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December 23, 2007 THE SUN-HERALD

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‘There was a dad who carried two kids swimming

Poster child ... a woman in suburban Beijing cycles past a billboard encouraging couples to only have one child.

Photo: AFP

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atricia Zhou is an only child in a generation of only children. Before she was born, her mother believed she was having twin boys. It was 1984 – early in the days of China’s one-child policy – and Zhou’s father was over the moon. ‘‘He was, like, crazy,’’ says Zhou with a quiet smile. ‘‘Then when I came out – one girl not two boys – and he was disappointed. He told me that himself when I had grown up.’’ It’s been almost 30 years since China introduced one of the most radical and controversial social policies in modern history. The country’s birthrate had exploded during the rule of Chairman Mao and his ‘‘human wave’’ defence regime of the 1950s. The crippling Cultural Revolution, which brainwashed women to believe contraception was bourgeois, compounded the problem. Then came president Deng Xiaoping. As the world watched in despair, Deng single-handedly reined in the country’s burgeoning population. About 300 million births were prevented and China’s economy simultaneously boomed. The policy has been so successful that in January the rules were relaxed. Most couples with one daughter can have a second child and couples who are both only children can have two of their own. Yet a dark legacy remains. Three decades of forced abortions and sterilisations have dogged China’s human-rights record. It has also led to an unbalanced gender ratio: there are
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>COVER STORY Almost three decades on, China’s controversial onechild policy has left a sad legacy, writes ERIN O’DWYER.
more men than women. The divorce rate – one in five – is triple what it was 20 years ago. And the population is ageing even more rapidly than in the West. An estimated one in three Chinese will be retired by 2050. China’s generation of ‘‘little emperors’’, meanwhile, are reaping the benefits. There is only one 20-something on the country’s billionaire list, but it won’t be long before more are included. The newly rich middle class is also basking in the sun. ‘‘My mother once told me if she had twin boys or if I was a twin maybe I cannot go to university at all, not to mention Australia,’’ Zhou says. Australia has welcomed the little emperors. Each year, 100,000 Chinese students arrive here to get an international education. Chinese nationals account for one in four of Australia’s almost 400,000 full-fee paying international students. The $10billion industry has quadrupled its student intake in the past four years. These students are the living, breathing offspring of the onechild policy. They are bright, savvy and candidly admit that they are selfish individualists who want for nothing. But there is a sadness about them, too, a sense of being lost. The girls have watched their mothers undergo countless abortions. The boys have battled loneliness. They are unhappy about China’s approach to human rights and the demise of Eastern traditions. But raised in a culture of censorship, they are not quite sure how to turn things around. As the 30th anniversary approaches, we speak to Chinese living in Sydney about the legacy of the one-child policy.

Patricia Ruoheng Zhou
23, English education consultant My father still feels regret. He says, ‘‘Boys and girls are the same to me and I love you.’’ But I can feel it; he is disappointed. He depends on my cousin who is a boy – the only boy born in my family. When my sister-in-

law was pregnant, everyone was praying, ‘‘Let her have a boy,’’ but unfortunately they had a girl. My father was disappointed again. And now he says nothing. The person I call brother is my cousin. Cousins are the closest people to you. The financial factor is a big one. One of my father’s friends had a girl who is 10 years older than their son. I didn’t know the girl existed until two years ago. They didn’t want to pay the fine so they sent the daughter away to the country. In some villages people take some pills so they can have twins or triplets. In some villages, the whole place is twins and triplets. As we grow older, the loneliness is stronger. You don’t have any connection with your peers. Cousins are not as close as sisters and brothers. I think the single-child policy was appropriate because of China’s population but I think abortion is cruel and the single-child policy is always related to human rights. Other countries criticise China for that. The biggest problem is that we don’t know how to work with others; we are not tolerant. We are selfish, selfcentred. I went to the beach the other day. I was standing there alone and I watched all those happy families getting together and having a picnic. There was a dad who carried two kids . . . on the beach. It’s like my dream.

girl. He thinks that only a son can continue his family line. When I was three years old, my mother got pregnant. It was a boy. My father wanted the boy, but my mother said no to him because she thought if she gave birth to a boy, I would lose my status in my family. When I was 12, my mother again got pregnant and it was a boy again. She gave it up because she didn’t want me to lose the status in my family. My father loves boys very much. He goes to his friends’ sons and makes them call him father. Like a godfather. He gives them money in the traditional Chinese New Year. I am not very close with him. Although I am a girl he treats me like a boy. He wants me to get good scores in school and have a good job with good pay. I had a different experience growing up. During summer holidays I was sent to my grandparents’ house and I lived with my cousins – several cousins together in their house. We played with each other and did homework together. My grandparents said that I should take care of the youngest cousins. The oldest cousins also took care of me. We know how to share. I think the single-child policy is appropriate to China’s situation because there are too many people in China.

Ying Yin
22, student People from other countries may think the one-child policy is cruel. But most people in China think that before the child is born, they are not children; they are not people. When I
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Ginny Jing Zhang
25, business journalist My father was disappointed I was a