The Consequences of the One-Child Policy Will Be Felt for Generations

A Sinica Podcast

The first day of 2016 marked the official end of China’s one-child policy, one of the most controversial and draconian approaches to population management in human history. The rules have not been abolished but modified, allowing all married Chinese couples to have two children. However, the change may have come too late to address the negative ways the policy has shaped the country’s demographics and the lives of its citizens for decades to come.



One Child

Mei Fong
When Communist Party leaders adopted the one-child policy in 1980, they hoped curbing birth-rates would help lift China’s poorest and increase the country’s global stature. But at what cost? Now, as China closes the book on the policy after more than three decades, it faces a population grown too old and too male, with a vastly diminished supply of young workers.Mei Fong has spent years documenting the policy’s repercussions on every sector of Chinese society. In One Child, she explores its true human impact, traveling across China to meet the people who live with its consequences. Their stories reveal a dystopian reality: unauthorized second children ignored by the state, only-children supporting aging parents and grandparents on their own, villages teeming with ineligible bachelors, and an ungoverned adoption market stretching across the globe. Fong tackles questions that have major implications for China’s future: whether its “Little Emperor” cohort will make for an entitled or risk-averse generation; how China will manage to support itself when one in every four people is over sixty-five years old; and above all, how much the one-child policy may end up hindering China’s growth.Weaving in Fong’s reflections on striving to become a mother herself, One Child offers a nuanced and candid report from the extremes of family planning. —Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

In this podcast, Jeremy and Kaiser talk with Mei Fong about the policy’s history, its effectiveness, and the consequences of nearly four decades of mandating a family’s size. Mei also discusses her heartbreaking encounters with parents who lost their only children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, and their subsequent rush to have their vasectomies and sterilizations reversed. She provides insight into the people who designed the policy (rocket scientists—literally, rocket scientists!), those who enforced the rules, what lies ahead with the relaxation in the policy, the 30 million unfortunate bachelors who can’t find a mate, and the fate of grandparents who have only one descendant in a culture that used to regard a large family as the ultimate happiness.