The lottery of birth
The lottery of birth

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The lottery of birth

2.3.2 Case study: One child China

Yanyan (not her real name) now lives in the UK and told us about her experience of the one child policy.

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I was born in 1977 in a small city. And that's the year that the government started introducing the one-child policy. At that time, it was the era of state-run economy.
In urban areas, workers were simply assigned to a work unit which was supposed to provide them with a metal rice bowl, a job for life, housing, medical care, and a pension. First, the policy was introduced to people who worked for state-run employers. For example, my mother was a nurse, state-owned hospital. There was no private hospital back then. And then my father was a policeman. Both of them are also communist party members, so it's very important for them to follow the policy.
1977 was a funny year. Children who were born in that year might be an only child, might have older siblings, or a younger sibling. This is because the policy was just introduced, but not officially. Some couples who had older children rushed through one more. My parents could have one more, but they didn't. My husband was the same.
One-child family could receive child benefit, 5 yuan a month, until the child became 14. For people who lived in the rural areas or not employed by government, if they want, they could have two children. Chinese ethnic minorities can have more children.
At that time, nobody felt different. And we learned about one-child policy in school, for example, why it was introduced, the consequences of having second child without permission. Gradually, the one-child family has become a norm. In Chinese, we use phrases such as, post-'70s generation, to refer to people who were born between 1970 and 1979.
There are lots of discussions about differences among post-'70s family and the one-child dominant families of '80s and the '90s. The differences are quite obvious, for example, attitudes towards marriage. Divorce is not a big thing anymore. There are cases that people get divorced a few days after marriage because of little things.
One of the biggest problems my generation is facing is looking after ageing parents, especially people like me, who lives abroad. According to Chinese tradition, children should look after their parents when they get old. That means a couple might have to look after four parents.
I have a brother who's adopted. When I was young, I didn't feel the benefits of having a brother. Now I feel really lucky to have brother, because he lives near my parents. And I know he will look after them and keep them accompanied. Otherwise, they'll feel lonely. Also, I have someone to talk to if I need it.
However, it's a different situation for my husband. He's the only child, and his father passed away 12 years ago. Now his mum lives on her own. She can only come to visit us, maximum, six months a year, due to visa restriction. To some extent, we feel guilty because we can't be with her, especially when she's ill or needs help in the house.
Now I have two children. I'm so happy to see them share, fight, laugh. I hope they understand they have always got each other wherever they are when they grow up.
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In the next section, you will read about the gender imbalance that has been a result of policies to control population.


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