HomeOppression and Human RightsChina's Authoritarian Top-Down Push for "New Trends of Family"

China’s Authoritarian Top-Down Push for “New Trends of Family”

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In the midst of China’s demographic challenges, President Xi Jinping has taken a bold stance, advocating for a revival of traditional family values and women’s roles as caretakers. This move is seen by many as an authoritarian attempt to reshape family dynamics in a nation still grappling with the consequences of its decades-long one-child policy.

Xi Jinping’s recent remarks, published by the state news agency Xinhua, underscore his belief that women must lead the charge in establishing a “new trend of family.” He asserts that women’s roles extend beyond personal development, shaping the very essence of “family harmony, social harmony, national development, and national progress.” The rationale behind this directive is China’s aging population and a disturbing decline in birth rates.

Ironically it was a similar edict long ago that launched the brutal “one child” policy that caused the population imbalances in the first place.

Factors like exorbitant childcare costs, workplace obstacles, gender discrimination, and a shift away from traditional marriage ideals have contributed to many young Chinese women choosing to delay or forgo having children. Official policies further compound this issue, as they discourage single women from having children, linking the birth rate to marriage rates.

China’s National Bureau of Statistics confirmed a population decrease for the first time in six decades, reflecting the nation’s rapid aging. Over the last two years, various government measures, including financial incentives and improved childcare facilities, have been introduced to counter the declining birth rate. State media consistently links population development to China’s strength and “rejuvenation.”

However, President Xi’s emphasis on traditional family values and women’s roles as caretakers has met resistance, particularly from the younger generation who view these ideas as out of touch with their evolving perspectives on marriage and family life.

Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, the Communist Party has reintroduced discussions on family values and the importance of women as caregivers. This shift in messaging contradicts the party’s longstanding commitment to gender equality but aligns with its evolving priorities. It comes as birth and marriage rates decline, raising concerns about the potential economic repercussions.

The early days of Communist rule saw Mao Zedong urging women to join the workforce and postpone marriage and childbirth to aid in nation-building. Later, policies limited couples to having only one child to curb runaway population growth.

During Xi’s tenure, new party slogans, such as “family, family education, and family virtues” or “pass on the red gene,” have emerged, accompanied by efforts to censor voices advocating for women’s rights. Recent actions, such as the removal of over a dozen accounts belonging to women’s rights groups on social media platforms like Weibo and Douban.com, reflect the government’s tightening grip on the discourse surrounding these issues.

As China eagerly awaits the results of a once-a-decade census, experts anticipate a significant drop in births in 2020, marking the fourth consecutive year of decline since the end of the one-child policy in 2016.

The state’s attempts to influence family dynamics have faced criticism, with many women in urban areas expressing a lack of urgency to marry and start families. These women are financially independent and prioritize their careers and personal interests over traditional family roles.

Liang Wei, a 28-year-old in Shanghai, has chosen to focus on her career and has informed her parents not to pressure her into marriage. Similarly, Caroline Chen, a 32-year-old personal trainer in Beijing, enjoys her single life and actively avoids discussions about marriage.

Surprisingly, most of these women resisting traditional family roles don’t identify as feminists. Instead, they represent a growing number of ordinary women pushing back against societal pressures to conform to traditional family norms.

The shift in attitudes towards marriage is evident in statistics. In 1990, nearly all Chinese women married before turning 30. By 2015, in cities like Shanghai, around one-fifth of women remained unmarried by their 30th birthday, according to estimates by sociology professor Wang Feng at the University of California, Irvine.

While President Xi promotes Confucian values and conservative views on women’s roles in the family as part of his “China Dream” for nationalist revival, many highly educated women reject these ideals, posing challenges for the government’s demographic goals.

China’s state-sponsored All-China Women’s Federation, which disseminates the Communist Party’s messaging on women, has remained tight-lipped amid this shifting landscape.

Despite Xi’s rhetoric advocating for the role of families as the foundation of society, and his calls for gender equality, Chinese marriage rates continue to decline. In 2019, China saw only 6.6 marriage registrations per 1,000 people, compared to 9.6 in 2014. The legacy of the one-child policy further exacerbates this trend by reducing the pool of eligible marriage-aged individuals.

To address rising divorce rates, Chinese authorities introduced a 30-day cooling-off period for couples seeking divorce. However, this waiting period can disproportionately disadvantage women in abusive marriages, further complicating the issue.

As more women take on the responsibility of family well-being, some argue that it resembles unpaid labor. Despite the government’s calls for “late marriage and late births,” many women, like Jiang Xinyu, who didn’t marry until the age of 31, have experienced the challenges of balancing familial duties with personal aspirations.

In the face of resistance from a younger generation and an evolving societal landscape, China’s top-down approach to family values faces an uphill battle. Perhaps people are not willing to listen to government edict that interfere with personal lives anymore. Perhaps they have learned the true lesson of the “one child” policy – the governments are not as smart as evolution, culture and the natural instincts of people.

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