A Generation of Only Children

Editor’s note: Lately, the news has been full of stories about China’s declining population, and its need to boost its aging population. But for decades before that, from 1979 to 2015, China famously enforced a one-child policy, where families were only allowed to give birth to one child. As China stares its population crisis in the face, we are throwing it back with a re-post of the first-hand experience of a man who was born and raised in the one-child generation.


In the year 1979, China, I was born into a family that observed the law and discipline. As the firstborn in the family that year, I could not have any younger brothers or sisters legally. As a well-known quote from the internet states, we were the first generation never to have seen our mothers pregnant.

Many of my American friends ask me about my feelings as a single child. Most of the time my answer would be “nothing special.” But when our government ended the one-child policy last week, some memories came to mind. There have already been enough comments, articles, and reflections on the internet; for me, I just want to share some special segments in my life.

As the firstborn in the family that year, I could not have any younger brothers or sisters legally… we were the first generation never to have seen our mothers pregnant.

Family

The 1980s were the age in which China turned to a market-oriented economy and our family was among the many families who started to pursue wealth from the poverty under the planned economy. There is a unforgettable memory for me even though I was still in pre-school. Every month, our family would have a ¥2.5 bonus (about 20 cents at that time) from the government as a one-child family, who responded to the national call. With the moral value of “no pain no gain,” my parents regarded it as a grace from the nation and praised my contribution to the family prosperity. I was satisfied by the praise.

School

The primary school I went to was located on the border of the urban and rural areas; classmates were called either “city people” or “country folk” (a contemptuous name for people living in the rural area). During that year rural people could still have children while the nation was practicing and propagating “family planning” in our area. There were slogans posted and painted on the walls around our school. I still remember a particular slogan on the longest wall of our school, two meters high and bright red: “Family Planning Is the Basic Policy of the State.” I read it at least twice a day, so I even came to believe that was the only basic policy of our nation and we lived for it.

Nevertheless, our teacher took me as a role model of obedience to the law and support to the nation in order to educate other kids from multi-child families. From an intellectual family, I did well academically by being tutored at home, but our teacher credited all my good scores as a result of “family planning.” All of this gave me a sense of superiority to those classmates who had brothers or sisters.

I did well academically by being tutored at home, but our teacher credited all my good scores as a result of “family planning.” All of this gave me a sense of superiority to those classmates who had brothers or sisters.

Skits

From time to time, we had new lingo to harm people. During the late 80s to early 90s, when I was in my primary school and middle school, there were two phrases we used. If we were describing somebody as a fool or slow, we would use “50 cents for 2.” This lingo is from a skit shown during the Spring Festival Gala, which ninety percent of Chinese families (0.9 billion people) watched. In the skit, the narrative was about an egg seller selling eggs at fifty cents for two, but when people gave him one yuan for four, he refused the business. That story ended with the discovery of the reason: the egg seller is a child from a family who violated the family planning policy because his parents were close relatives. (Marriage between close relatives is another prohibited item in the family planning policy, which is good.) But in my mind as a child, I built a tricky connection between any unlawful act according to the family planning policy and bearing fools. I was not the only one.

Moreover, when we saw rural people in the streets of Shanghai, we called them “over-birth guerrillas,” which was also from a famous skit. The story sarcastically criticized two families who had “over-birthed” (had more than one child) as they left their hometown for the next birth. The feeling for most people watching the skit was that people who “over-birth” are anti-nationalistic and will live in the pain of exile and fear of hiding, and ultimately that those people are bad eggs.

DINK

In the year I graduated from college, one word became popular in the city, which was DINK (Double Income No Kid). It represented a lifestyle of fashion, career, freedom, and prosperity, which were the things chased by young people like me. The one-child policy was no more my boundary as we were persuaded by the culture to bear less. For a long time after I got married, we did not expect a child, even one, until we had our daughter in the eighth year of our marriage.

Stories

The first story is of a friend of mine, same age as me:


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“Twenty years ago, I was a ten-year-old girl who knew things. One normal morning, I looked for my mom to help me wash my face, comb my hair, eat breakfast, and go to school. Dad came in and told me, ‘Mom decided to give you a younger brother, so she needed to leave and hide for a while. Never tell anyone!’ One year later, my mom returned with my newborn brother. During that year, my dad and I went through tremendous pressure spiritually, financially, and in our relationship.”

We are deeply affected by the values of the world – parenthood should not degrade my living standards, my financial standards, or my standards of freedom – because we are still afraid of losing comfort, pleasure, or something that gives us identity. We are still making the choice in fear.

A year ago, my friend told me in pride and sadness, “I may be the minority in our generation who has seen my mom pregnant.”

