These Memes Perfectly Capture How Parents Feel About China’s Push for More Babies

The policy shift reminds people of the trauma they endured under decades of population control in China.
June 1, 2021, 10:34am
China population control three-child
China has shifted from banning people from having more than one child to encouraging births in a few years. Photo: WANG ZHAO / AFP

China’s decision to allow married couples to have three children has triggered a wave of mockery as people complain about the country’s disregard for reproductive freedom.

The government scrapped its decades-old one-child policy in 2016 to allow couples to have two children, but this failed to boost the country’s birth rates and slow the aging of the world’s biggest population.

While authorities expect a three-child policy to bring more people into the country’s future workforce, the policy shift has met with strong resistance. Working women say they are discouraged from having more children by rising living costs and a tradition that places much of the child rearing responsibilities on the mothers.

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People were also reminded of the trauma they endured from the brutal enforcement of the past one-child policy, which led to forced abortion and sterilization as well as massive fines levied on families that had too many babies.

Here’s how internet users are expressing their frustration. 

1. A deleted poll 

The state-run Xinhua news agency conducted a poll on the microblogging site Weibo right after the three-child policy was announced on Monday.

It gave social media users four options on the potential of having three children.

  1. I’m ready, can’t wait
  2. I’ve started planning it
  3. I’m hesitant about it. There are many issues to consider 
  4. It’s completely out of the question

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A state media poll was taken down after most participants said they would not have three children. Photo: Weibo

The poll was taken down hours later, after a vast majority of the 30,000 respondents picked the fourth option. 

Internet users have continued sharing screenshots of the now-deleted poll and criticized the government for trying to block public opinions.

2. Obsolete propaganda

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Internet users have shared photos of the one-child policy propaganda that used to be ubiquitous across the country. 

In one cartoon created to promote smaller families, one-child families were labeled as “prosperous,” while two-child families were marked as “stressful.” Three-child families, on the other hand, were called “terrifying.” 

Other popular slogans included “have fewer and good-quality children, be happy throughout your life,” and “population control is good, the government will take care of you when you are old.” 

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Some internet users said they felt betrayed: the government made people have one child by telling them it would be good for the nation’s future. But decades later, people are being told to have more babies because the country is facing a demographic crisis. Economists have said that a shrinking workforce and an aging population could put pressure on public budgets and undermine economic growth.

“For those born in the 90s, who grew up with these slogans, what should we believe?” one person commented on Weibo. 

3. ‘They want more leeks’ 

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Chinese workers have described themselves as leeks ready for harvest. Photo: Weibo

Some internet users responded to the three-child policy with pictures of leeks. The vegetables are a popular metaphor for subjects of exploitation in Chinese internet culture. 

Young Chinese are experiencing increasing competition in education and at work, as well as a decline in social mobility. Frustrated urban workers would describe themselves as leeks ready to be harvested by the rich and powerful. 

Critics say the third-child policy, aimed at expanding the country’s workforce, is simply a way to push the already-overworked people to raise more “leeks,” which will grow up to work for the big corporations just like their parents. 

“If two single children get married, they need to take care of four elderly parents, three children, and work 996,” says a comment that went viral on Monday, referring to the shorthand for working nine to nine, six days a week. “Even donkeys in the communes should not be used this way.”

4. My uterus 

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Some women have shared the Friends screenshot to express their discontent toward the state's push for more babies. Photo: Weibo

Many Chinese women say they refuse to have more children due to the gender inequality in Chinese families and at workplaces. 

Women are expected to take up most of the childcare work at home, which takes away the time they could have spent on career development. In the meantime, employers are sometimes reluctant to hire young female job seekers who have yet to have children, because they may need to take maternity leaves in the future. 

In an interview released through Xinhua on Monday, China’s health authority said the difficulty for women balancing work and family is the third most common reason cited by households for not having more than one child, after “financial burden” and “having no one to take care of the babies.”

It says many women suffer from a significant drop in salaries after becoming mothers. 

Many women also fear the three-child policy will only exacerbate the gender gap, and have called for measures that will lead to more male participation in childcare. 

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