China's population is 1.3 billion and counting. Birth control has slowed
but not stopped the Malthusian growth. Give me the lowdown on contraception
in the People's Republic.
Dear Millennium Man,
A popular Chinese legend tells of a centenarian whose family consisted
of five generations and more than 100 people. The man was interviewed
by an important cadre who asked him how it was possible for such a big
family to live together peacefully in their small courtyard. The old
man said nothing but with his shivering hand wrote the character ΘΜ (ren)!
99 times on a piece of paper. What does ΘΜ mean? It can be translated
as 'tolerate' or 'endure' but is probably best phrased as 'grin and
This grin-and-bear-it attitude is a traditional Chinese virtue, but
in the case of producing and then putting up with a houseful of descendants,
we liberated Chinese feel a little differently. Or at least some of
us do: many urban Chinese couples no longer want big families, but lots
of our fellow citizens in the countryside still believe that when it
comes to offspring, the more the merrier.
You can hardly blame them. Chairman Mao himself said: "It is a very
good thing that China has a big population. Even if China's population
multiplies many times, she is fully capable of finding a solution; the
solution is production."
deemed it a revolutionary duty for men and women to have as many
children as they could. At that time, mothers who gave birth to a dozen
children were celebrated as 'Heroes of the Motherland.' Although concerned
politicians and intellectuals sometimes objected to this policy, and
during the Mao period there were no fewer than three official campaigns
to reduce the birth rate, it was not until 1978 that a coherent government
campaign against over-enthusiastic reproduction began. With Deng Xiaoping's
ardent support, couples were encouraged to have only one child with
the catchy slogan 'one is good, two at most, never a third.' Local family
planning bureaus were opened up to educate people and distribute contraceptives.
While urban couples can be fined heavily for having more than one child,
minorities are given a little more leeway (because !
there are fewer of
them) and peasant farmers are usually allowed to have two children without
a problem, especially if the first child is a girl. Despite role models
like your ayi, many peasants still believe women can't work as hard
in the field as men. That is true of course, but only when women spend
all their time indoors giving birth.
Many people were hostile to the policy at first, especially the peasants.
They believed their family line would disappear if they had only a daughter.
As a result, many of them gave up their land and escaped to other districts,
in order to try for a son. A comedy skit in the 1986 Spring Festival
Variety Show (broadcast nation-wide) poked fun at such people: A husband
runs away with his pregnant wife to avoid a heavy fine for bearing their
second child. They travel across the length and breadth !
of China, having
babies in each province, but each one turns out to be a girl. At the
end of the skit, they are still discussing their daughters (named Hainan
Island, Da Xing'an Mountain, Turfan Basin, Beidaihe River and so on)
and how to have a son, but the over-birth guerrillas (chaosheng youjidui)
are already onto them.
According to State Family Planning Commission statistics, the most common
method of contraception is the IUD, used by almost half of sexually-active
couples in the mainland. Next on the list is female sterilization which
accounts for about 39 percent of contraception, followed by vasectomy
at about 9 percent. The pill and condoms together account for less than
seven percent of the total figure.
With all these methods of birth control, a new word has entered Mandarin:
the 'dingke fam!
ily'. 'Dingke' is derived from the English 'DINK' or
Double Income No Kids. Dingke couples are becoming more and more common
in urban China as young people realize you can have more fun and money
if you remain childless. But, it will be a while yet before you hear
any complaints that China has too few people. So, Millennium Man, take
the advice (and the free Guangzhou No. 11 Rubber Factory brand condoms)
of the local Family Planning Office: shao sheng, you sheng or have few
children but make them high quality!