This is not an extract from Li’s book, The New Chinese, but it is such an important development in recent Chinese history that I thought it deserved its own post. There are plenty of accurately researched articles about the policy’s history and about how it was/is implemented that can be easily found; this article will be more a gathering of threads together to explore what the One-Child Policy, and the recent revoking of it into a Two-Child Policy, means in an Australian context.
There’s a lot of babies in this chapter. I myself am not overly fond of newborns (I’m told my opinion will change when my friends or I start having children. I’ll wait to believe it.) but it seems that China, between 1949 and 1979, was. If you’ve ever wondered what was happening to China’s population when the one-child-policy was bought in, here’s the breakdown according to Li:
I’m taking a quick side-step on my discussion of Barry Li’s book The New Chinese: How They Are Changing Australia to briefly discuss the Cultural Revolution. This event, from 1966 – 1976 is significant in the lives of the next two generations Li covers in this chapter – those of the Chinese Gen X and the Chinese Baby Boomers. Understanding the way in which the Cultural Revolution shaped the lives and mindset of millions of Chinese is important in understanding how they act today, and the manner of influence they have on the younger generation.
If you’ve read my previous passage on 80后then you’ll know that 90后 refers to the Chinese generation born between 1990 – 1999 (congrats on your Mandarin 101 Learning!). If I had been born in China this is where I would fit in.
80后 hòu is the Chinese term used to describe someone born between 1980 and 1989. This is the generation that Barry Li, author of The New Chinese, belongs to. This is a generation of a rapidly changing environment from post Cultural Revolution to technology, infrastructure and an opening up to the West.
Li describes growing up in Suzhou (China’s version of Oldtown from Westeros) with his great-aunt and his cousin (who really was actually the daughter of his grandmother’s adopted daughter. Complicated. For all intents and purposes, he calls her his sister, which is the done thing among the one-child generations. It used to confuse me a lot when students I used to teach in Beijing would tell me of their multiple brothers and sister; for a long time I thought it was just an English error they were making.)
I come to Barry Li’s book, The New Chinese: How They Are Changing Australia, with a little bit of background knowledge of China and the Chinese, having studied Mandarin for several years at high school and university, and having been to China four times, most recently having lived in Beijing for eight months. What I’m searching for here is something that fills the gaps of my knowledge, such as the difference between the psyche of Chinese people in China and the Chinese people in Australia. I’m certain there must be one; the world of urban Australia dining on breakfast until early afternoon, coffee and chatter spilling out onto footpaths sometimes seems realms away from the myriad of China’s alleyways, where tiny ‘hole-in-a-wall’ restaurants serve noodle and rice dishes without ceremony; where a central subway train arrives at least ever six minutes and bank cards are nearly obsolete to mobile payments; where large sections of the community still purchase fresh produce every day from local outdoor markets, the refrigerator used scarcely. I’m having trouble adjusting back to Australian life even after just a short time away – how does one who has lived a majority of their life in China transition to life here, or is it not so much of a step? That’s what I’m reading to find out.