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Evaluating China’s One Child Policy

During the 1970s, China felt the indenting need for a drastic policy that would control its ever-expanding population and begin development in its country. Thus, the one-child policy was born; if the policy had not been instituted, china would have faced severe famine and starvation as it would not have been able to cope with rapid growth. The policy was administrated in September 1981, and they called it ‘birth planning’ by which families were given a maximum limit of one child per family; however, in rural areas, couples were allowed to have two children, and this was to help need on agricultural land and farming; those who try to breach this law would face severe consequences.

The policy was considered one of history’s ‘most ambitious pieces of social engineering’ as quoted from The Economist since the policy heavily intervened with families’ plans for the future and affected how most Chinese families would function in terms of having children. The policy governed by the Chinese government was said not to last no longer than a single generation. Yet, in 2013, the policy continues to proceed, and there are little or no signs of a new policy or removal of this policy from the country.

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Administration Of Policy. The policy in china was very drastic. Therefore, it contained many punishments for anyone who tried to breach the policy. The government also deployed many administration forces to make sure that people were being monitored and that no one was trying for a second child. There were family-planning workers in every single workplace to grant families the ability to have a child if they had been on the waiting list and also at this point, the couple would be presented with a special card which gives them authority to claim government benefits such as free education, free kindergarten facilities, free healthcare etc. on the birth of the child. In addition, police called the ‘granny police,’ who were not actual police but represented the role of making sure women were practicing using contraception and to had the objective of reporting on pregnancies so that the local authority would be able to work out whether a family is trying to have a second child illegally.

Women were also given education on contraception, and this was to try to minimize the amount of unexpected pregnancies. However, family planning officials levy huge fines of up to £20,000 from those trying to have a second child. This fine accounts for the estimated value of public services that the forbidden child would have received over its lifetime. Furthermore, in some areas, the couple would have been stripped of their house, jobs and even the ability to live in a particular area of the country. Also, in earlier times, they would have been forfeited their rations and clothing benefits. Furthermore, women would have been given forced sterilizations or contraceptive pills. Their chances of having children ever again would be removed if they were found guilty of trying to have a second child, which would impose that they would never be able to have a child even if they decide to migrate to another country.  This kind of sterilization was only existent in certain provinces of China. It is currently completely abolished from all parts of China as it was considered unforgiving for a punishment.

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Changes Generated by The One-Child Policy. Without the need to say the obvious: the one-child policy had caused a drop in the fertility rate in China. From the starting point of the policy in 1981 to now, the birth rate has dropped from an above-average 2.9 to 1.7. This has led to understanding that the policy was successful and that it has tackled one of the country’s main concerns: an ever-expanding population. Furthermore, this drop has claimed to prevent up to 400 million births, which would otherwise have kept China’s population at 1.7 billion currently compared to the 1.3 billion that it actually is today. However, despite showing a drop in birth rate after the beginning of this policy, some statistics show that China’s fertility rates fell drastically during the 1970s and that the policy did not influence the drop in birth rates much.

This suggests that the fertility rate was naturally decreasing, so there was no need for the policy. This suggests that the policy did not control the country’s population greatly because the fertility rates had dropped severely just before the commencement of the policy. Therefore the implementation of such a severe policy has now indented Chinese people’s concept of families. Even if the policy were to be removed, people would continue to have few children n, and this would not have been the case if fertility rates were allowed to naturally decrease to make the population eventually stable, much like how most other countries have progressed through the demographic transition such as Russia, Germany and Japan. The rapid fall in fertility rate just before the one-child policy is clearly shown in the graph on the previous page; the graph was taken from the GapMinder webpage, which holds information about the world demographic and thus is very reliable.

Another negative impact of the one-child policy was a case of female infanticide. In fact, this is an interesting concern as it has lead to china presenting a population where there are about 120 Chinese men for every 100 Chinese women, and thus, there is a shortage of women. There was a severe amount of female infanticide for several reasons. Firstly a male child was seen as more superior for the use on farmland and for the use on agricultural land as men were seen as stronger characters compared to women. Secondly, only the male would be able to carry forward the family name. There was a great cultural desire to carry forward a family name to keep the family advancing through generations in China. Finally, men are usually the main income earners, either because they are more employable, earn higher wages for the same work, or do more agricultural work in subsistence economies.

