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Sensemaker: Three-child China

Wednesday 2 June 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • The UK announced no deaths from Covid in a day for the first time since July 2020 (more below).
  • Pope Francis revised the Roman Catholic Church’s penal code to acknowledge that adults, not only children, can be sexually abused by priests and laypeople.
  • A probably-Russian ransomware attack on JBS SA, the world’s largest meatpacking company, took down a big share of US beef-and-pork processing.

Three-child China

When China worried about the size of its rapidly growing population in the 1980s, it implemented a one-child policy. Using forced sterilisation, abortion, contraception, and fines, China averted hundreds of millions of births – and learnt the wrong lesson about demographic policy. Its population began to age and so China allowed a two-child policy in 2015 and has now announced a three-child policy. Like its predecessor, it won’t work.

  • The original one-child policy created generations of Chinese accustomed to life without siblings and used to small families. “For our generation, children aren’t a necessity,” Huang Yulong, a bachelor in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, told the New York Times ($). “Now we can live without any burdens. So why not invest our spiritual and economic resources on our own lives?”
  • As there was a strong son preference, researchers found the one-child policy led to female infanticide and contributed to the country’s “missing women” problem. Matchmaking is a big business in China, but struggles with a shortfall of tens of millions of women whose reproductive rights remain weak: statutory maternity leave has only recently increased to 160 days. 
  • It’s the drastic inadequacy of China’s social safety net that, above all, stops Chinese people from having more children. “I recommend you first fix the most basic problems with maternity rights and the discrimination women will inevitably face in the workplace, and then encourage them to have children,” one commenter wrote under an online news report on the three-child policy. “The reason I haven’t bought three Rolls Royces is not because the government wouldn’t let me,” another commenter posted.

Many countries are facing a baby bust and ageing population, but in China the problem is serious. China’s fertility rate – 1.3 children per woman – is similar to Japan’s but with one-quarter of its average income level. Beijing says it recognises the heightened problem of a shrinking labour workforce as well as shrinking tax base, but it has been stingy in providing tax incentives and housing support for families. Its spending on healthcare and education, which makes raising children less onerous, remains low compared to most countries in the world.

Officials, instead, have decided to continue forcibly managing women’s fertility – what Amnesty International has called a violation of sexual and reproductive rights. The approach didn’t work with the two-child policy and, because it won’t work with the three-child policy, we can expect harsher forms of coercion. The lot of Chinese women will likely get worse.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Tulsa race massacre
Joe Biden became the first US president to commemorate the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the country’s history. On 31 May 1921, a white American mob razed the predominantly black neighbourhood of Greenwood in Tulsa. The area, called the “Black Wall Street”, was the country’s wealthiest African-American neighbourhood until the mob burned down its businesses and homes. Black Americans were killed, and many more were left injured and homeless. The number of dead is unclear, but may have been in the hundreds. Yet, in the years after the massacre, official records were lost or destroyed and schools didn’t teach it. Biden, who vowed to address racial discrimination in the housing market, visited Tulsa on the 100th anniversary of the massacre and issued a proclamation for a day of remembrance.


New things technology, science, engineering

Martian days
Nasa’s Perseverance rover has been on Mars for 100 sols, or Martian days. It’s looking for signs of past microbial life, and collecting information on the planet’s geology and past climate. Perseverance captured impressive images from its landing site at Jezero Crater, which has a diameter of 49 kilometres. Ingenuity, a small helicopter that made the first powered and controlled flight on another planet, returned aerial images of the Red Planet. Look at the images here.


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Covid stats
The UK announced zero daily Covid deaths within 28 days of a positive test for the first time since 30 July 2020. But the statistic comes with many caveats. Daily deaths are often lower at weekends and at the start of the week – Monday was a bank holiday in the UK – because less counting takes place when statisticians are off. And death figures are often revised once death certificates are examined for precise details.


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Sinking ship
Sri Lanka is facing a marine disaster. A fire has raged on a cargo ship, the MV X-Press Pearl, off its coast for nearly two weeks. It’s emitting toxic chemicals and tonnes of plastic into the South Asian country’s waters, and polluting its beaches. Now it’s at risk of sinking. The ship was transporting plastic pellets, nitric acid, caustic soda, sodium methoxide and methane. Sri Lanka’s Marine Protection Authority described the spill as “probably the worst beach pollution in our history”.


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Greensleaze
The Greensill story keeps getting worse. Credit Suisse is preparing to sue SoftBank, which was the failed financial services firm’s largest investor. The case will centre on the $440 million that Credit Suisse’s wealthy customers are owed by Katerra, a struggling US construction firm that was a Greensill client – and that was also backed by SoftBank. Credit Suisse is, in turn, being sued by dozens of its wealthy clients who are looking for compensation for their Greensill-related losses. Where’s former prime minister David Cameron, once Greensill’s paid advisor, when you need him?

Thanks for reading, and please share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia
@pcaruanagalizia

Photographs by Getty Images


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