It used to be the traditional belief in China's rural hinterland that only sons would hold up the sky and properly support their aged parents.
Couples would have children until a boy was born -- but today many rural residents are just as happy to have a daughter and to leave it at that.
Chen Zhihui and Peng Huifang, a farmer couple from Miluo city, in central-south China's Hunan province, run a brisk eatery at Huangbai town.
Through the couple, who gave birth to a girl 12 years ago, are still eligible to have a second child under the family planning policy, they have no more children.
"Without improvements in the quality of life, a son might not be very successful even if we had one," said Chen Zhihui, the husband, who added that his relatives and neighbors all kept trying to persuade them to have a son in order to carry on the ancestral line.
"We have earned a lot of money by running the eatery over the years and can afford to send our daughter to a better school," Peng Huifang, the wife. "As long as she does well with her lessons,we could even afford her to study overseas in the future."
Peng said her parents-in-law fully understand and support the couple's ideas.
Miluo city began to spread the capability-enhancing educational program in primary and middle schools in 1984. In recent years, the city government has stepped up the quality-life first conceptas part of its family planning program.
Two child-bearing women from Huangbai village, also in Miluo city area, said that with the assistance of local government functionaries, they had bought insurance policies against old age after they gave birth to only-child daughters.
"There is no problem in the advanced age since nowadays most ofthe heavy, back-breaking jobs in the countryside are done by motorvehicles and farm machines, so it does not make any difference to have boys or girls," said one woman.
Liu Lihua, head of women's affairs with Huangbai village, said a decade ago, many rural women raced to have more kids until they gave birth to sons.
But as an increasing number of women were embracing the quality-life first concept, they were giving up the right to a second child, said Liu.
Liu added that 25 of the 56 households with girls in Huangbai village had given up the right to have second children.
Liu Huifeng, deputy head of Dajing township, noted that most ofthe 65 households with girls from first births in his township pledged not to have second kids.
Chen Sihai, party secretary of Miluo city, said: "The fact thatsome young farmers who had received education on the program took the initiative not to have more than one kid when they got marriedhas convinced us that it is an efficient way to promote family planning."
In addition to setting up family planning school, a dozen localnewspaper columns and TV programs have been launched to publicize quality-life first among young rural residents.
Li Guobao, mayor of Miluo city, said that better services constituted the foundation of family planning. The city had established offices, service centers, schools and associations forfamily planning in the last decade, and the service has now been in the process of covering villages.
"Networks featuring education, administration of information and improved services and designed to target child-bearing couples," the mayor said, "have taken shape citywide."
The city had helped 2,800 child-bearing couples to get rid of poverty and become better-off and aid 5,124 households with only-child daughters to procure old-age insurance policies, Li added.
Farm work at 90 percent of the villages in Miluo city is now done by machines, and the social security system has improved so that more rural households are no longer worried for their old ages.
Thanks to the implementation of family planning since late 1970s, China, with a population of nearly 1.3 billion, has had 300million fewer births and has one of the lowest birth rates in the world.
(Xinhua News Agency September 27, 2002)