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How Familes Were Impacted By China's One-Child Policy


We wanted to talk more about how China's one-child policy has affected the country over the years, so we called Meirong Liu. She's an assistant professor at Howard University's School of Social Work. She was born and raised in China. And I asked her what people in China have been saying about the one-child policy.

MEIRONG LIU: A lot of experts do believe the one-child policy helped the Chinese to improve their living standards, especially back in the '80s, when China was facing the shortage of food and water supply in the late '70s and early '80s.

MARTIN: When you were growing up, were you aware that this was something that is different than in other parts of the world? In other parts of the world, people have siblings, they have bigger families. Is this something you even thought about?

LIU: No, actually, no. This policy was implemented before I was born. And then later on, you feel like many of your friends have the - their family also had only one child. So after a while, you just forgot that things were different, that things might have been different in the other parts of the world - what does it look like to have, you know, siblings in the family? You just don't - you take it as normal, like, practice - everybody else is doing that. People don't even ask why and what if.

MARTIN: Did you ever ask your parents why you didn't have a brother or sister? Did any of your friends ever ask their parents why they didn't have a brother or sister?

LIU: I think I asked this question multiple times during the time I grew up. I think when I was little, my parents would say, well, because we, you know, we want to save all the best for you. And that's what they really did. But later on, my parents told me they were trained from collective thinking perspectives. So they sacrificed the individual good for the collective well-being of the country. So they didn't think much about what else they could do at that time - at least my parents. Although, their colleagues, some of them, did have second child, and they got fined or lost their employment.

MARTIN: Really?

LIU: Yeah.

MARTIN: If that was the situation - so you did know people, or your parents knew people - colleagues who did have second children. What was the consequence?

LIU: My mother did - some of her friends or colleagues did have a second child, and they got fined or lost their jobs.

MARTIN: Lost their jobs?

LIU: Yes. That's because we were in the city. And I heard in the news that in some rural areas, they also have to force the abortion or sterilization. But in the cities, it did happen. A couple of days ago, I interviewed my mother, her opinion about this policy. And she would like to have siblings for me. And she - her answer is actually interesting. She just feel like it was - the policy for her, it was necessary back then. But she feels like, if it's allowed, she would like to have a sibling because she knows the single child will be too lonely.

MARTIN: That's Meirong Liu; she's an assistant professor at Howard University School of Social Work. She was born and raised and educated in China. And she was kind enough to speak to us here in our Washington, D.C., studios. Professor Liu, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

LIU: OK. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.