Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Amy Bailey

China’s one-child policy helps liberate women

First Published: Unity, Vol. 7, No. 4, March 9-22, 1984.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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In China today millions of women are signing pledge cards to have only one child. These pledge cards amount to small emancipation proclamations. While most accounts of China’s campaign to limit her population growth have focused on the economic benefits, I think it also benefits the struggle for women’s equality.

In terms of economic benefits, it is clear that if China is to continue to be self-supporting agriculturally and develop her industry, she must limit her population growth. China is about the same size as the United States, but she has only a fraction of the farmland and five times the population. Although grain output doubled between 1952 and 1982, so did the population. For China to improve the standard of living of the people and to become a modern industrialized country, she must limit population growth. This is almost universally acknowledged by everyone in China and in the West as well.

But at the same time that everyone lauds the Chinese campaign for population control, questions have been raised. Is there coercion? Are women forced to have abortions? Besides the economic benefits, does this campaign benefit Chinese society and women in particular? I have traveled to China recently, and during my trip I asked extensive questions about this one-child campaign.

From my investigation I would say that there is no coercion, but there is a great deal of education being done. There are concrete policies being enacted which deny benefits to those with more than one child. This is similar to the tax policies in this country which are supposed to reinforce socially desirable activities. I don’t consider this coercion. As to forced abortion, that is not official policy. Where that has occurred, the government has condemned it and taken steps to prevent its recurrence.

What I learned on my trip to China really excited me. I understood the economic benefits, but I was astounded at how the campaign was both explained and conducted within the context of combating feudal ideas against women and furthering their emancipation. I knew that in China there is convenient and quality child care at little or no cost. Paid maternity leave is mandated by law. But I also knew that the road to the full equality for women has not been fully traveled, in large part due to the residues of a feudal society.

Let me explain. For centuries, women in China were considered inferior to men. A woman’s worth was primarily measured in her ability to bear children, especially male children. Furthermore, she was forced to view herself first as a daughter to her father, then as a wife to her husband and finally as the mother of her children (particularly the son). Not only the women, but all of society, valued women in relationship to how many sons and children she had.

I learned that, in the campaign to have one child, the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party have carried out extensive education about the equality of the sexes and role of women. I met one Chinese woman who said that, in Chinese society, women must be valued as people who can make all-rounded contributions to the advancement of society and not only as mothers.

She pointed out that, in the course of the one-child campaign, the government and Communist Party have had to look sharply at existing inequalities. She asked,“ How can the one-child campaign succeed when we still find many shops with a male supervisor and female work force? If we want women to redefine their roles and to strive for and accept higher responsibilities and to break out of viewing ourselves and our worth primarily as mothers, women must see other women in all sectors and roles.”

The policy of having only one child per family has brought into sharp relief the prejudice and discrimination against female children. Now mothers of baby girls feel freer to publicly criticize husbands and in-laws for pressuring them to break the one-child policy and try for a boy. In fact, stiff criminal penalties are handed out for discrimination against daughters, and even the death penalty will be enforced in cases of infanticide.

The one-child policy has forced many Chinese to examine their attitudes toward women, and it has offered to Chinese women the opportunity to redefine their relationship to society and to their families. Contrary to many U.S. press reports, there is no coercion, but there is struggle. There is struggle against backward ideas, and people in China are not “free” to discriminate against women.

Yes, the one-child policy will help China realize her goal of economic advancement, but it should also help the further emancipation of Chinese women. Perhaps then Chairman Mao Zedong’s old saying that “Women hold up half the sky” will become even more the reality in China.