To my grandparents, giving birth to another child was no more than, as the saying goes, “adding another spoonful of water into the congee.” Like with a plant in your backyard: You just watered it once in a while to make sure it stayed alive.
But today, having a child in a first-tier city in China means you have to pay millions of yuan just to afford to live in a district with good schools, and having a son means needing to set up another apartment for when he gets married. My mother has joked: “We used to say ‘duo zi duo fu’ (more children, more fortune); now it is ‘duo zi duo baofu’ (more children, more burden)!”
So, if you ask what effect the newest birth policy will have on most Chinese women, the answer is: probably none. Since the one-child policy was fully lifted in 2016, many young couples still have not had more than one child. Except for the very rich, who can afford however many kids they want, and the very poor, who rely on children to take care of them, the three-child policy won’t make much difference.
Yet on the day it was announced, many people weren’t indifferent: Social media feeds were flooded with mockery and complaints. Yes, even now that we can have three children, even now that we are encouraged to give birth — instead of being forcibly sterilized or made to have an abortion — we are also reminded that giving birth is regulated.
China’s birth controls do deserve some credit. For one thing, they freed Chinese people’s minds from a certain traditional thinking.
One result of the one-child policy was that single daughters who were an only child started receiving more attention and more resources than before, and over time people’s opinions about girls changed. In cities, at least, people no longer seem to favor boys over girls.
Those of us who were born as an only child, and into a decent material life, have been able to think about our individual pursuits — and for us women that has meant not needing to rely on bearing children as a measure of our self-worth.