On October 16, President Xi Jinping said China would implement policies to increase its birth rate, as policymakers worry that a population decline will harm its economy.

Xi said in a speech to the 20th National Communist Party Congress, which takes place every five years in Beijing. “We will establish a policy system to boost birth rates and pursue a proactive national strategy in response to population ageing.”

In the past year, the government has implemented tax deductions, increased maternity leave, improved medical insurance, housing subsidies, additional funds for a third child, and a crackdown on costly private tutoring.

However, its fertility rate of 1.16 in 2021 was less than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) standard of 2.1 for a stable population. It was among the lowest in the world.

China ranks second among 13 countries, behind only South Korea, which has the lowest birth rate in the world.

As reported by Reuters, the Beijing-based YuWa Population Research Institute’s survey conducted in February, Chinese women’s desire to have children is the lowest in the world. 

The YuWa warned that China’s declining birth rate would “profoundly affect” its economic growth potential, ability to innovate, and welfare burden.

Reasons for birth rate drop

From 1980 to 2015, the government imposed a one-child policy before switching to a three-child policy in May 2021, recognizing that the country is on the verge of a demographic downturn.

According to Reuters, demographers said high education costs, low wages, and notoriously long working hours as issues that must be addressed, as well as zero-COVID policy and concerns about economic growth. 

Reuters also cited Peter McDonald, professor of demography at the University of Melbourne. He said that gender inequality is a fundamental root cause of low birth rates, where China ranked 102nd out of 146 countries by the World Economic Forum.

South China Morning Post cited Jenny, a Shanghai-based mother who moved to Malaysia with her four-year-old daughter Miaomiao in 2019. Primary school tuition in Malaysia was roughly 110,000 yuan (about $15,300) per year, half of what she would have paid in Shanghai for equal education.

Reuters reported, according to the think-tank YuWa Population Research on February 23. The average cost of raising a child to 18 in China in 2019 was 485,000 yuan ($76,629) for a first child, or 6.9 times China’s per capita GDP that year. 

Zero-COVID policy, among others

Reuters reported accounts of people losing income, not having access to healthcare or food, or authorities forcibly entering homes to take people to quarantine centers, including the elderly and children, abound during lockdowns in Shanghai and elsewhere.

Reuters cited Chinese demographer Yi Fuxian. “China’s zero-COVID policy has led to a zero economy, zero marriages, zero fertility.”

Claire Jiang is one of the women who do not want to raise her children in China. The 30-year-old Shangainese, who works in the media industry, said, “I definitely don’t want my children to have to carry the uncertainty of living in a country where the government can just come to your door and do whatever they want.” 

Dire circumstances COVID isolation makes the postpartum woman want to jump off the building

Chinese-language news sources Da Ji Yuan cited Xiaoli (pseudonym), a resident of Huaqi Town in Zhijin County. Zhijin authorities have prohibited residents from shopping in the markets since September 3. On September 5, they closed all streets in the county’s Huaqi Town.

On September 18, Xiaoli gave birth at the Zhijin County Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The next day, she was transferred to Jianmin Hospital for isolation. On September 25, her isolation was changed to quarantine at Guiguo Middle School, where over 200 people were isolated. The maternity patients were all forcibly taken to quarantine. They did not receive discharge certificates from the hospital. Her newborn baby and mother-in-law accompanied her.

Xiaoli said she stayed in a male dormitory with broken bathing facilities. Outside the dormitory, there was a large bucket for heating hot water. She hadn’t taken a shower since she arrived. Both men and women share toilets.

Xiaoli complained about the food. It had no oil or water. From the time she gave birth until September 26, she had been eating boiled eggs or cabbage with only a few bones.

Xiaoli said, “I cried and wanted to jump off the building yesterday, but I can’t help it.” She added, “The adults are okay. You can bear it. What if the child gets sick and catches a cold?”

According to Xiaoli, they needed approval from both sides before they could be released. To begin, the principal township officials issued and signed a certificate. The isolation center personnel then reported the incident to the county-level headquarters. Only after they approve can the quarantine centers release anyone.

According to a July United Nations report, China’s 1.4 billion population may decline as early as next year, when India will overtake it as the world’s most populous country.
U.N. experts now predict China’s population will decline by 109 million by 2050, surpassing the decline expected in 2019.

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