The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
One Child Policy China Cracks the Whip

Late last year, it looked like China may have been slowly backing away from its one-child policy. Nevertheless, this week, Zhang Yimou, arguably China’s most famous film director, will face a massive $1.24 million fine for fathering multiple children without approval from the authorities. The New York Times reports:

In November, the Communist Party leadership endorsed proposals to relax family size restrictions slightly, so that more urban couples can have two children. (The changes would not affect this case.) But Mr. Zhang, famed for his ornate dramas, became the focus of a public uproar on the Internet over why quite a few wealthy and well-connected Chinese people had already been able to evade those restrictions and have had more than one child.

Mr. Zhang and Ms. Chen are unlikely to face serious hardship paying the fine, but poor rural residents can struggle to meet penalties for having more than two children — the number usually tolerated in the countryside. Two dozen Chinese provinces, regions and provincial-level cities have disclosed that they took in a total of 20 billion renminbi, or about $3.3 billion, last year in “social support” fines for family planning violations. Other provincial-level governments have refused to reveal how much they took.

This could be as much about optics as about policy, as it couldn’t look as if someone with connections was able to openly flout an unpopular law. Regardless, China will have to concretely address this sooner rather than later. In addition to the human toll the policy has caused, it has also created a slowly unraveling demographic crisis that will put deep strain on the country’s welfare system as the population ages.

Published on January 9, 2014 1:01 pm