Chris Buckley, New York Times, November 16, 2013
The Chinese government will ease its one-child family restrictions and abolish “re-education through labor” camps, significantly curtailing two policies that for decades have defined the state’s power to control citizens’ lives, the Communist Party said on Friday.
The changes were announced in a party decision that also laid out broad and potentially far-reaching proposals to restructure the economy by encouraging greater private participation in finance, vowing market competition in several important parts of the economy and promising farmers better property protection and compensation for confiscated land.
Senior party officials, led by President Xi Jinping, endorsed the 60 reform initiatives at a four-day Central Committee conference that ended Tuesday, but the decision was released Friday. Mr. Xi described the document as a bold call for economic renewal, social improvement and patriotic nation-building — all under the firm control of one-party rule.
For decades, most urban couples have been restricted to having one child. That has been changing fitfully, with rules on the books that couples can have two children if both parents are single children. But that policy will be now be further relaxed nationwide. Many rural couples already have two, or sometimes more, children.
If carried through, the relaxation would mark the first significant nationwide easing of family-size restrictions that have been in place since the 1970s, said Wang Feng, a demographer who teaches at both the University of California, Irvine, and Fudan University in Shanghai. He estimated the policy could lead to 1 to 2 million more births in China every year, on top of the approximately 15 million births a year now.
“This step is really, I think, the middle step toward allowing all couples to have two children, and eventually taking away the state’s hand,” said Professor Wang. “But this shift is historical, it’s fundamental. To change the mentality of the society of policy makers has taken people more than a decade.”
The one-child restrictions were introduced to deal with official fears that China’s population would devour too many resources and suffocate growth. But they have created public ire and international criticism over forced abortions, and have created a population of 1.34 billion, according to a 2010 census, that is aging relatively rapidly, even before China establishes a firm foothold in prosperity. Experts have for years urged some relaxation of the controls.