Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 4
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Only-child stereotypes do not apply—especially in China

Besides questions about the  independence  of Tibet  and Taiwan, the “only child question” ranks third on the list of the questions I have been asked as an international student from China: Are you an only child? Do all Chinese families have one child? Will families get fined if they have more than one child? I have also gotten lots of “wows” when I tell people I am indeed the only child in my family.

There are lots of only children in China. In 1978, the one-child policy was formally implemented in China, aimed at controlling the growth of the population and improving the quality of life. Every family can only have one child, except ethnic minorities or those under special situations, such as countryside couples who have only one daughter.

I grew up as an only child in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, in the northern part of China. Most of my classmates before I went to university were only children. Some of them had siblings because they were twins or because their families really wanted a boy so they paid a fine to get another shot.

Having a preference for boys is the main reason that some Chinese families have a second child. Due to this preference, there have been many more men than women in China. On Nov. 25, 2010, People’s Daily, the national newspaper run by the central government in China, reported, “The gender ratio of Chinese aged below 19 is seriously imbalanced. By 2020, the number of Chinese men at marriageable age will outnumber their female peers by 24 million,” which means  many of them will never be able to marry a Chinese girl in the future. As for me, I don’t think people should have any preferences over the sex of their children to break the natural balance.

Before I went to university, I thought that almost all Chinese families had only one child. However, after entering university, my understanding of the one-child policy totally changed.

I studied at Shantou University, Guangdong Province, which is in the southern part of China. To my surprise, most of my classmates had siblings, and some of them even had five sisters or brothers. Later, my professor, Peter Herford, who was the former news director of CBS and producer of “60 Minutes,” told me that actually in rural areas, especially the parts which were far away from the central government, people seldom practiced the one-child policy. Still, according to the National Population and Family Planning Commission of P.R. China, the one-child policy has helped China to reduce its population growth by 400 million.

So what is wrong with being an only child? I was surprised when I found out the stereotypes of only children, such as being spoiled, dependent and selfish. I don’t think I, or most of my only-child friends, fit into these stereotypes.

Of course, I get more resources and attention growing up as an only child because I am the future of my family and my parents want me to be good, more than good. They send me to the best schools and give me the best things they can afford. However, they don’t spoil me. They still teach me right and wrong and chastise me when I make trouble. They don’t make me dependent. They always let me make my own choices in life, from quitting piano when I was four to choosing where I want to study for graduate school next year. They don’t let me be selfish; they teach me to share things with others, from giving away candies in kindergarten to sharing success with my friends.

Having grown up in the United States as an only child, Tao Large, a sophomore at Whitman, also disagrees with these stereotypes. He sometimes even feels annoyed when people put only children into these negative stereotypes. Moreover, he thinks that, as an only child, he is closer to his parents and therefore the decisions he makes in life will have a bigger influence on them, which reminds him to be responsible. He does not think that he is any different from his peers because of being an only child.

Being an only child or a sibling does not change who we are. Wherever in the world: the United States, China or Canada: the spoiled, dependent or selfish people are not necessarily from families with a single child. Therefore, stereotypes about only children are mistaken. Being an only child is no different; they are just as common as everyone.

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  • E

    EstherNov 3, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    Actually, in rural areas you are still allowed to have a second child. My psychologist happened to be born in 1979, the year the policy became official, and she told me, “Yeah, but if it’s another girl [usually those who want a second child have a daughter already], that’s it – they are not allowed more than two children. And where I lived in Shandong, all my peers were only children.”

  • J

    JanelNov 3, 2011 at 10:29 am

    Thanks so much for this. Only children are so stigmatized for a birth order we didn’t choose.