MR. SHANGKONG
Mr. Shangkong
by

Finding the money to raise kids is the issue in China

Ending the birth control policy will help the consumer economy, but not in the short term

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 November, 2015, 3:37pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 November, 2015, 8:51pm

China announced last week it is finally ending its controversial “one family, one child” policy at a time when the country’s economy is in its worst shape in more than a decade. The more practical question is not how many kids that Chinese parents should have, but where to get the money to raise more kids.

I have to take the “one child” policy story very personally because I was born in 1980, the year when the birth control policy was officially implemented. Like many of my 1980s fellow Chinese, we’re the first and now also becoming the last generation of the “one child” policy.

Sometimes I wonder if only I could have a brother or sister in my family. To some extent, it has been a very long and lonely journey for me to grow up as the only child in my family. I’m not unique as I’m just one of the 1980s generation in China.

We take all the pressure alone from studying hard to get into university to finding your first job. We do have our friends but I believe my readers can understand it’s a different story compared with when you can share some little secrets with your brothers and sisters, or seek their advice about your life’s journey.

Interestingly, the founding father of Communist China, chairman Mao Ze-dong, once encouraged Chinese families to have more kids as Mao believed the more people, the better to grow the Chinese economy, especially in terms of manufacturing and agriculture.

But Mao’s successors realised it was also important to control the population especially when you had the basic problem of feeding everyone.

Beijing’s decision at this time to abandon its “one child” policy -- and now instead to encourage Chinese parents to deliver two children per family – is apparently an economic decision than a political one. Beijing has been struggling to get its economy right in recent years. Domestic consumption remains the key to boost the economy. How? You need more consumers – more people.

I do wish the policy change of birth control in China can bring my country some economic benefits, however, in my view such benefits to support national economic growth will not take place anytime soon. We’re talking about children here rather than any simple man-made product. It takes time for a baby to grow.

This is human nature that everybody understands. If you talk about our future consumers who can begin to buy more goods so our domestic consumption can rise and ultimately benefit our national economy, you talk about that at least 20 or 30 years later.

The other question is whether our new parents today really want to have two kids and where to find the money to raise two kids.

Some unofficial statistics say to raise one kid in a middle-class family in big Chinese cities like Beijing or Shanghai from birth to his or her time in college will easily cost several million yuan. Right now Chinese economy slowdown has already begun to shrink people’s pocket and their salaries.

To put a positive note to the end of my column, well, I think it’s never too late to make such a change. It’s better than to do nothing. For that, I salute President Xi for his courage to make this historic change happen in his first term.

 

George Chen is the managing editor of SCMP International Edition. For more Mr. Shangkong columns: facebook.com/mrshangkong or follow @george_chen on Twitter