Daily Post: Childlike – China’s One-Child Rule

“Children see magic because they look for it.”

Christopher Moore



Today’s Daily Post asks us to illustrate “childlike”.  Coincidentally, since returning from China I have thought a bit about their controversial “One-Child” policy. While we were there we had several conversations about its impact on their people and their society.  For me, one story poignantly brought home the rule’s painful impact on China’s people.



“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.”

Rabindranath Tagore

A young woman told us that at the time the policy was implemented, her family had two daughters. Because having a son is so important to Chinese families, her mother chose to become pregnant for a third time.  She then hid in a storage shed for 5 months (while her daughters wondered what had happened to her) before giving birth to a son. Once he was born he was hidden with another family in a remote farm area until he was two years old. He was then returned to the family under the guise of being the son of a family relative.  He grew up confused and unhappy and, not surprisingly, was never close to his parents or his siblings –  eventually moving away to live elsewhere. The ruse was eventually discovered by local government representatives and the father was punished with a severe fine and the elimination of any promotional opportunities at his place of work.



Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/search_results.html#uETE7pHxFJkOzir5.99
Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/search_results.html#uETE7pHxFJkOzir5.99

“There is nothing more contagious than the laughter of young children.”

Criss Jami

Beyond the emotional impact on it’s families, there are a number of societal influences resulting from the policy’s implementation. For example, China has historically been known for the care its younger generation focuses on their parents and grandparents. In fact, as I understand it, the country has not built elder-care facilities because traditionally they were not needed.  With the one-child rule in place a single child could conceivably become responsible for four grandparents and two parents. There is a wide-spread concern that the elderly will not receive the care they need as single-children move away, become focused on other things, or are simply overwhelmed by their burdens.



“The soul is healed by being with children.”

Fydor Dostoyevsky

In addition, many Chinese feel the rule has resulted in a generation of pampered children, ill-prepared to take on the responsibilities confronting them as they reach adulthood. The Chinese media call these children the “Little Emperors”, although in fairness those who have reached adulthood at this point have proven themselves for the most part to be responsible, caring and entirely capable of managing life’s challenges in China’s ever-evolving environment.



“ In every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.” 

John Connolly

While the one-child rule, which has now been in place for over thirty years, is strictly applied in the cities, it is more moderate in the countryside. Here, farmers are allowed a second child if their first is a girl or is somehow disabled. Further, the rule does not apply to China’s ethnic minorities or to foreign-born Chinese, rather it is focused on limiting the population growth among the Han majority.  In fact, on a positive note, the restrictions seem to be working.  While China’s population has grown 138% since the rule’s implementation, India’s has grown 180%.  It is estimated that India’s population will surpass China’s by 2027.



“Summer will end soon enough, and childhood as well.”

George R.R. Martin

It is rumored that China is considering easing it’s one-child policy in the near future, with re-implementation possible should population growth again become an issue.  Based on conversations with several young parents, the cost of raising a child in China may do more to limit population growth than any written or unwritten laws.  The children we observed while visiting were obviously treasured by their parents and grandparents. For the most part they were also well-behaved, if a bit on the serious side – perhaps knowing the tremendous responsibilities that await them in the future.



“Sunsets, like childhood, are viewed with wonder not just because they are beautiful but because they are fleeting.”

Richard Paul Evans

I spent some time with a teacher in Shanghai who told me she worried about the amount of pressure put on the children as early as their kindergarten year – pushed to learn things beyond their capacity.  Let us hope China’s children are allowed the freedom to enjoy, to play, to wonder – after all, isn’t that what childhood is, or should be, about?

To see how some others viewed “childlike” click here.

90 thoughts on “Daily Post: Childlike – China’s One-Child Rule

  1. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that dictators want to control people. It’s also a fact of life that controls have unpredictable consequences, one of which in this case is that there are now millions more young males than females in China, so some of those males who want to get married won’t find female partners.

    On the technical side, your friendly neighborhood math teacher would like to point out that over the period in question China’s population has grown 38%, not 138%. Or you could say that China’s population has grown to (and to is the magic word) 138% of what it was at the beginning of the period. Either way you say it, there are now 38% more people than there were before. (One way to understand the distinction is to realize that if something grows 100% it doubles; if something grows 138% it therefore more than doubles.)

