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The ‘Family’ as a Philosophical Issue in China

The one-child policy's legacy meets a new demographic crisis. Is the traditional "nuclear family" still the answer?
The ‘Family’ as a Philosophical Issue in China

A child is photographed running away from a sprinkler splashing water on him. (Photo supplied)

Published: February 16, 2024 06:05 AM GMT
Updated: February 19, 2024 06:13 AM GMT

China’s looming demographic crisis has brought to the fore conflicting views in today’s Chinese society on what a “family” should be.

In practice, the Chinese family has become nuclear: a couple and their child form the unitary nucleus through which family members support each other and protect themselves as much as possible from external pressures and conditioning.

Often, after a child is born, the family unit is joined by the parents of one of the spouses to help the young couple take care of the child so that the wife and husband can concentrate on their work.

Often, the grandparents return home when the child shows signs of becoming independent.

This model promotes closeness and mutual protection and favors the choice most couples make of investing everything in one child, or two at the most. The high costs associated with education and medical expenses tend to reinforce this strategic decision, even after 2016, the year in which the end of the one-child policy was decreed. (Some municipalities and provinces are now launching pilot projects to favor families with two or more children). 

In fact, a fair percentage of couples choose not to have any children. In 2022, official statistics recorded 850,000 fewer births than deaths.

At the same time, the extended family model – even large clans in some parts of China – still remains the celebrated ideal, the one favored by traditional values and folk religion. Ancestors are to be revered, and solidarity among clan members is to be encouraged.

To be sure, some elements of this model still correspond to lived realities, especially in rural areas, but solidarity and traditional lifestyles have markedly faded in a country where nearly 70 percent of the population now lives in cities.

Read the complete article here.
 

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