"One Is Too Few, Two Are Just Right": The Discursive Battle Around China's Shifting Population Policies

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:40
Oral Presentation
Wenjie LIAO, North Carolina State University, USA
Starting in early 2010s, Chinese government gradually relaxed its almost 40-year old one-child policy for urban couples. In 2015, not only all restrictions on the eligibility for a second birth were removed, but the state also started openly encouraging married couples to have more than one child. This is likely a response to the increasing aging population and gender imbalance, both resulting from stringent population control. Many predict that such change will further disadvantage Chinese women as primary caregivers in the family. Using official documents published by both provincial and central governments and articles from popular feminist media accounts, this paper answers the following questions: How do the central and local governments in China legitimate this change that not only reverse one of its long-standing core policies but also potentially undermines the official socialist gender ideology? How do the public, especially those concerned with increasing gender inequality, respond to this new policy? How do the various cultural traditions coexisting in China feature in either the official discourses or the popular ones? Preliminary analyses suggest that the state capitalizes on the anxiety of the "new middle class" and attempts to transfer social responsibilities of child and elderly care onto individual families, combining the traditional kinship culture with the neoliberal logic of individualism. Meanwhile, it responds to concerns over gender inequality mainly by framing it as an issue of women's employment opportunity, ignoring feminist critiques of the institutionalized sexism not only in the market but also in all important social realms, including the family and legal institutions.