  2. Great post, both the choice of pictures and the reflections you have. In all you describe, I think one of the most pressing problem is “the importance of having a son”. This is a cultural thing, for sure, (I shall not utter the P********* word, but you know what I mean…), but not sure one that should still be adhered to. I think the rule would be better accepted if mentality changed enough so that “having a daughter” was just as good as “having a son”. I was shocked when in Vietnam, a guide explained to us the rules, according to Confucius, that defined a “good woman”. And I was also shocked to see that this was still largely considered the norm…

    • Thanks EP. Yes, the male child preference is still there, especially in the countryside, but I did see it fading among young people in the cities. Interestingly the elder-care issue complicates it further as it is traditional for a son and his wife to care for the son’s family, not the wife’s. it’s a complicated tradition that won’t go away any time soon. Appreciate your visit and thoughtful comment.

      Sent from my iPad

  3. Powerful photographs and thought-provoking post Tina. Quite timely as one of our government ministers has been talking about how the families of China and India look after their parents in old age and that we should do more of the same – there are a lot of holes in his theories though, and one has to suspect it is just a way of the government avoiding their responsibility of providing decent care homes in the UK.

    I have also nominated you and your blog for a travel competition if you fancy taking part – no pressure, but you might be interested and you are extremely talented! The details can be found on my post: http://smallbluegreenwords.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/travel-your-way/

    Jude xx

    • Thanks so much for your comment Jude – how interesting that a UK official woudl finds China a model in this area! It would be nice if all children would step up to care for their elders but I don’t see it happening in our lifetimes! And thanks very much for the nomination as well–will check it out!

  4. I lived in China for three years and was a teacher of students from ages 2 to 82, and it was fascinating to witness the effects that this policy is having on Chinese citizens of every age.

    People can pay the government certain amounts of money if they wish to have extra children (I heard different numbers, but around 100K RMB seemed to be the average – approximately $15K USD), and this is becoming more and more common, especially as we see China become more and more financially prosperous.

    Yes, young children are spoiled. With attention from their parents as well as two sets of grandparents, they quickly become used to getting their way – and teachers, care takers, etc. often do nothing to help remedy this. They don’t want to create conflict with the parents by upsetting the child, and thus can be very lax when it comes to things such as discipline. However, children in China are (on average, at least in big cities) put into school at a very young age, and so grow up learning how to interact with others, share with their peers, and develop wonderful and cooperative social skills from early on.

    Unfortunately, there is a great deal of pressure on children (especially if they are an only child, but not exclusively in those cases). I privately tutored a brother and sister who had zero free time – absolutely no time for themselves – after all of the activities their parents had pushed them into (English lessons, music lessons, sports, arts, etc.), and this was the norm. Chinese children are pressed constantly and in many different ways to excel, and are put into many different extracurricular activities so that they might outshine their peers (or, at least, match them). Due to the intensity of the population, it is crucial that children/people in China do well and take advantage of every bit of free time and every opportunity they have to improve themselves. It was obviously draining not only on the children, but my adult students as well.

    All this said, I read in some earlier comments that you didn’t witness many (or any) smiles on the faces of children during your time in China – have no fear, Chinese children are full of joy! It’s magic when they smile (and they do it often – I promise!)

  5. No easy answers Tina and don’t see change happening in the hear future . Thought provoking post as ever for me about a culture I really know very little about .
    Your pictures are amazing .

  6. Fabulous photos of the children -all outstanding, but playing with pigeons, pretty in pink and serious are in a league of their own. Excellent!! Thanks for sharing your experiences and views on the one child rule- fascinating and, as one commenter said, there are no easy answers. Much food for thought ; provocative as always!

  7. You have a real gift for weaving narrative and photographs together. This photos in this post make the policy “real.” What great sadness this must have cause among the people. I read a story recently of a young Chinese woman who, while growing up, was beaten and abused by her family, resentful of her because they wanted a boy. Hard to imagine….
    Thanks for this beautiful post.

    • Thank you so much Bill. That is an awful story and I’m sure there are others. I do see the preference for sons fading a bit, which at least is some good news. And I also think they will be revising the policy fairly soon also. They are an interesting society from the perspective that they are ancient, yet some of their issues are those of a very new world. Appreciate your thoughtful comment.

