The sudden news out of China came last week, while my mom and I were listening to an NPR report: Want three kids? Go ahead!
I’ve taken bits and pieces from an online BBC article, “China allows three children in major policy shift,” to outline the following:
“The Chinese Communist Party’s top leadership made the decision to permit couples to have up to three children at a meeting Monday, though state media reports did not say when the policy change would be implemented. It comes just three weeks after Beijing published its 2020 census, which showed China’s population was growing at its slowest rate in decades.”
“The census, released in May, showed that around 12 million babies were born last year – a significant decrease from the 18 million in 2016, and the lowest number of births recorded since the 1960s.”
“That’s putting major pressure on an economy that relies on a young workforce to support an aging population and keep up high levels of growth. China’s one-child policy, first in effect in 1979, was in place for more than 35 years as Beijing tried to address overpopulation and alleviate poverty. This loosened in 2016 to 2 children and now, 3 children per family is being officially sanctioned.”
Do Chinese Young people Really Want More than One Child?
According to a majority of articles I’ve read, the answer is a resounding “no.”
The reasons are numerous: no time, a busy work schedule, financial burdens of medical care (healthcare is NOT free and insurance polices can be limited depending on employment), basic necessities (clothing, food) with the highest costs being education, from pre-school to the university.
How true is this?
Well, I couldn’t help but text message a few of my Chinese friends and colleagues I know who have one child and ask. I received a lot of responses but I’ll showcase only one.
Remember Bruce Li, the English teacher in charge of translation at my school and who holds my bank card to help pay my bills? I’ll use him and his wife as an example of why a young couple would be content with one child.
Bruce’s little boy is now 5 years old. Bruce’s mother lives with them and has been taking care of the little one since he was born.
When I texted Bruce about this policy and asked if he’d consider having another child, or maybe even a 3rd, he echoed almost all of the above points the article mentioned mentioned.
- “We are too busy”
Bruce and his wife, whose English name is Summer, are both educators in the School for International Studies (the glorified name for our college’s language department).
The duties of teaching at a Chinese college are surprisingly exhausting. No one is immune from just teaching. Everyone has office assignments, either assigned by the department or by the college’s administrators. It’s usually the younger teachers, those who are single or newly married couples, who are tasked with the most work. Those closer to retirement ( 55 for women; 60 for men) have an easier schedule as they slide into the end of their teaching career. Of course, they’ve already put in their many years of hard work so it’s only fair they get a rest.
Bruce especially has been given a heavy load. This past year, he’s been teaching the core classes to the English Education majors and the Business English majors. This is 6 hours a week, with assigned homework to check. “Six hours a week?! Hardly anything,” you say. Read on!
Next, Bruce (as mentioned before) deals with all the official Chinese-English translations for the college. This is a rather nerve-racking duty as it requires everything to be exact and correct. The pressure is on not to make mistakes and have the leaders (or your college) lose face over inaccurate or odd English translations. This is where I can be of help and why Bruce contacts me whenever he is in doubt of his abilities. He also is involved with writing English letters to our partner schools overseas, of which we currently have 5: Germany, South Africa, the US, India and the UK. Germany is the most active, with visiting teachers coming to teach mechanical skills or give German language tests to the German majors. Covid has stopped this now for 1 1/2 years but it will be active once more when bans are lifted. The other schools are merely partners on paper wit no exchanges yet.
Aside from dealing with all school Chinese-English translations, Bruce is also assigned as Student Club manager. What does this entail? He is in charge of: club application by students (all paperwork must be in order to officially register as a club, which includes having a faculty sponsor), getting all the official stamps for approval of registration, handling permission applications for club events, keeping registration of all student names and majors who sign up for clubs, processing club fund application requests, meeting with club presidents to discuss campus rules regarding holding events, and writing reports of each club to be handed in to the extra-curricular activities office. How many clubs do we have? A lot! Here are a few: English reading, English Association, Chinese calligraphy, guitar, skateboarding, rollerblading, hip-hop dancing, ballroom dancing, singing (today’s most recent pop artists), art (Chinese classical and modern), student volunteers (serving the community), basketball, soccer, badminton . . . . Every year, more are added according to the desire of the students. The more clubs, the more work for Bruce.
He also updates the school website for the English department. Every week, he adds photos and write-ups of departmental activities (contests, student achievements, special events, faculty accomplishments). It is Bruce’s job to make the department shine so the administrators are impressed. One more burden to his position working for the college.
And once a semester, he must spend a week sleeping in a dormitory room with the male students to keep an eye on them. Every Chinese teacher has this duty, with every floor having one monitoring teacher once a month at night. (I can tell you that the teachers get VERY little sleep that week. No one looks forward to it.)
