"The new measure aimed to alleviate an aging population—but online it sparked jokes and ridicule"
China’s so-called "Two Child Policy" became a "Three Child Policy" as of Monday, after a meeting by the Communist Party of China decided to relax its decades-old policy (officially known as the Family Planning Policy) on family sizes. But along with in-depth commentary on the political and social ramifications of easing birth restrictions, the internet was also flooded with a wave of cynicism, humor, and ridicule.
First implemented in 1980, the Family Planning Policy restricted most urban couples to having one child only (hence its unofficial name "One Child Policy") until 2016, when they were allowed to have two children. However, this failed to increase birth rates. The country’s most recent census, released in May this year, showed that people over 60 grew to 18.7 percent of the total population, up from 13.26 percent in 2010.
Many netizens argued that relaxing the policy to allow three children does little to alleviate structural barriers to having larger families, and complained that financial and career pressures made it almost impossible to raise even one child. Others commented in more creative ways, making jokes about buying triple bunk beds and preparing to look after nine grandchildren when they get older. Shops and brands were also quick to get in on the hype, and netizens lapped up the humor of it all.
A picture resembling an ad for contraceptive brand Durex contains the caption: "I'll be leaving; you can play."
In the same vein, one Weibo user suggested that couples experiencing lockdown in Guangzhou, where there have been recent Covid-19 outbreaks, could take the new policy as a hint as to what they can do with their time stuck indoors.
E-commerce merchants began promoting triple bunk beds, while others speculated that children's bedrooms would begin to look like China's triple-bunk sleeper trains in the future.
Cover image from VCG
The government announced it would include "supportive measures" as part of the policy change, but the top comment on Xinhua's announcement of the news, with 130,000 likes, reads: "I really don't understand what 'supportive measures' means." Likewise, in a poll of 20,000 Weibo users by Xinhua, 17,000 said they "hadn't considered at all" having three children.
The hashtag "the three child policy is here" has been viewed more than 3.8 billion times on Weibo and users have created countless memes. The poem below reads: "Above there are four grandparents / Below there are three children / In the middle there are two / Just forget it and die." Followed by the line: "Tang Seng [the monk from Journey to the West] will take you to heaven."
Other memes played on the idea that having children can ensure there is somebody to care for parents in old age. The image below, mimicking an old-style propaganda poster, reads: "Having children can prevent you from reaching old age."
Commentators of all fields were quick to share their opinions, though the worse “hot take” of them all may belong to Shi Yongqing, CEO of real estate company Centaline Property, who recommended withholding couples’ right to contraceptive products until after they have had two children. "Where did the journalist find these crazy people?" reads the top comment under Sina Finance's article that carried Shi's comments.
Other comments were more scathing of the policy: "I recommend civil servants and Party members heed the call [to have three children] first. Those who don't adhere to the policy can be fired, and those who carry it out properly can get a certificate of honor."
Users on Weibo have expressed concern that the policy would make more enterprises reluctant to employ women, and were especially critical after National People Congress representative Zhu Lieyu suggested in a media interview that the country extends maternity leave to three years. “This society needs more wombs, not more women,” summarized one comment on the interview under the account of China Women's News. Others wondered why it's assumed that men wouldn't have to balance career and family: "This way they can openly push the hidden costs of raising children onto women.”
Others riffed on well-known contraveners of the one and two child policies. Director Zhang Yimou, for example, has four children from two marriages (and has been rumored for years to have three or four more children out of wedlock), and has paid hundreds of thousands of RMB in fines because of it. Many netizens wondered whether he could now ask for his money back.
However, when Zhang's wife Chen Ting riffed on the same theme, posting “Fulfilled [our] duty ahead of time” to Weibo, netizens quickly turned on her for what they saw as a poor joke making light of her lawbreaking behavior (at the time).
Others were left stunned by the news, not because they had any plans to have more children, but because they are graduate students who had spent years researching the family planning policy. One alleged student who wrote their thesis on the Two Child Policy posted about their despair online: "I haven't even defended [my thesis], and it's already the three child policy."