Even though replacing the notorious one-child policy with a two-child policy was supposed to usher in a new baby boom, China’s demographic decline has been accelerating out of control. Its birth rate plunged in 2018. In 2017 there were 17.23 million births but only 15.23 million in 2018, the lowest number since the man-made famine days of the early 1960s.
One reason for this drop, besides the obvious ones like continuing birth restrictions and the high costs of child rearing, is that China’s youth, thanks to decades of intense brainwashing by one-child policy propaganda, is overtly hostile to the idea of having kids. This factor is often overlooked.
If you log on to China’s equivalent of Twitter, Sina Weibo, or the popular app WeChat, you will have access to realistic and direct discussions by young people about China’s demographic issues and the two-child policy.
Surprisingly, most of the time an aversion towards getting married or having any kids at all is expressed.
A telling example came when a couple with a rural background living in the megapolis of Shenzhen showed off their normal life with two kids living in their humble abode on a popular livestreaming site, one of China’s currently most popular entertainment mediums.
They were heaped with thousands of hostile comments. Most of these insinuated that the couple had two kids because they were uneducated, a burden to the nation and 繁殖狂 ( breeding fanatics/nutjobs). The latter is a popular insult on the Chinese Internet aimed at anyone having two or more children — or anyone wanting to have children at all.
Other insults such as “does your family have an Imperial Throne to inherit（家里有皇位要继承吗？）?” and “only low-end people(低端人口) want to have kids” are widespread in the comment sections of every news report that positively portrays families with two or more kids.
Amazingly, many netizens also believe that not having kids is an act of resistance towards preventing their potential offspring from being used as 韭菜（leeks）. This is a popular term used in Chinese online discussions from stock market slang. It suggests that ordinary citizens are “harvested” as tools and economic slaves and can easily be chopped into the shape and form the government and big capital wants them to be — just like leeks.
Another example is the netizens’ hostility towards the government’s lifting of the one-child policy. Many who grew up as an only child attacked the policy change when it was first lifted in 2015 and many continue to view it as a mistake of the government.
This is a rare display of defiance towards government policy, albeit a bizarre one. Many only-child young Chinese, especially teens, are hostile to the notion that their parents may take advantage of the new policy to have another child. There are numerous news reports and online forum discussions with comments from teenagers who want to deter their parents from having another child. They threaten to commit suicide or to run away from home. Shockingly enough, there are even detailed guides on how to add abortifacient material to parents’ food or drink to get potential siblings aborted.
On Zhihu, China’s answer to Quora, questions posted by teens asking for advice on how to deal with their middle-aged mother’s new pregnancy after the two-child policy came into place often draw answers such as “她要生二胎不更加是一种赤裸裸的自私吗？”(Isn’t it pure selfishness on her behalf to have a second child?) and “你们退休之后别指望我能养着第二个孩子”(Don’t think I will help with raising the second child when you two (the parents) retire.
More extreme expressions of opposition are found on the popular forum Baidu Tieba, with angry young netizens stating “繁殖能力强的都是低等生物，比如蟑螂，老鼠之类的”（those who breed more are usually low class creatures, such as cockroaches and rats.） More comments of this nature can be found on every corner of the Chinese internet.
Reasons for this hostility abound. The main one is that, throughout China’s decades of rigid implementation of the birth restriction policy, a whole generation of only-child “Little Emperors” has now come of age and dominates social discourse online.
Many believe that the one-child policy was responsible for their parents’ love and dedication. And although in the West, the resulting gender imbalance in births is being described as “gender-cide”, some of the only daughters disagree. From their point of view, gender equality improved astronomically. To the Little Emperors a turnaround in China’s population policy feels like a betrayal.
The other reason is that most Chinese have been brainwashed about the population crisis. For decades students were told in their classrooms, textbooks and media that China’s immense population was a burden to the world, a ticking time bomb and a national disgrace.
Discussions both offline and online reveal that many believe that once China’s population shrinks, per capita GDP will increase, congestion will be greatly reduced and China will become developed. Population collapse will make China great. In fact, this was more or less the government’s official position until the day before yesterday.
However, since 2016 the government has quietly shifted from this narrative towards a pro-natalist approach to population. Nowadays the media insists that a population of 1.4 billion is a great asset which underpins China’s economic boom. In other words, people have become assets, not liabilities.
It’s a bridge too far.
Ironically, past propaganda has been so successful that most Chinese firmly believe in the old official line and think of the new one as complete rubbish. Many openly question the two-child policy. To the government’s dismay, young people repeat the old family planning slogans like robots and actively reject having kids.
The deepest reason for this reluctance to have children is that China does not treat life as sacred. In a deeply secular and atheist society, there is not much oxygen for Western-style pro-life movements. Confucianism, which regarded child bearing and rearing as one of the noblest duties and achievements of life, has been discarded.
The resulting spiritual void has been filled with materialism, hedonism and selfishness. Many Chinese no longer believe in an afterlife or in filial respect for their ancestors. They feel little loyalty to their extended clans and families, factors which had maintained stability for millennia.
This collapse in traditional family values, coupled with an obsessive, almost superstitious belief in bankrupt Malthusianism, has created a generation that is extremely hostile to child rearing and regards offspring as an excessive burden.
The toxic legacy of the one-child policy will live on long after its abolition. Legal restrictions are disappearing, but its grip on people’s minds will be long-lasting. China’s demographic crisis has deep roots and has yet to yield its bitterest fruit.
William Huang is a product of the one-child policy as he is the only son in the family. Born and raised in China, it is only when he went overseas to study that he had an epiphany, realizing just how much damage this policy has done to the Chinese nation and his generation of peers. Now he is an avid researcher in China and East Asia’s looming demographic crisis and he also aims to raise his voice for the sanctity of life wherever and whenever he can.