China announced yesterday, following a meeting of top Communist Party officials, that it would allow couples to have as many as three children in a measure to encourage a rise in the country’s flagging birth rate, which has prompted concern from long-term economic planners. The policy change, the latest since the one-child policy was formally ended in 2016, quickly met with ridicule on social media.
As young families are struggling already to support a single child as well as four elderly parents, many wanted to know, how could officials expect them to have a second and even a third child — all to support the government’s long-term economic plans?
One user on Weibo contrasted the pragmatism of the pig farmer with the impractical arrogance of the Party apparatchik who simply responds to problems with policy announcements. “In my hometown, if a pig does not birth piglets, the pig farmers always go and look at what exactly the problem is,” they wrote. “Has the drop in vigor resulted from the fact that the enclosure isn’t big enough, the hygiene conditions are poor, or that the pig is under too much pressure? Once the problem is found it can be solved, and naturally the pig will have piglets. You can’t just send down an edict and expect a pig to give birth.”
Another post riffed on the four-character Chinese phrase min bu liao sheng (民不聊生), which means roughly “people have difficulty making a living” but is a composite of characters that literally mean “people” + “don’t/not” + “speak” + “birth/life.” The creator of the post offered this alternative translation of the phrase:
Translation: This points to the fact that owing to the extreme pressures of life people today don’t wish to have children. They don’t even want to talk about it.
A spoof even circulated online of a supposed article from Shanghai’s Observer website, which maintains a staunchly pro-Party stance and has been known to run vacuous pieces of propaganda like this one in February, which referred to the “pioneering and exemplary role” of CCP officials.
The mock Observer article bears the headline: “Party Members and Cadres At All Levels Must Play a Pioneering Role, Leading the Way in Having Third Children.” In a painfully comic illustration of just how ludicrous state propaganda can be, some readers found the spoof believable.
Referring to the original Xinhua News Agency release on the decision emerging from the Politburo meeting, the spoof article said: “In encouraging childbirth, Party members and cadres cannot be absent! Right now, as the state of our aging population is at its most critical point, the task of promoting and encouraging birth and economic and social development is arduous, and we most need to fully bring into play the pioneering model role of Party members and cadres, letting the flag of the Party fly high on the front lines of the struggle.”
It is interesting to note that today, the day after the formal announcement of the news coming out of the Politburo meeting, there is no mention of the policy on the front page of the People’s Daily. The general announcement does come on page two with a Q&A piece on the policy as a response to “improving the population structure,” but there seem to be no accompanying commentaries elsewhere in the paper.