BEIJING – Driving through China’s countryside a decade ago, it was not uncommon to see harsh-sounding family planning slogans painted on the sides of buildings.
Frightening phrases like “one more baby means one more tomb” and “first baby delivered, litigation imposed after the second, and the third and fourth killed!” were used to deter parents from having additional children after the adoption of China’s one-child policy.
However, these slogans are about to go the way of the buffalo, as the government is working to replace the phrases with kinder, gentler suggestions.
The National Population and Family Planning Commission launched a one-year campaign in June to substitute coarsely-worded and insensitive family planning slogans with more pleasant-sounding alternatives.
The campaign targets slogans that are “incorrect or obsolete in content, uncouth in wording, or improperly placed,” according to a notice posted on the commission’s website.
The new slogans will appeal to people’s positive emotions and express humanity while using concise, standardized language, the notice said.
Zhang Jian, the commission’s publicity official, described the campaign as a “face-changing project.”
Fear of family planning policies
When the one-child policy was implemented in 1979, the slogans were “relatively mild” and designed specifically to inform the public about the policy, said Qin Tao, a government official from the city of Shangqiu in central China’s Henan Province, one of the country’s most populated regions.
Slogans like “one child is fairly adequate, two are just enough and three are excessive” were quite common, said Qin, who has years of experience in promoting family planning in rural areas.
Although the slogans allowed rural residents to become familiar with the policy, family planning efforts encountered great obstacles in the countryside during the 1980s and 1990s.
With the rather low cost of raising a child largely overlooked, rural families tended to have more children. An absence of a sound legal system in many rural areas led to authorities resorting to harsh and illicit means to crack down on excess births. Teams of anonymous thugs were hired to confiscate livestock and food from families who violated the policy, with some of the families even held in detention from time to time, Qin said.
Some of the families threatened to commit suicide in protest, according to Qin.
The National Population and Family Planning Commission in 1995 banned the practice of detaining and torturing families with excess children, as well as the practices of confiscating their property and levying nonexistent fines.
In recent years, authorities in Henan’s Anyang County have created a series of preferential measures to reward families that have strictly followed population control policies, according to Zhao Zigang, an Anyang County family planning official.
According to Zhao, households with a single child or two female children in Anyang are eligible to receive cash grants, with their children entitled to receive free insurance and education.
“People benefit directly from having fewer children. This is the best way to describe the family planning policies,” he said.
Family planning authorities in some areas of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province provide free services such as premarital counseling, reproductive risk assessments, parental training classes for parents-to-be and early education for children under three years of age.
Coverage for the free services will be extended to the entire province before 2015, said Jia Yumei, a family planning official in Heilongjiang.
China has seen frequent changes in its family planning slogans, concurrent with the adjustments made to its population control policies over the years.
In 2007, the National Population and Family Planning Commission recommended 190 slogans selected through a national campaign. The slogans included warmer-sounding sentiments such as “the Mother Earth is too tired to sustain more children” and “both boys and girls are in their parents’ hearts.”
The slogans are now distributed to rural families through brochures that are sent out to households, and are no longer painted on the sides of buildings, Jia said.
The commission’s notice said it hopes to fully implement “softened and standardized” slogans in both rural and urban areas by 2012. It also said that the promotion of family planning should be localized, taking into account regional economic and social conditions, as well as local customs.
Family planning policies as they existed in the 1980s restricted urban couples to just one child, while ethnic minority families were permitted to have more children. However, these policies have loosened over the years. In many parts of the country, couples made up of people from one-child families are permitted to have two children.
In rural areas, couples are permitted to have a second child if their first child is female, in accordance with a Chinese tradition that states that males are responsible for ensuring that their families’ bloodlines are preserved.
South China’s Guangdong Province, the country’s most populated province by population, has already gone one step further. It recently submitted a proposal to the central government that will allow couples to have two children if even just one of the parents is a single child, said Zhang Feng, the province’s family planning official.