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Childless Couples
Wendy Chen married recently, but she has made a decision that has stimulated huge controversy in her family, leading to major friction with her parents and parents-in-law.

The newly wed couple say they will not have a child, or at least have no such plan in the coming few years.

"I think I am still young and have a lot of things to do. Every day, we are busy with our business and we have no time to bring up a child. I would have to quit my job to give my baby a really quality life," said 27-year-old Wendy.

But to her parents, who are eager to have a grandchild as soon as possible, it is really hard to accept this decision.

"How can they think they can't afford to bring up a child? Their total income has reached over 10,000 yuan (US$1,210) per month, how can they fail to support a baby?" her mother said. "When she was a child, our income was only a few dozen yuan. I think they will change their mind, because after all a child is the key to a family."

For thousands of years, to have a baby was the most important task of any newly organized family. A popular saying reflecting one of Chinese people's most cherished traditional values has it that "Being issueless is the cardinal betrayal of filial duty".

In the paternal Chinese society, if a young couple remained childless for many years, it was usually the wife rather than the husband whose reproductive ability would be called into question and the family would arrange for the husband to find a concubine.

Having no child, or only having a daughter, was also considered an adequate reason for a man to divorce his wife in ancient times. In addition, the woman would accept this fate and feel personally shamed by it.

In the era of Mao Zedong, women were also encouraged to have lots of babies. It was not rare to see women at that time with more than 10 children. A popular jive at that time was "If the enemy comes, he will be drowned by the saliva of us." The understatement was that China has a huge population.

Population was thought to be a kind of resource, just like iron or coal. Since every human being was more than a labourer, the more the better.

But in the current situation more and more young people have accepted the concept of DINK (double income, no kids) and seem likely to practise it.

An official figure says that nowadays there are about 600,000 DINK families in big cities such as Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

A survey launched by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, covering 500 single people from 20 to 30 years old, says 18 per cent of young woman and 13 per cent of men expressed their unwillingness to have children after marrying.

The number of DINK families is said to account for 12.4 per cent of the total in Shanghai.

A total of 34 per cent of surveyees supported the DINK concept while another 35 per cent were against it, according to the survey launched co-operatively by the Shanghai Women's Federation and the Sociology Department of Fudan University. It shows the two positions are almost nip and tuck.

That having a baby will consume energy, affect working quality, reduce economic power and upset the romantic world of a couple are listed as the four biggest reasons for people to choose the DINK lifestyle, according to the survey.

"I saw some of my friends become peaky and who pined after reproduction, they gave up beautiful clothes and cosmetics and spend most of their spare money and time on their kids, I don't want to be like that," Chen said.

Chen said she noticed her parents working hard and worrying about her for almost 30 years. "It is too hard for me to do that, I can't shoulder such responsibility because we encounter more competition and choice in today's society."

"In addition, if I become pregnant, I will have to request at least six-months vacation from my employer. I worry that I won't ever attain an important position after that."

Although most Chinese people believe children are both the psychological and economic support when parents get older. Chen doesn't think so. She plans to save an amount of money every year for her future pension. She also plans to buy endowment insurance.

"There are so many ways to solve the problem," she said confidently.

But in the camp of DINKs, rebels are also not scarce, most change their minds after growing older. Midwives have also said women over 30 years old coming to them to give birth are also increasing these days.

"When I found myself really fallen in love, an idea came to my mind suddenly 'I'd like to have a lovely baby with him,"' said Costonic Xie, a woman who insisted on remaining single before. But now she is thinking about marriage and having a child.

"I also know some of my friends have babies in the end in their thirties or even forties. Maybe having one's own child is natural for human beings," she said.

"The traditional structure of the extended family, which includes grandchild, parents, grandparents, has gradually transformed into a small three-person gathering without grandparents in the last century," said Xu Anqi, researcher from Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. "Now the trend is seemingly marked by the transition to the DINK family, which only has a couple."

"The increase in DINK families, unmarried cohabitation and divorce shows that Chinese people are more free and independent in marriage affairs," said Sun Zhongxin, professor at the Sociology Department of Fudan University. "Traditional restrictions on Chinese people are now loosening gradually."

Experts agree that the DINK lifestyle is a responsible choice, both for the partners and the not-to-be-born child. As a comparatively special family structure, it should and can win understanding and respect from the whole of society.

(Shanghai Star March 27, 2002)

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