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China Up Close
By Gregg - 4 May, 2000

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One-Child Policy

China's one-child policy is infamous in the West. The US Government calls it a human rights violation. The Chinese Government says it is necessary for the greater good of society. But like so many things in China, what appears as black and white to westerners—that Chinese couples are limited to one child—is actually quite gray in China.

The issue first came up with relatives of Evelyn's in Kunming. My question was, what happens if a couple has a second child. The answer given was simple—the parents are fined. A lot of money? A significant amount. Well, I thought, in these days of make-lots-of-money China, certainly there are those who will simply pay for the right to have a second, or even third, child. In any case, you do encounter an awful lot of only-children in China—at least in the Han dominated cities.

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Out in some of the more remote countryside it can be quite a different story. In western Yunnan, near the border with Burma, we visited Naxi villages. As one of China's 56 recognized "national minorities", Naxi are allowed two children. In towns and villages around the border between Sichuan and Gansu we met members of the Wui minority (Muslims) who are also permitted two children. Tibetans here can have three.

In Xiahe—a town in Gansu which is 45% Tibetan, 45% Han and 10% Wui—we met a Han woman who has three children. her husband is Tibetan, she explained, and by the way Han here are permitted two children.

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My ability to get a clear picture of the one-child policy in action has been tainted by spending time in areas with significant minority populations. Clearly though implementation varies widely from place to place. We had a telling encounter with a seemingly mainstrean businessman in a train station in Yunnan. This guy was from the east and spoke some English. Making small talk and picking my words carefully I asked if he had "a child". "Yes," he beamed, "I have two."

This guy was Han Chinese. Had he simply paid the fine? Evelyn asked. "No fine; no problem," the guy said and laughed heartily. He then went into some convoluted explanation as to how this was so. How he is from Anhui but now lives in Guangdong. How he left state employ for the private sector and thus the government doesn't control him. But the bottomline was, if anyone asked, the second kid was his wife's sister's. I confirmed then that his sister-in-law didn't have a child of her own. "That's right," he said, "She's not married." Not yet, I said. What if someday she gets married and wants to have a child? "No problem," he said. "By that time my child will be big."

He then pointed at a man dozing off across the aisle. "My co-worker there; he has six children."




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