  8. It is hard for us to understand the logic and rules of other places, but when we see first hand it sometimes helps us better understand. The government put in place the laws to help China remain self-sufficent and have enough of the basic necessities for everyone. Good intentions which have turned into some other issues, but like everything else they will work through it.

  9. Not one of us who have read your post wasn’t very aware of the thought patterns and customs. Seeing however saddens the heart and brings things into reality.

    • Thanks Kathy – even more when you listen to the young adults who clearly love and respect their parents and grandparents but are struggling to do the right thing by them. Surely a problem that needs to be solved, and soon.

    • Thanks Sister Pat – yes it’s one of those side effects that I suppose wasn’t really thought through when the rule was implemented. The good news I think is that they have the resources to address it if they choose to.

  10. The One Child Law A Conundrum For Sure

    Having been fortunate enough to live my life in a free society it is incomprehensible to imagine otherwise . Listening to the Chinese people express their negative concerns of their government made me realize even more how fortunate we are. (Although today not much different here) Having said that , it is also incomprehensible what China would look and be like today ,with a population of 1.9 billion people , using the growth rate before 1979. How many more ugly twenty story high rises would there be? How many more noisy,pollution creating construction sites? How many more heavy duty trucks on the roads? How many more displaced families? How would they all be fed as the farmers lose their land?

    There are no easy answers!

  11. Interesting and great photography. I understand every problem for the families, and for the society (exept they should work on the way they see boys more valuable than girls). But still, the worlds polulation is growing too fast, that’s a sad fact.

    • Yes, Bente, it really hits home when you see first-hand the many issues related to a population of 1.4 billion! Here in the states there is so much focus on cleaning up and respecting the environment. Then you go to china and realize no matter what we do, our impact is so tiny compared to theirs! I do think, tho’, that their preference for sons is changing as their society modernizes. Thanks for your comments!

  12. Really liking the banner photo across the top of page too in this thoughtful storyline/ beautiful photo set Tina.
    BTW, curious, see anything “Made in USA” over there? dsup

    • LOL, thanks Diane! Actually I ran short on camera memory and had to buy an extra card. Cost me a bloody fortune and I believe was made in the US 🙂 but that was about it!!!

  13. Great picture! I recently heard a piece on NPR discussing nursing homes in China and how most people are made to feel ashamed for placing their aging parents there as they can’t take care of them at home. It’s definitely a growing issue there.

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  16. Great post , as always, Tina. It is not possible to legislate family size. The consequences are dire as you point out. But, I don’t see how unbridled population growth as in India is sustainable either.

    BTW, I love your new theme.

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  19. Just today I was with granddaughter at the CHS Children’s Museum, and so enjoyed the wonder and joy of childhood. Appreciated your comments immensely about the Chinese children and your outstanding photos of these beautiful children.
    Ann Spencer

  20. Thank you, Tina for sharing such an wonderful post. This is the first time I have ever come across a post as insightful as yours inspired via Daily Prompt. Beautiful photos too. I loved it. Thank you so much.

  21. Our travel guide in Beijing told us that she was the third daughter of the family. She said that to be able to have two or three kids, thus her parents have to pay everything for the two kids, no government subsidies, including education. I grew up in a traditional upper middle-class Chinese family (not China) with two elder brothers. Unlike how I raise my daughter, my parents set pretty high expectations and rules for us. A lot times, I couldn’t tell I raised a better kid than my parents did 🙂
    I really enjoy reading the post, Tina! Love these photos.

    • Thanks very much Amy. Yes another penalty for multiple children, no gov’t subsidies or paid education. It’s interesting how differently each generation tries to raise children, isn’t it? I’m sure both you AND your daughter are terrific!!!

      • Thanks, Tina! Though we didn’t have the freedom like my daughter had, but I think we felt the same level of secure and love as the kids in America for example. Our parents (many traditional Chinese parents and grandparents) were the role model for all the expectations they place onto their kids. Even, they have money, they won’t spend it on their own pleasure… I apology for prolonging the conversation.

  22. I love the quote “every child comes with a message from God that He is not discouraged with man”
    Wonder how He feels these days? They’re beautiful children, but not a smile in any of the pictures!
    Great pics and wonderful quotes. Welcome back! 🙂

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  25. Lovely article with beautiful pictures. Its a dilemma on the one hand the problems of population and on the other is the moral implications of interfering with nature.
    Thanks Tina.

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