Mr. Shangkong

For many, having an extra child just brings on labour

Even money is not enough to make parenthood any easier on the mainland, so city couples are unlikely to rush to double their problems

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 5:25am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 November, 2013, 7:57am

The long-awaited changes to the mainland's controversial one-child policy did not surprise or please every parent in Shanghai when they were revealed last week. Why? Well, it comes down to those familiar issues of money and power.

Today's China might be richer than ever, but the gap between the haves and have-nots is at its peak, too. That reality is often at its most stark in big cities like Shanghai or Beijing, where many couples can barely make ends meet.

So if you do not have enough money to buy happiness for just the two of you, how can you hope to deliver a happy life for one child, let alone two? That is a question widely discussed among parents and those thinking of having children.

I have witnessed my friend W's experiences in raising her child. The tough choices she has faced are not uncommon. The first is shared by many Chinese parents - where to get good and safe baby formula? A lot of them choose to go across the border - not just to Hong Kong, but as far afield as Germany, Britain, Australia and Canada.

W, who is a professional and comes from a middle-class family in Shanghai, often joked that when she and her husband planned a trip abroad for a so-called "holiday", the most important part of the trip was where to get the milk powder. As her child grew older, W quickly came to the second-biggest parenting challenge - one that many Hong Kong parents face more or less in the same way - education.

In Shanghai, not only do you need money to get access to a good school, you also need guanxi, or "relationships". It is perhaps the most important thing to have to solve problems on the mainland nowadays.

"You definitely need guanxi - someone who can introduce you to somebody - otherwise no one (the headmasters and teachers) will take your money, even though you are rich," W says.

The experiences and frustrations of trying to be a good parent mean W is very unlikely to bother having a second child, despite the relaxation of the rules that would now allow her to without penalty.

Earlier this year, the media in Shanghai widely reported that to raise a child from birth to adulthood would cost parents several million yuan in living expenses, education, clothing, health care and so on.

Many young people joke that they would rather spend the money buying a nice villa, or perhaps a high-end supercar, than on having children.

The situation may be different in second and third-tier cities - and in particular in rural towns and provinces where more traditional parents still believe in "the more, the better" conventional wisdom of Chinese culture that suggests "more children means more fortune".

Children there are expected to take care of their ageing parents. Fewer people in big cities believe that any more, which means relaxing the one-child policy may not be enough to raise the birth rate fast enough to turn back the demographic clock in one of the fastest-ageing societies in the world.

Some active monetary incentives might be needed to persuade the mainland's emerging professional middle classes that having even one child is a viable financial choice.


George Chen is the Post's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit