China eases ‘one-child’ rule, ends labor camps

For decades, the two policies have defined the state’s power to control citizens’ lives.



“This step is really, I think, the middle step toward allowing all couples to have two children, and eventually taking away the state’s hand,” demographer Wang Feng said of China’s move to relax its one-child family restrictions.

DAVID PIERSON — Los Angeles Times

HONG KONG — The changes were announced in a Communist Party decision that also laid out broad and potentially far-reaching proposals to restructure the economy by encouraging greater private participation in finance, vowing market competition in several important parts of the economy and promising farmers better property protection and compensation for confiscated land.

Senior party officials, led by President Xi Jinping, endorsed the 60 initiatives at a four-day Central Committee conference that ended Tuesday, but the details were released Friday. Xi described the document as a bold call for economic renewal, social improvement and patriotic nation-building — all under the firm control of one-party rule.

“We must certainly have the courage and conviction to renew ourselves,” he said in a statement accompanying the decision. Both were issued by the official news agency, Xinhua.

For decades, most urban couples have been restricted to having one child. That has been changing fitfully, with rules on the books that couples can have two children if both parents are single children. But that policy will now be further relaxed nationwide.

Many rural couples already have two children, and some have more.

If carried through, the relaxation would be the first significant nationwide easing of family-size restrictions that have been in place since the 1970s, said Wang Feng, a demographer who teaches at both the University of California, Irvine, and Fudan University in Shanghai.

He estimated the policy could lead to 1 to 2 million more births in China every year, on top of the approximately 15 million births a year now.

“This shift is historical,” Wang said. “It’s fundamental. To change the mentality of the society of policymakers has taken people more than a decade.”

The one-child restrictions were introduced to deal with official fears that China’s population would devour too many resources and suffocate growth. But they have created public ire and international criticism over forced abortions, and have created a population of 1.34 billion, according to a 2010 census, that is aging relatively rapidly, even before China establishes a firm foothold in prosperity. Experts have for years urged some relaxation of the controls.

The party leaders also confirmed an announcement made earlier this year, and then abruptly retracted, that they intend to abolish “re-education through labor,” which since the 1950s has empowered police authorities to imprison people without any real judicial review.

“This is a significant step forward,” said Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher who specializes in China with Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization with headquarters in New York.

“It doesn’t mean that China is going to be kinder to dissent and to its critics,” Bequelin said. “But it’s an important step to do away with a system that not only profoundly violated human rights, but was also standing in the way of any further legal reform.”

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