Don't Mistake China's Three-Child Policy For Liberalization

Arielle Del Turco is assistant director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council. Mary Szoch is director of the Center for Human Dignity at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Newsweek on June 4, 2021.

Following decades of forced abortions and sterilizations carried out under Beijing's infamous one-child policy, and five years of a two-child policy, Chinese couples are now allowed to have three children. But this should not be confused with a move toward liberalization. The Chinese state will do whatever suits its goals, disregarding the dignity and basic human rights of its people. For now, the government wants more future workers, so childbearing is a priority.

Fearing a population boom, Chinese leaders introduced a strict one-child policy in the late 1970s. Due to official concern that a growing population would hinder economic progress, any woman found to be pregnant without permission could be dragged to a clinic for a forced abortion. Compulsory abortions and sterilizations and a skewed male-female ratio are the tragic side effects of the government's pursuit of economic success and power.

In 2016, a slowdown in population growth—coupled with an aging population and fewer young workers to support them—became a new concern. So, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) transitioned the one-child policy into a two-child policy. Yet years of government propaganda promoting the patriotic duty of only having one child seems to have proven effective. When the one-child policy was lifted, couples were reluctant to have an additional child, and they remain so. China has not managed to sustain an increase in births.

Unfortunately for China's manipulative government, the new three-child policy may also prove ineffective at righting the ship headed quickly towards population decline.

Many adults in China have grown up without a sibling. The family dynamics that resulted from the one-child policy led to a phenomenon nicknamed the "little emperor effect." As the sole focus of their parents' attention, each child was the object of their family's hopes. This fostered feelings of entitlement and stress in an extremely competitive environment. One survey taken in 2005 found that 58 percent of one-child respondents acknowledged that they were both lonely and selfish.

The central government's sudden rule change and other emergency efforts to promote childbearing are unlikely to change habits and expectations for family life. These new policies—including lowering educational costs, raising tax and housing support and guaranteeing the legal interests of working women—fail to address the root of the problem.

As one 30-year-old married mother of one told The Guardian, "Our parents lived for their children, we live for ourselves."

Throughout its history, the CCP has worked to eliminate the freedom of the Chinese people. As recently as late last year, couples who had three children were being fined 130,000 yuan—approximately $20,440. Since 2014, the CCP has targeted the Uighur Muslim people to "break their roots" through family separation, religious persecution and forced abortions and sterilizations. And, as of May 1, all clergy and religious leaders in China are required to "love the motherland, support the leadership of the Communist Party of China" and "adhere to China's religious policy."

A country that terrorizes its own people will never be able to create a policy that instills the virtues of courage, love and self-sacrifice, all essential components of the decision to have children.

As long as the CCP views the Chinese people merely as tools to serve the machinery of the state, no increase in the number of children allowed will be effective. Instead of desperately trying to "educate" the Chinese people about the party's version of "marriage and love" in hopes that it will incentivize childbearing, the CCP should recognize that human flourishing requires true freedom—not a change in party policy solely to benefit the communist state.