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Detail from the cover of One Child: The Story of China's Most Radical Experiment by Mei Fong.

Sinica backgrounder: The past and future of China’s one-child policy

3 weeks ago
Jeremy Goldkorn
he October 6 episode of the Sinica Podcast is an interview with Mei Fong, author of the acclaimed book on China's family-planning policy One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, which takes a decidedly dim view of the nation's rules on reproduction.

Nearly 40 years ago, as fears about a global population explosion occupied the minds of demographers from Berkeley to Beijing, the designers of China’s restrictions on reproduction feared that the country would never lift itself out of poverty unless it controlled its massive population. In 1978, China implemented its infamous family-planning policy that limited most couples to only one child.

The first day of 2016 was the official beginning of a relaxation of that policy: All married couples are now allowed to have two children. But the social, economic and psychological effects of the old rule will be felt for generations to come. It’s uncertain whether the adjustments will have the intended impact on what some observers call a demographic time bomb: the end of China’s staggering economic growth due to an aging population and the lack of people of working age who can support them.

To become more acquainted with China’s family-planning policy before the October 6 interview with Mei Fong on Sinica, check out the articles we’ve selected below, which will provide greater context and varied perspectives. You can read a Q&A with Mei Fong on her career as a journalist here.

  • China ends one-child policy after 35 years / The Guardian
  • The Population Bomb – Population Control or Race to Oblivion? by Paul R. Ehrlich / Book on; Wikipedia article
  • China’s rules for when families can and can’t have more than one child (published 2013, before policy change) / Washington Post
  • See How the One-Child Policy Changed China (with charts) / National Geographic
  • Key events in China’s family-planning policy / USA Today
  • What Happens When Only 1.2% of Chinese Women Take the Pill: 13 Million Abortions / Time
  • A silver lining to China’s one-child policy / Financial Times
  • In “Little Emperors,” Sheng Yun provides a more positive perspective on the one-child policy in a review of One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, and China’s Hidden Children: Abandonment, Adoption and the Human Costs of the One-Child Policy by Kay Ann Johnson / London Review of Books
  • The Lonely Aftermath of China’s One Child Policy / Bloomberg
  • Here’s why China’s one-child policy was a good thing / Boston Globe
  • Mei Fong Author Q&A /

The Sinica Podcast previously discussed China’s one-child policy in a show from 2012. If you’d like to check out other episodes, go here. More backgrounders can be found here.

By Jeremy Goldkorn
Jeremy Goldkorn lived in China from 1995 to 2015, working as an editor, publisher and writer in print and digital media. He founded, a research firm, which began in 2003 and was acquired by the Financial Times in 2013. He is an affiliate of the Australian National University's Center on China in the World, and a co-editor of the China Story website and annual China Story Yearbook. He is co-host of the Sinica Podcast, and founder of Great Wall Fresh, a social enterprise to help Chinese peasant farmers run small tourism businesses catering to foreign outdoor enthusiasts. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 2015, and is a board member of the Tennessee China Network.