Xinran is a Chinese writer living in Britain who has been researching China’s one-child policy for the last 30 years. She has published two books on the subject, “Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love” (2011) and “Buy Me the Sky: the Remarkable Truth of China’s One-Child Generations” (2015)
I was at a literary festival in Bali when China’s Xinhua News Agency made the announcement: “One-child policy ends and Chinese are allowed to have two children.” Just one short sentence on October 27th. I already knew, because I had been getting phone calls from journalists around the world asking the same question: what’s my reaction to the news?
So what is my reaction? Happiness and tears! Happiness because this 36-year-old policy, which has done unforgivable and irrevocable damage to Chinese family values, and led to human-rights abuses like forced abortions, sterilisations and infanticide, is at an end. Tears because, like many thousands of Chinese women, it’s too late for me to have more children.
The policy has left more than 200m one-child families, and by 2020 there will be 30m more Chinese men than women. Where, people are wondering, will they all find wives? But the bigger outrage, and one that mainstream Chinese media never mention, is what happened to all the missing girls.
Not everyone in China shares my sentiments. Earlier this week, I flew there for a few days of research before returning to Britain. On the plane I was reading the headlines in a Chinese newspaper. The news about the one-child policy was still on the front page, alongside the Russian plane crash in Egypt and the launch of China’s new passenger jet, the C919. A conversation reached my ears from the rows behind me:
“Is it time we stopped travelling around, so we can try to save some money for our second grandchild?” said an older woman to her husband.
“I don’t think so,” said the man, firmly.
“Why not? It would be good for all of us. Tingting wouldn’t be alone, and wouldn’t have to look after six of us on her own in the future.”
“They won’t have another. One child is too much for them already. It’s very expensive. Haven’t you had enough with just one? And have you got the energy to help them with another? Have you forgotten we just got our hands free after a lifetime of struggle?”
The man was so annoyed his newspaper was shaking in his hands.
In the paper, there was a joke about the new two-children policy. A boy asks his mother, “Have you heard the news? Everyone in my class could get a brother or a sister now.”
“Would you like to have one?” his mother asks.
“I would like to have one, but I don’t want my classmates to know.”
“I don’t want my classmates to borrow my sibling, since none of their mums wants to make one for them.”
As always, I talked to a taxi driver in Nanjing, because taxi drivers are the barometers of society: are you glad the one-child policy has ended?
“I don’t care, because I can’t care. I have never got on the right train. When I was born in the 1960s there was no food [because of famine]; when I went to school there were no teachers [because of the cultural revolution]; when I finished my education there was no job [because in the 1990s China’s heavy industry was restructured]; when I married the birthrate was controlled; when I became a taxi driver everybody got a car; and now my only son wants to marry his iPhone and has no interest in having a family at all!”