A recent proposal put forward by deputies to the People's Congress of Jiangsu Province has led to quite an outcry. It sought to give citizens of high educational attainment permission to have a second child while at the same time strengthening birth control measures for poorly educated peasants.
The proposal emerged during the working up new draft Regulations on Population and Family Planning in Jiangsu Province. It was made by some members of the Standing Committee of Jiangsu Provincial People's Congress, which is the local legislature.
According to a report of the June 19 Yangtze Evening Post, the controversial measure had not been included in the legislation that was actually adopted. Although this particular proposal was dropped before the legislation became law, it has flagged up a wide divergence of opinion on the underlying issues.
One widely held opinion is that a better educated couple are more likely to give birth to a healthy baby and are in a better position to provide a sound upbringing.
Miss Meng, a government employee in Chaoyang District of Beijing, said, "In general terms, well educated people do have advantages over those who are less well educated. Their children may well be smarter. One important factor would be that they are well informed on matters concerning the education of their children".
Her view is representative of those people who point to a relationship between better education and higher social status potentially leading to better educational conditions for the children.
Some would suggest that such a controversial policy if introduced could help ameliorate the burden on society and on the state purse by reducing the number of mothers in financial difficulties. It could also serve to reduce the number of children unable to go to school. In this school of thought money should not be wasted on uneducated people who exceed the constraints of family planning policy. The rationale offered in support of this is that their low standards in caring for and in particular educating their children will have an adverse effect on the general population through the additional burdens imposed on the state.
However the cons outweigh these pros:
Like father, like son? But many talented individuals were born poor! This is a sentiment popular on the Internet. Many "netizens" are also convinced that a glowing educational record may not necessarily be synonymous with high quality and even suggest that some college degrees may be obtained fraudulently. So they say "high quality" parents are no guarantee of "high quality" children. Many holders of master's degrees and doctorates were born in rural areas and their children may go on to commit crimes. The real issue facing us here is not one of birth control but one of further promoting good compulsory education as a means of raising the educational standards of everyone in society.
"Any recourse to some sort of 'well-born' hypothesis could tend to destabilize our society. It would be retrogressive to do so in a democratic society; it denies fundamental principles of human egalitarianism which we have subscribed to for thousands of years," said Master Lu who works in a foreign company and has a two-year-old son. He considers it to be a form of discrimination that would have a negative effect on our society.
Tong Xin, a Doctor of Sociology from Peking University, considers it could be possible that a mother with a good educational background might have some increased chance of having children who go on to successful educational attainment. However, he believes that this should not be used as grounds for policies leading to differential treatment. This would result in some people being deprived of their basic rights. "Educational attainment should not be used as grounds for privileged treatment," he said.
This could be an impracticable policy. "It is quite probable that the well educated might not take advantage of such a privilege anyway," said Li. Her husband has a post-doctoral degree and they have a five-year-old son. But she wouldn't have a second child. "As a busy professional woman, I don't have the energy to care for and educate more children. China is an underdeveloped country and most well educated couples can only make provision for a high standard education for just one child.
Last December, Zhang Weiqing, director of the State Family Planning Commission described the birth rate of urban and developed areas as very low with some places even having a negative growth in population. The situation is quite the opposite in the countryside especially in central and western rural areas. "The poor have more children and the more they have the poorer they are," he said.
The policy could only offer a temporary rather than permanent solution. To date, China has a population of 1.3 billion. Only 30 million can claim education to at least college level standard. No matter how many children the members of this group were to bear, it would not have much of an effect on China's population as a whole.
China is over populated. If the rural economy remains static, rural incomes will improve little. In the extended families of the countryside there is a tradition of the young supporting the old and of having larger families as a hedge against old age.
To encourage birth rates amongst the well educated would lead to further pressure on population growth. The key to the solution lies in helping everyone to self-improvement through education.
Any thoughts of privilege for a "well-born" elite should be abandoned, according to Professor Jiang, of the Population Institute of Peking University. He said, "Encouraging higher birth rates in elites is not new. We should remember the notorious precedence of the eugenics favored by the Nazi regime at the time of World War Two. This was a fundemental tenet of their racism. Research shows that the mother's educational background plays an important role in the success of the child's upbringing. But there is no evidence of a correlation between the level of education of the parents and the IQ of their children. Talent leading to a distinguished life is nurtured by education generally. The road to the cultural advancement of our population must be paved with educational opportunities for all our people".
An editor surnamed Cheng with a magazine based in Xicheng District, Beijing, said, "It is somewhat unsettling to see there is some popular support for the discriminatory proposal which was offered to this local People's Congress."
He believes the opinions involved are similar to those of a newly emerging parochialism which discriminates against migrant workers. "As economic development progresses, 'elites' will likely emerge in China. However, credence should not be given to elitism in any form through the publications or policy of the state. To do so would only offer support to such views and create privileges, which should not exist in a democratic country."
(china.org.cn by Li Liangdu, July 27, 2002)