Bruce’s wife, Summer, is also an English teacher but her responsibilities are not quite as time-consuming as Bruce’s. She can sometimes manage her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. office hours, Monday to Friday, but then she has a week of evenings (7 – 9 p.m.) once a month to monitor mandatory evening study hours. Evening study hours, every night except Friday, are a requirement for every department and students must stay in the classroom to do these unless permission slips are signed to allow them to be free that evening.
Bruce often doesn’t get home until 9 p.m. He also has Saturday and Sunday evenings as well.
How fortunate that Bruce and Summer live on campus. A majority of the teachers do not and have to commute to and from their apartment complexes across town. Some take busses while others drive their private cars. Either way, heavy traffic in Luzhou adds an extra hour or two to their day.
All college teachers know how busy they will be at our school, especially those who are parents. Thus the need for Grandma or Grandpa to live with them and help raise the child. This is why Bruce’s mom stays with them.
2). “It is very expensive to raise a child”
Bruce in the past has commented to me on his little boy’s many common ailments which often plague all little kids: colds, stomach aches, sore throats, fevers, vaccinations, check-ups, rashes . . . . His little boy is covered under his insurance policy but the cost of visiting the doctor and getting the medicine needed is still not cheap nor 100% covered.
Unlike in America, where children are given an aspirin or nursed through simple childhood illnesses, the Chinese parent takes the child immediately to see the doctor in the hospital. There are very few small clinics and those are usually not very reliable. In China, hospitals serve as both clinics for the masses and as specialty healthcare for more serious physical problems.
Luzhou has many hospitals, some larger than others, some more prestigious than others, some more expensive than others. Of course, Bruce takes his child to the most prestigious and most expensive hospital so his little boy will receive the best care.
If he has yet another child or even a third child, imagine how many hospital trips that will entail throughout his children’s dependency years. Then imagine how much that will cost.
Bruce and Summer have steady jobs and healthcare under the college’s family insurance policies. Imagine migrant workers, small shop owners, or farmers who do not have adequate coverage (or any coverage) to help with such costs. I can’t image them wanting a third child.
3). “Our pre-school costs are very high.”
Education is free under the government system but there is a choice of the best education possible as opposed to so-so. The best is expensive.
Bruce sends his little boy to an all-day pre-school (8 – 5 p.m. 5 days a week), which is not free. At the pre-school he chose, his little boy receives numerous classes in math, art, music, science, PE, English, Chinese reading and writing. His son has homework to do when he comes home. The yearly fees for this pre-school, which began at age 3, is 20,000 yuan (roughly $3,170) a year. This includes the child’s education, uniform, books, materials, field trips, morning and afternoon snacks and lunch (I believe).
Could Bruce enroll his child in a cheaper daycare center, or opt not to bother at all? Sure, but this well-educated young man and his wife are looking to give their boy as great a head start as possible for his future. A smart child, able to pass exams with high marks, is destined for a high-ranking college and a great career. What parent doesn’t want that for his/her only child?
I’m fairly certain at age 6, when elementary school begins, Bruce will send his son to the most prestigious public school in the city that’s available. Public schools require all the usual fees: tuition (small or large, depending on the type of school), books, and uniform. Some schools are less than others. Some can range as little as $100 US each semester to $3,000 or more. It will be interesting to see where Bruce’s little boy ends up after a year.
I could continue onward with more stories of the same but I’ll end with Bruce.
I will say I received a few comments from some of my women friends who are single. They told me they had no desire to get married, nor jeopardize their career with employers who didn’t want to pay for maternity leave. Under Chinese law, women can ask for maternity leave up to 98 days and in some provinces, 128 days to a full year. The company is required to pay maternity insurance as well which will give a monthly allotment of government funds to the mother. However, if the monthly company salary of the woman exceeds what the government pays in maternity insurance, then the employer has to make up the difference. In other words, the mother is supposed to receive her full monthly pay although she’s not working.
Company interviewers are very pointed about asking, “Are you married? How many children do you have? Are you planning on having more? How can you have time for the duties of our company and raise a child as well?” There seems to be no law regarding asking such personal questions. Those women who refuse to answer have no call-backs, or those that appear to possibly having a future child (or children) are never even considered.
So while the 3rd child policy sounds great, it might be presenting even more problems than before, not only for couples but also for women of any marital status trying to enter the workforce. The next year will present more on this subject, I’m sure. When I get back to China, I’ll let you know my findings.
Here’s wishing you 平安 (Ping An), Peace, for your day