Another story is about my wife:

One day in her childhood, her mom (my mother-in-law) said to her, “I conceived your brother and aborted him. Our family is too poor to give him a good life if I gave birth to him.” Helpless and calmness. As if it was not a life, as if there were no choice. As if she were telling her daughter, “I got a cold, took medicine, and everything is okay now.” Most of our parents never thought about free choice in bearing sons and daughters, and they were trying to persuade themselves that giving up the right choice is the best choice to a happy life. They pretended to be okay with that.

The opposite of the one-child policy is not the two-child policy, but freedom to bear children. When I think about it more deeply, we are no better than our parents when celebrating the replacement of the one-child policy with the two-child policy. We may not be affected by the national policy, we may have more choice to deal with it (many of our friends went abroad to bear their second child), but we are deeply affected by the values of the world – parenthood should not degrade my living standards, my financial standards, or my standards of freedom – because we are still afraid of losing comfort, pleasure, or something that gives us identity. We are still making the choice in fear.


Hu Yongjie is a pseudonym for a church planter in Shanghai. In his spare time, he enjoys trail running.

Pray for Chinese parents today who are figuring out how to decide their family size in faith and joy, not fear.

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LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA

With rising pressure and persecution in China, there are two challenges imperative for church leaders. The first challenge is for current leaders to love Christ above all else, and not to stray into legalism or love of the world. The second challenge is to raise up the next generation of leaders, who will humbly model Jesus even if current leaders are arrested.

WILL YOU JOIN US IN PRAYING FOR LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN CHINA? PRAY FOR:

  1. Current leaders to grow in their daily walks with Christ
  2. Current leaders to shepherd and raise up new leaders
  3. New leaders who love Christ and will model him to the world
  4. New leaders to love and care for the church

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ABOUT LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT

About Shenyang

Shenyang is a city located in northeastern China and is the capital of Liaoning Province. It is known for its rich history and cultural heritage, including the Shenyang Imperial Palace, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Shenyang is also a hub for China’s heavy industry, with companies such as the China First Automobile Group and the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation having their headquarters in the city.

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About Qingdao

Qingdao is a city located in eastern China and is famous for its beaches, beer, and seafood. The city is home to several landmarks, including the Zhanqiao Pier and the Badaguan Scenic Area. Qingdao is also a major port and has a thriving economy, with industries such as electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery.

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About Xiamen

Xiamen is a city located in southeastern China and is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful coastal scenery, including Gulangyu Island, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city is also a hub for China’s high-tech industry, with companies such as Huawei and ZTE having research and development centers in Xiamen.

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About Nanjing

Nanjing is a city located in eastern China and is the capital of Jiangsu Province. It is one of China’s ancient capitals and has a rich cultural history, including the Ming Xiaoling Mausoleum, the Nanjing City Wall, and the Confucius Temple. Nanjing is also a modern city with a thriving economy and is home to several universities, including Nanjing University and Southeast University.

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About Guangzhou

Guangzhou, also known as Canton, is a city located in southern China and is the capital of Guangdong Province. It is one of the country’s largest and most prosperous cities, serving as a major transportation and trading hub for the region. Guangzhou is renowned for its modern architecture, including the Canton Tower and the Guangzhou Opera House, as well as its Cantonese cuisine, which is famous for its variety and bold flavors. The city also has a rich history, with landmarks such as the Chen Clan Ancestral Hall, the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, and the Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Additionally, Guangzhou hosts the annual Canton Fair, the largest trade fair in China.

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About Kunming

Kunming is a city located in southwest China and is the capital of Yunnan Province. Known as the “City of Eternal Spring” for its mild climate, Kunming is a popular tourist destination due to its natural beauty and cultural diversity. The city is home to several scenic spots, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Stone Forest, Dian Lake, and the Western Hills. Kunming is also famous for its unique cuisine, which features a mix of Han, Yi, and Bai ethnic flavors. The city has a rich cultural history, with ancient temples and shrines like the Yuantong Temple and the Golden Temple, and it’s also a hub for Yunnan’s ethnic minority cultures, such as the Yi and Bai peoples.

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About Shenzhen

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About Chengdu

Chengdu is a city located in the southwestern region of China, and the capital of Sichuan province. It has a population of over 18 million people, and it is famous for its spicy Sichuan cuisine, laid-back lifestyle, and its cute and cuddly residents – the giant pandas. Chengdu is home to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, where visitors can observe these adorable creatures in their natural habitat. The city also boasts a rich cultural heritage, with numerous temples, museums, and historical sites scattered throughout its boundaries. Chengdu is a city of contrasts, with ancient traditions coexisting alongside modern developments, making it an intriguing and fascinating destination for visitors to China. 

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About Beijing

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About Shanghai

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