Tag Archives: father

Deeply disturbed

23 May

The demographic issue in China is fascinating. The single child policy was set up in 1978 (and enacted in 1980) for the obvious reason of curbing the birth rate of the country. So (at least if I think of myself as still being young) it is not that old. In 2004 during my very first visit here, it had already struck me how convinced Chinese people are of this very drastic measure, how conscious they are too of their demographic “problem” and even that some of them feel a sense of responsibility to contribute to changing their country’s demographic profile. Coming from a tiny country (Lebanon) where the whole population (5 millions, including the current 1 million refugee population) is the equivalent of that of a third tier city in China, on a number of occasions I’ve had remarks such as: “It’s very good to have such a small population. In China, there are too many people” – a few times from taxi drivers as well as from people from other walks of life.

Even if it is being progressively loosened due to foreseeable pension funding problems, the single child policy remains a national matter and an individual responsibility. A long time ago now, I read an article that made me laugh. It reported with an unequivocal frown that Zhang Yimou, the famous movie director and mastermind of the Beijing Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, actually has four children! How unpatriotic! At the same time, I have been surprised by the number of Chinese people born post-1980 I met who have siblings. My first Chinese teacher has an older sister and more than a few of my ex-students also have brothers and sisters.

With the recent further loosening of the law*, it has become more acceptable to discuss the possibility of having a second child. I have often put the question to my Chinese friends or colleagues, out of sheer curiosity. While some of them do want a second child, it still surprised me how unused others are to the very concept. It feels that because so many people of my generation (I was born in 1980) and the later one grew up without a sibling that the whole idea is really alien to them and only seen through the lens of the financial “cost” of having a second child – which seems a bit reductive but understandable since you want to be able to afford the best for your offspring. Very recently however, it became clearer that there may actually be a generational damage regarding having a second child.

As I said, Chinese people are so conscious of their population problem and so unused by now to having a brother or a sister that it is even portrayed by media in part but also perhaps by new popular belief to be potentially harmful for the balance of the standard family of three. It was a conversation with two of my colleagues (one my age and the other 12 years younger, whom I consider to be highly educated) that revealed the extent of this damage. Earlier this week, I was asking my pregnant colleague (a singleton) whether she would consider having a second child. She said: “I don’t know… I hear parents cannot love two children in an equal way and will start to love the second child more than the first.” That in itself was a shock to me, the very possibility that generally parents’ love was limited to one child. Of course it can and does happen but it is rare and the family in question would be considered to be dysfunctional. Then my colleague carried on by supporting her statement by giving the example of a young (Chinese) teenage girl who committed suicide because her parents had another child. The worst part was to see how concerned both she and our younger colleague looked! I could see it in their eyes and feel the disapproval and anxiety on their faces of the possibility of having a second kid. I don’t know if it’s propaganda and brainwash or just sheer pragmatism, but either way I am still shocked that they could believe it and that media would portray having a little brother or sister to be so potentially harmful in the relationship between parents and their elder child. The mere idea of a brother or sister has not just become alien it has become inconceivable. I later found out that my younger colleague has a younger brother and has in fact really suffered from the son-preference culture that still prevails in some families in China (she also once shared that she really admired her grand-father for treating everyone, regardless of age, gender, etc. equally).

I may be a bit harsh here but I think what shocks me perhaps equally than this fear of bringing another kid into the family is how Sino-centred both my colleagues (and probably a whole lot of other, less educated people) are on this issue, how they couldn’t question this unfounded media or propaganda-generated theory or stretch their mind to all other countries of the world where the vast majority of people have one or more siblings and where the elder children are as loved by their parents as the younger ones.

*Until about two years ago, if both spouses were single children they were allowed to have two kids without paying any tax or penalty, however you want to call it. More recently, if just one of the spouses is a single child, then the couple is “allowed” to have two kids.

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