China’s Family Planning Association has launched a competition encouraging the public to come up with slogans to promote its three-child policy, but the appeal has been met with anger and sarcasm on social media.
- The three-child policy slogan contest has been ridiculed by people on social media
- Many Chinese women say slogans won’t work on them
- Experts suggest the Chinese government should focus on addressing systemic issues
Three months ago, the Chinese government scrapped its two-child policy in a bid to address the crisis of a rapidly aging population and falling birth rate.
China’s controversial one-child policy was officially axed in 2015, ending more than three decades of the strict birth control.
But the latest census data revealed population growth had fallen to its slowest pace since the 1960s, posing a major challenge to policymakers in Beijing.
The contest by the Family Planning Association aims to “advertise a new time of marriage and family planning culture”.
It runs until September 15, and 35 slogans will be chosen with cash prices up to 1,000 yuan ($200).
Although it received some welcoming messages on social media, such as “the more children, the merrier”, overwhelmingly responses have taken either an angry or mocking tone.
“Your sex organs don’t belong to you but the country,” one person wrote on Weibo.
“One person exceeds the birth limit, the whole village will be sterilised,” another wrote, a saying which resembles an old slogan used during the one-child policy.
Some people shared grim memories about having a forced abortion in the past, while others called out the discrimination against women when they had more children, especially in the workplace.
Chinese women say they aren’t convinced
Jessie Zhang, 30, is a single mother who works in IT in the eastern coastal city of Hangzhou.
She told the ABC that having children was a personal choice and slogans wouldn’t encourage more women to give birth.
“I don’t want to have more children, that’s not the purpose of my life,” Ms Zhang said.
“Reproductive rights should be controlled in my hand; men shouldn’t have too much say in it.”
Summer Xia, 36, is an accountant from the southern province of Hainan and a mother of two daughters.
She said she was already struggling to raise two children due to rising costs of education and living, despite her family having two incomes.
“The grandparents are too old to take care of the children … after six months of maternity leave, we had to hire a nanny.
“Although it’s not very expensive to attend a public school, the quality of education there is poor, so we had to hire a private tutor.”
Last month, new restrictions were placed on private tutoring in China, a move to tackle the huge burden on school children and their parents’ finances.
“The government said they wanted to relieve the burden for children, but doesn’t change the test-oriented education system,” Ms Xia added.
She said her decision to have a second child wasn’t swayed by the two-child policy, instead she thought it would be too lonely for her first daughter to grow up without a sibling.
“I think any independent woman won’t be influenced by these slogans,” Ms Xia said.
“It might work for older generations, or for men, but definitely not women.”
“At least women who I know think so, no slogans can touch my heart.”
Sarcasm a creative way to criticise policy
Dr Pan Wang is a senior lecturer in Chinese and Asian studies from the University of New South Wales.
She told the ABC the slogan contest signalled that the Family Planning Association was eager to revamp its reputation, given its role in the previous policies.
“But rather, invite people to be part it, given the propagandisation of completely different messages during the previous family planning campaigns.”
Dr Wang said people using sarcasm or dark humour to criticise policymakers was a way to get around internet censorship.
“People are aware that ‘throwing an egg [direct criticism or protest] against a rock [government]’ will lead to nowhere,” she said.
“Rather, giving sarcastic suggestions on social media helps to draw public attention.”
Wei-Jun Jean Yeung, founding director of the Centre for Family and Population Research at the National University of Singapore, said Chinese people were tired of slogans after family planning policy changes.
“It would be better to pay attention to young people’s constraints and preferences more realistically,” she told the ABC.
“It is much harder to force people to have babies than not having babies.”
Is three-child policy doomed to fail?
For decades, Chinese families were told not to cross the red line of having more than one child, and the notion that one child was enough was instilled in many millennials.
Experts said the one-child policy had changed people’s mindsets profoundly.
“Very few people will consider having a third baby these days,” Professor Yeung said.
China’s total fertility rate of women currently sits at 1.3, lower than the replacement rate of 2.1, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
To reverse the trend, both Professor Yeung and Dr Wang said the Chinese government should tackle issues such as discrimination against women in the workplace and at home, affordable childcare and long-term monetary incentives.
This week, the Beijing government said it would reward women who have a third child with an additional 30 days of maternity leave and 15 days of parental leave for the father.
China’s marriage rate has also fallen to a record low of 1.16 per cent, and that has prompted the central government to look at ways of trying to slow the number of divorces.
“If people don’t get married, they are not likely to have babies, because the current system does not recognise babies born outside of legal marriages,” Professor Yeung said.
Reluctance to abolish birth restrictions altogether
As a tool to manage its large population, family planning has long been “a fundamental policy of the country” in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party.
Breaching birth restrictions in the past meant large fines and sometimes even punishments such as invasive procedures and the installation of intrauterine devices.
But the party is reluctant to abolish birth restrictions altogether.
Last month, Yang Wenzhuang, director of the Population and Family Department of National Health Commission, said while more support measures should be taken to meet the needs of the parents, family planning policy had to be adhered to.
“We are now promoting balanced population development in the long run, which is different from the population development goal of the 1970s and 1980s, which was to control rapid population growth,” he said at a media briefing last month.
Professor Yeung said although she thinks China should relax the restrictions of birth completely, it won’t have much impact on population growth.
“At this point, it probably wouldn’t make much difference for the fertility rate,” she said.
“The Chinese government is worried that rural or low-income families may have too many babies that create a potential poverty problem for the country.”
But for Summer Xia, she just wants full control of her reproductive rights.
“Everyone should have their reproductive rights, it’s up to themselves to give birth.
“If the government wants to encourage people to have more children, that’s fine, but they shouldn’t force them.”
China’s Family Planning Association didn’t respond to a request for comment.