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Family life in modern China(2)

Posted by Author on August 25, 2006

Marijke van der Meer, Radio Netherlands, 22-08-2006– (cont’d) The one-child policy has succeeded in bringing down the birth rate from 26 percent to 8 percent a year. However, the traditional importance of male lineage and of the son as a support to the whole family, especially in rural areas, in combination with reproductive technology and the one-child policy, has resulted in a serious sex-ratio imbalance in China today.

“Lonely hearts club”

The gender imbalance has now reached 120 boys for every 100 girls born. It is believed that 40 million men will not find wives in the next ten years, some of them are already living in “bachelor ghettos”, and China has been described as “the world’s biggest lonely hearts club”. Cases have been reported of women being abducted, and because of the importance of carrying on the male lineage, some men resort to sharing or borrowing a wife, who is then free to go after she has produced a son. The authorities have tried to deal with the sex-ratio imbalance by, for example, forbidding prenatal sex screening.

The problem is compounded by the migration of a huge “floating population” of productive rural adults to the factories and cities where their labour is fuelling China’s economic boom. There are villages where children and the elderly are left behind to care for each other. Few migrant rural women are willing to return to the countryside. They hope to find urban husbands in order to obtain urban registration, so they can qualify for better housing, pensions, jobs and health care schemes.


While families are spreading out to wherever work can be found, marital infidelity and especially cohabitation have become so predominant that the new marriage law of 2001 explicitly condemns bigamy and polygamy.

“My personal experience is that it is unspoken, people gossip and everyone knows in the village, but it is not openly articulated, as long as it doesn’t break the unity or economic cohesion of the family,”

says Melody Chia-wen Lu, an affiliated fellow with the International Institute for Asian Studies at the University of Leiden, specialised in gender issues and migration.(to be cont’d…)

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