After limiting family size since 1979, China realized it had set itself up for a demographic crisis. Its large but aging society would no longer be able to support itself economically. China needs children. But while its top leaders have changed policy to encourage more births in the last few years, lower-level bureaucrats concerned about local budgets aren’t getting on board with the big plan. (See Children? China Can’t Decide)
Authorities in China’s Shandong province ordered a young family to pay a large fee—$9,500—for the birth of their third child. Though the “one-child” policy law has been completely scrapped, and second and third children are not only allowed but even encouraged, some communities still keep the fine on their local rule books. They call it a “social maintenance fee,” and the funds go directly to the local budget—not to a national fund. So towns and municipalities with tight budgets may feel enforcing such fees—even at the detriment of families and the nation’s future—are justified to keep their own departments in the black.
Young dad Wang Baohua was shocked by the bill. He did not pay it, and found last month that his family’s entire savings of $3,400 was frozen. He cannot access what he has to support his household because he still owes money to the Shandong province government.
“I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” Wang says.
Journalist Jin Wei chimed in with her criticism of China’s mixed messages. “The low birthrate has everyone on edge,” she says. “Yet the local governments care only about collecting fees. I don’t know of any other nation that pulls its people in different directions like this.”
The situation has its roots in decades-old fears that China’s population (currently over one billion people) would outstrip its resources. That fear was harnessed and misused by the ruling Communist Party’s all-consuming fervor to control people’s most personal decisions, such as family size.
But fast-forward 35 years, and a radical change of course was ordered after leaders realized an aging population and declining workforce would not support the country’s future development. In 2016, the one-child policy was officially replaced with a two-child policy and Chinese couples were urged to go forth and multiply. But, they didn’t. A stigma against larger families remained. Fear of inability to provide financially for more than a single child also remained. Parents had lost along the way the mindset that generations were worth sacrificing for. The birthrate saw a tiny bump—and then it leveled out and dropped again.
Families like the Wangs who are willing to have children are rare. Penalizing them only makes matters worse. By rejecting God’s good gift of blessing through generations, it appears that China truly will grow old before it grows “rich”—in economic or familial prosperity.
(A nurse feeds a newborn baby at a hospital in Fuyang in central China’s Anhui province. China’s leaders are desperate to encourage more births—but lower level authorities still impose fines on growing families to raise needed local funds. AP Photo)