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China's Rich Ignore One-Child Policy

In China, well-known film director Zhang Yimou was caught this week committing a terrible crime. He has seven children! Once this got out, the People’s Daily reported that he could be subject to a fine of $26 million.

China’s one-child policy, enacted in 1980, is one of the most controversial, even hated rules in a state where people already resent the government for so many pernicious policies. But what makes it so much worse, in the eyes of many, is that rich and powerful people routinely violate it, and usually pay far smaller fines, typically a few thousand dollars.

Leslie Chang, author of Factory Girls, a book about the everyday lives of the migrant factory workers in China, recently wrote:

The owner of an apartment that I rented in Dongguan from 2005 to 2006 had two children; so did a businessman who gave me a tour of the city’s karaoke bars. “Most of my friends have two children, except the ones who have three children,” Wu Chunming, a migrant who has lived in the city for nineteen years, told me. “In the villages now, having two children is standard.”

Even the granddaughter of Mao Zedong, the founder of the Chinese Communist state, was recently discovered to have three children, two daughters and a son.

At the same time, up to one million ordinary citizens face a terrible quandary. For poorer people, the vast majority of China’s population, what happens when their only child dies—like the parents of Lu Lingzi, who died in the Boston Marathon bombing last month?

Of course these parents face crushing sorrow, but also a dangerously uncertain future. In China, there’s no social safety net for the elderly—no Medicare-like health coverage, few if any nursing homes or home health-care programs. Almost universally, the elderly depend on their child to take care of them when they are old and infirm. That’s the way it has always been. After all, respect for the elderly, even veneration, has been a foundation of Chinese society since the beginning of time.

The Chinese even have a word for this terrible situation, losing your only child: “shidu,” which means “lose single.” And various Chinese reports show that the state is home to between 100 million and 190 million “singletons,” as these childless families are known.

They’ve begun banding together, and some have started their own website, called “The Lost Singleton People’s Family.”

In one recent unsigned post, a writer said “old age without children” will worsen “the material and spiritual pressure, it is true.” On whom “will the elderly and infirm depend? The elderly need more care,” and “I believe that should be given more preferential policies” from the government.

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