Chinas One Child Policy: What, When, Why

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-Based on reward and penalty approaches the One Child Policy encourages families to only have one child.
-Those that have only one child receive priority for loans, materials, technical assistance and social welfare. – “Fewer births, quickly richer”
-Implements harsh penalties e.g. forced abortions and sterilisations


The world’s most severe family planning programme. By 1954 Chinas population had reached 600 million, this causes worry amongst government in terms of pressure of food supplies, land and other resources.
-The countries first birth control programme introduced by 1956, however this was stopped by 1958 where the ‘Great Leap Forward’ was introduced. Here it was necessary for a larger population in order for a larger labour force for the rapid industrialisation and modernisation.

-During the pursuit of industrialisation, the countries agriculture was neglected, resulting in a famine. The inability to provide food for its population, 20 million people in China died by 1962.
-In1964 a new birth control phased introduced, however, a new social upheaval: the Cultural Revolution, resulted in a peak in birth rates at 45/1000 which lasted from 1966 to 1971.
-Eventually in the 1970s a new family planning campaign was introduced- “Late, Sparse, Few”. However, its impact was minimal and by 1979 the controversial ‘One Child Policy” was imposed.
-Chinas optimum population was calculated at 700 million, to be reached by 2080. This was  calculated by Chinese demographer Liu Zeng.


China, known for its floods and famines, was getting to the point where if a disaster like this would occur, the country wouldn’t be able to support and feed its inhabitants due to the large population and lack of resources to provide for it. This was becoming a widely known issue by the 1970’s, until it was finally implemented in 1980. Since then, 250 million births have been prevented and according to the Chinese government, it was a great success. Although now, China is working its way into stage 4, before 1970-80 China was in stage 3 and its population was increasing too rapidly for the country to be able to support its inhabitants. This would result in poverty, in some cases famines and a decrease in living conditions; conditions, which could be quickly and easily sparked, further into declination if a natural disaster such as a flood were to occur. In 1980 the government was worried the population would reach over 2 billion before 2050


Free education for that only child, free medical care, a stronger social security system, preferential access to housing, job bonuses and a 10-15% salary rise as well as retirement funds. The benefits of these incentives are obvious to see and as a result of them (as well as other, less generous methods) the government was able to prevent 250 million births since 1980. By 2050 it is expected that the population would have decreased by more that 0.4 of a billion than what the original expected population was, back before the Policy. Due to the fact that some medical visits can cost more than a year’s salary for many of the Chinese population, it is no surprise that couples agree to the Policy to have the financial security that comes with free medical care for the child. By having bonuses, retirement funds and preferential access to housing, there will be dramatic increase the people’s standards of living, benefiting the country. Due to the free education, and medical care as well as retirement funds, the Chinese will become richer in the sense of being able to afford disposable goods such as cars and nice holidays etc. 

As there are incentives that help families economically, equally, there are harsh penalties that affect families economically including fines and a loss of job, on top of this levies are in place, where for each extra child, along with having to pay medical bills and for education, a monthly fine would have to be paid to the government. Often, the initial fine is enough to bankrupt an entire family. Although the tolls vary from region to region, they are mostly all harsh and can also involve the termination of jobs. For many couples, just the thought of this is enough to put them off risking another child, however, many still take the risk and are forced to face the consequences. In order to delay childbirth, the government raised the marriage age to 20, meaning that quite a lot of a woman’s fertility time has already passed, as it is Chinese tradition to only have children if the couple is married. Meaning by the time married couples were ready to have kids, some would not be able to. There is also an imbalance between boys and girls as boys are the preferred sex of a child therefore girl births can result in neglect and even infanticide. Another disadvantage is little emperor and empress syndrome. This is where children don’t have any brothers, sisters or 1st cousins to compete with, meaning they get the sole attention of the whole family and as a result get almost anything they want, resulting in them being extremely spoilt and stubborn.


Amirah K. IB Geography tutor, IB Biology tutor, GCSE Geography tutor

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