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Since male babies have greater income potential, they are more desired than females, and thus female births were usually abandoned or killed. There are some stories of extreme discomfort where female babies have been flushed down toilets and drowned, as they were not considered valuable to Chinese families. Furthermore, the shortage of females in China has led to a generation where there are “too many men,” which was caused by the desire to have a male child in the family. The result of the one-child policy has meant that there are 1000 million women who would else be existent if the policy wasn’t introduced. Thus, this social engineering has converted the balanced gender country into an imbalanced country with more men. This has lead to a desire to import women, known as human trafficking, where women are smuggled using from Burma and North Korea, and the women are used as prostitutes or sold as wives and domestic servants in parts of China.

This is a negative outcome of the policy by which women are misused and are illegally imported from other countries. Furthermore, it is expected that by the year 2030, there could be up to 20-30million bachelors in China who are unable to find a partner, and this would further increase the desire and temptation to want female prostitutes, and this will create illegal transportation of women to china from neighbouring countries. Another disadvantage of the policy is that a generation of not enough children is developing in China, and this results in not enough children to look after parents who could mean that the country could grow old before it can develop its economy and become rich by limiting the mouths to feed as it is trying to do so using the one-child policy. In China, this lack of children is called the ‘4-2-1’ dilemma, and as The Economist suggests, this couple has the job of looking after four parents and one child.

This creates a dilemma as the couple’s parents become aged and need the help of the couple. Thus the couple has the cost of looking after their parents all on their own as they would not have any siblings. Thus, China has created a problem for families trying to develop as they will have a shortage of money to spend elsewhere in the economy to boost the country’s development stage. Furthermore, the imbalanced structure of china’s population also hints that the working force will end by 2020. Therefore this would mean that the country would not be able to develop further, and this has again raised pressure on the Chinese government to introduce further amendments to the one-child policy. For example, Hu Jintao suggested allowing more than one birth but between longer gaps and the scrapping of the birth quota so that couples could still have a child even if the maximum number of children in a certain area is reached.

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This would help to regain a large population of workers in the future generation to continue with the countries development without having to deal with another expanding population. The article presented by The Economist has dealt with many defects of the one-child policy, including the extortionate amount of female infanticide, the illegal need for a second child, female imports, the ‘4-2-1’ issue and the fact that the country could have still developed without the policy as statistics showed that fertility rates were naturally decreasing as people become more educated and this would therefore have reduced to country’s large population and allowed the country to develop as the government would have to feed fewer people and also if the policy had not been introduced there would not be effected one some females lives who have been sterilized permanently after the birth of the first child because this would prevent the mother from having another child ever.

Also, the Chinese government is now unable to scrape the policy because they have not alternatives that could be administrated on the scale of the one-child policy. Therefore the government suggests ‘we will stick to the family-planning policy for decades’ and this implies that the removal of the policy would have a considerate difference on China’s population and that it could improve the gender imbalance, which is not of great interest to china as demographers suggest the removal of the policy would suggest a rapid increase in population once again and this would mean that the country would not be able to achieve its goal which is to become a well-developed country with a high GDP.

The charts below show what would happen to china’s population and its structure by 2050 if the policy was to be removed. As the first graph clearly suggests, the one-child policy has successfully maintained a smaller population. Emphasis should be placed on the fact it is just a smaller population. Although the population is smaller, the structure of the population between men and women and groups of elderly, working-class as well as those under 15 is highly imbalanced, and as the chart on the right clearly imposes if the policy were removed, the demographic structure would become more balanced once again.




  • AQA AS Geography (Philip Allan)
  • AQA AS Geography (Nelson Thornes)


  • Briefing: China’s one-child policy (09/10/2010 – The Economist, page 13)

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Evaluating China's One Child Policy. (2021, Aug 06). Retrieved August 14, 2022, from