China’s Reproductive Behavior And Culture
Reproduction is a natural process and a birthright given to man by God. No major religion of the world, be it Christianity, Judaism or Islam, ever puts a limit to the number of children one can have. Islam further gives man the right to practice polygamy under certain circumstances like when it fears population depletion after war. The Biblical scriptures also talk about biblical personalities who had many wives. The point underlying this is that God did not put restriction on man and in China the same would have been true had it not been for the government’s restriction on number of children.
China’s culture doesn’t put any such restriction and the subscribers to Confucianism strictly resisted the one child policy because Confucianism doesn’t allow use of contraceptives until the family has had at least one male child. The teachings of Confucianism are deeply rooted in Chinese culture and the desire to have at least one male child springs from this belief. However government’s one child policy did not care much for Confucian teachings and while boys were desired, families still had to stop after having one child, regardless of gender.
Before this policy evolved into a one child policy, China allowed up to two children. Families were penalized for having a third child however they were not penalized for the second. The second child was discouraged yet allowed. Later on the second birth was also forbidden and the policy became stricter. China’s side of the story states that having one child would enable a family to own more consumer items. They would have less to spend on the education, health and could use more to make their lifestyle better.
Chinese culture however doesn’t go well with government’s restrictive reproductive policies. The culture borrows more from its systems of beliefs namely Confucianism and Taoism. Chinese desire large families because Confucianism endorses this and it is rooted in one key tenet of this system of belief. This is called “reproduction worship.” According to this belief the world originated from Yin and Yang life force. This has had a great impact on Chinese culture and its view of reproduction. Yin is considered a male life force with many powerful positive attributes while Yang is assigned mainly weaker attributes. Reproduction is given much importance because of its power to move the universe ahead and to expand the same. The forces of Yin and Yang are both needed for actions to have impact. There are other beliefs that seem to have an impact on reproductive behavior among Chinese couples. (Tang, 1995)
Since Confucianism advocates sexual restraint and asceticism, marriage is seen as a vehicle for reproduction rather than a means of enjoying sex. Secondly families are considered very significant because of ancestor worship. Since ancestors are revered in Chinese culture, having a family is always the motivating force behind getting married. In this pro-natalist culture where large families are preferred and male children considered even more important, naturally the government’s policy was deeply resented.
The Chinese culture has depended on natural forces to control population growth instead of use of contraceptives. The pronatalist tendency has become the cornerstone of Confucian reproductive beliefs and has had a great impact on China’s reproductive behavior.(Tang, 1995) Had it not been for the one child policy that penalized anyone having a second child, the impact of Confucianism would have been even more obvious. Chinese culture still affects the way people plan their families in the country. Most couples get married with the desire to start a family and having a male child is far more important than having a girl. Every Chinese couple would want at least one male child. Even though there has been a shift in people’s thinking, still cultural traditions direct people’s reproductive choices.
Tang Z. Confucianism, Chinese culture, and reproductive behavior
Journal Population & Environment Issue Volume 16, Number 3 / January, 1995
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