Oiwan Lam is a media activist, researcher and educator currently based in Hong Kong. Her chinese writings are in inmediahk.net

If people won’t have two children, will they consider having three?

China has decided to relax its two-child policy to a three-child policy after the country saw a steep decline in the birth rate in the 2020 census. The move has been greeted by a wave of ironic commentary on social media platforms.

China’s controversial “one-child policy” was enforced from 1980 but was eased in 2015 as the government anticipated problems supporting an ageing population.

While the shift to a two-child policy initially lifted the number of births from 16.55 million in 2015 to 17.86 million in 2016, this trend was not sustained.

Since then, China’s birth rate has declined. In 2020, just 12 million babies were born.

The decision to introduce a new third-child policy was made on May 31 at China’s Politburo Committee, overseen by President Xi Jinping. It was presented to the public in lieu of Children’s Day on June 1.

The policy was introduced with a package of supporting measures – restrictions on marriage dowries, protections for women’s employment rights, maternity leave improvements and insurance, taxation and housing benefits.

Nevertheless, a poll posted by state-owned Xinhua News on Weibo, saw 90 percent of respondents indicate that they would not consider having a third child:

Screen capture of Xinhua’s deleted poll

The now-deleted poll attracted more than 2,000,000 responses.

Many asked the question: is the state going to pay child-rearing expenses?

Public sentiment was summed up in @littlecrazyca’s comment on Twitter:

My mobile phone screen is flooded with news about the third child policy this morning. I don’t think anywhere else in this world can order a woman’s uterus to function through decades of policy meetings rather than incentives. In the past, women were forced to sterilize or they would have to pay a fine and be dismissed by their work unit. Now they want you to raise three [children]! Are you going to reimburse them or give them back their jobs now?

As serious online criticism of state policy can be censored or even punished, dark humor reigned.

Some speculated on the burden that three children would place on couples from the single-child generation born in the 1980s and 1990s, who have no siblings to help them look after their parents.

Hahahaha, for the single-child generations who were born in the 1980s and 1990s, a married-couple would have to feed 4 elderly parents and 3 kids. They would have to work until 65. By the time they could get their pensions, they would be dead…

Other netizens called such a life model “the life of garlic chives”, in reference to a popular online meme depicting ordinary Chinese as exploited by a political and economic system premised on rent-seeking.

One viral post on Weibo that this author republished on Twitter mocked: “I wish you a long life so that you have to take care of nine grandchildren at the age of 65.”

The policy’s socioeconomic implications for women also earned a lot of attention.

The state advocates for three children
The hospitals suggest natural labour and breastfeeding
Experts advise that elderly people should not take care of kids
Kids want their mother to be available all the time
Husbands expect wives to keep looking pretty and shoulder the family burden
Parents-in-law expect their daughters-in-law to take care of their husbands and educate their grandchildren
Society encourages women to have economic independence
A woman is like a solider in a battlefield …

#Three child policy has come# Three children will definitely strengthen discrimination in employment. Will corporations now expect female staff to take three maternity leaves?  Though only a minority of women will choose to give birth to three children, all women will be discriminated against. Unless men’s parental leave is made equal with that of women, the problem of employment discrimination will not be solved. Employment decisions are made internally within corporations. How would we intervene?

#Three child policy has come# The state is pushing women to the edge… just read an analysis, if a woman has to follow the policy, from the date when she gets married, she has to [serve the family] until she reaches 50, then she has time to become herself. My suggestion is not to get married and not to give birth. Just figure out what you want first.

Some tried to apply the logic of the policy to other real life situations:

A: I don’t have money to buy a meal.
B: It’s OK, our restaurant has extended our opening hours.
A: I said I don’t have money to buy a meal!
B: If you are not satisfied, we can extend our opening times to 24 hours!
A: I f**king said I don’t have money to buy a meal !!

Back in our villages, if the sows did not bear piglets, the farmers would find out what were the problems – whether the farm was too small, the hygiene was too bad or the sows were under too much pressure. Once you attended to these problems, the sows would give birth to piglets. Nobody would hand down a document to force the sows to give birth.

Some netizens fretted that more coercive government policies might emerge if the three-child policy failed to stimulate population growth:

It seems that the day a single-people tax will be introduced is getting closer

Editorial Note: The mainland Chinese sources for the above quotes are intentionally hidden due to security concerns

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China’s New Three-Child Policy Gives Birth to Ironic Jokes on Social Media
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