After 36 years, China’s one-child policy has now come to an abrupt end. Urban Chinese families are no longer forced to only have a single child, allowing people to have siblings for the first time in two generations.
And yet, the Chinese public are not taking advantage of the new reforms, preferring to maintain the status quo with one child. Unfortunately for China, this flies in the face of government policy since there has become a need for more births as a looming labor shortage awaits.
Reasons to explain the failure of the new two-child policy to produce more Chinese births can range from the high cost of living, jealousy by single children towards siblings and potential rivals, or the fact that 2015 was considered an “unlucky” year to have children.
Like other official policies, the one-child policy was promoted throughout China on signs and billboards. Chinese were told that having fewer children was their national duty to make China a better place. Now that that policy has changed, so has the message.
This past March during their annual meeting, the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference proposed to modernize outdated slogans promoting birth control and improve family planning services in order to boost the country’s flagging fertility rate.
That said, they have got a lot of work ahead of them. The era of the one-child policy has produced innumerable pieces of propaganda extolling the virtues of the one-child policy. From now on, the Chinese government has to subvert their previous message. Instead, they will promote the idea that having lots of babies is a good idea that provides benefits to family and country, something that was not the case before.
Here’s a brief recap of the propaganda from the one-child policy era:
From the start, propaganda posters usually have a simple and direct message. The writing on the poster in this undated photograph (seen above) reads, “Giving birth to just one child is best.”
In this old photograph, the poster behind the smiling mothers with their babies has writing on the top that reads, “Family planning is good.”
The Revolutionary Era produced a very identifiable style with vibrant colors. While the one-child policy was instituted way after that time period, the art style and message persist in later works. The above poster reads, “Practice family planning to support the revolution.”
This poster reads: “Practice family planning to support the revolution.”
One-child policy propaganda can also be seen on outdoor signs written with simple messages. This outdoor sign reads (in red lettering to the left): “Family planning is a fundamental national policy”; in smaller lettering to the right: “Having just one child is best”.
“Fewer births of high quality benefits the country and its people”.
“The quality of life will decline when a family has many children”.
The mural (seen above) has three stages in it where a family is depicted as having progressively more children. From left to right: (one child) Well-off; (two children) Nervous; (three children) Panic.
Here’s a traffic sign by the edge of a rural road that reads: “Friend: Have you implemented family planning (as part of your lifestyle)?”
This sign reads, “The mothers of the world are too tired, and can no longer hold up too many children.”
We’ve seen a number of old posters and outdoor signs, but propaganda for the one-child policy had also extended to the Internet. The picture above says, “Maintaining a low and stable birth rate will raise the quality of the births and the population”.
The poster above, also featuring a family of three with obscured faces, reads: “Getting married and giving birth late; having fewer births of better quality; these are the things that will provide you happiness for a lifetime.”
“Controlling the increase of the population will promote the advancement of society”.
“Few births means better morals and essence; both boys and girls are valuable.”
“Control the population; protect the environment; cherish the homeland”.
Sometimes, these signs were downright harsh. We’re not sure where this above sign is located, such as in a residence area perhaps, but it reads: “Revised family planning ordinances state that fines for exceeding the limit will not be lenient. Having one extra birth over the limit will incur an RMB 14,000 fine; having two children over the limit will incur a RMB 25,000 fine.”
And sometimes they are downright creepy. The sign above reads: “You can beat it out! You can have it come out as a defect! You can let it flow out (as in an abortion). But under no circumstances are you to give birth to it.”
These signs have been telling generations of Chinese to have fewer babies for the good of the country. Now, the opposite is true, and Chinese are now told to have double the number of babies they had before for the national good. What kind of propaganda would this be?
Thanks to the China Daily, we have a glimpse of what these posters could possibly be:
We’re not sure from where the China Daily got these altered images, but even if people agree with these messages, they likely won’t identify with these images other than via nostalgia at this point.
But then, the message changes with the times. For instance, at the dawn of the People’s Republic of China, there was a belief that “the more people the country had, the more powerful it would become”. And so, keeping with the message of the time, the population of China exploded from 540 million in 1949 to 830 million by 1970.
But by then, it was realized that this policy was not working, and so the one-child policy was instituted. And for that, the message was the propaganda we see here… that is, until its time for a new message. Like now.