

It is, however, China’s invisible children—and their parents—who bear the greatest burden. Since their births were not officially recorded, many of these individuals live in the shadows of Chinese society. They could not go to school or get a passport. All too often, their parents were fined prohibitive amounts or forced out of their jobs. Although some have managed to fight the system, others spend their days mired in endless paperwork. Their goal: to get their very existence recognized by the Chinese state.

Video by Shanshan Chen, Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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