The End of China’s One Child Policy

On Thursday, October 29, 2016, China announced the end of its decades-old one child policy. Now, married couples are allowed to have two children. In the years following China’s historic cultural revolution, there was a national call to slow the exploding population growth. During the 1970s, government institutions under Deng Xiaoping’s leadership established family planning programs that encouraged families to have one child. By 1980, the flourishing Communist Party forced 38 million couples to only have one child each, and by 1982, birth control was written in the constitution. Like in most societies, boys are valued above girls since Chinese birth parents believe sons can better provide for them. Thus, thousands of infant girls have been put up for adoption.

I was one of them.

I was born in Tongling, a city in An Hui province. The story goes that I was left on the steps of an orphanage when I was only a few days old. Four months later, I was adopted by a single white mother from New York City and with that, I began my life as an American citizen far away from my Chinese roots. Growing up, I knew I was adopted; it was obvious. But what was less clear, and is still unclear today, is why exactly I was placed in an orphanage. China’s one child policy seemed like a feeble answer. But with no other information, it was the answer I, and many other Chinese adoptees, accepted. So last fall, when I was studying abroad and heard about the end of the policy, I was uncertain how to react. And I guess I still am now.

I digress to explain the results of the one child policy. After formally introducing the policy in the early 1980s, the Chinese government had a very intrusive role in women’s reproductive choices. The government not only regulated and approved of forced abortions, but also governed illegal insertion intrauterine devices. While the human rights of women and their families were clearly violated, the policy did decrease population growth. But as a result, the aging population greatly outnumbers the younger generation. In addition, because most families preferred boys over girls, there is a vast gender imbalance in the country which contributes to the decrease in children being born every year. The economic fear of a huge retired population with no support system drove the current Chinese government to reconsider and ultimately change the policy from one child to two.

While this certainly gives women and their families autonomy in choosing the composition of their family, many human rights advocates and activists do not believe this will end forced abortions, sterilization, and other human rights-violating forms of birth control. And they have only pointed out that changing the policy will not provide relief for the millions of families whose lives were ripped apart by it. It a step in a direction, but is it the right one?

To return to how my life and experiences fit into all of this, I don’t know what to make of China’s change. My life was dramatically altered because of it. I live a very privileged life, a life I certainly would not have been able to have if I had not been adopted. But I was also ripped away from my home country, and constantly straddle two worlds and two cultures. I am angry that an institution dictated the outcome of my life. I am sad that it caused my birth family, as well as many others, pain and suffering. But it also opened me to a realm of new opportunities. What it has done is brought these two worlds, these two cultures, together in an entwined way that may not be good, but is certainly incredible.  

-By Isabelle St.Clair ’17



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