Photo Credit: Flickr.com – Poster for One Child Policy by Zhang Zhenhua, 1986.

Growing up, being a single child never stood out for me. When I was born in 1998, it had been almost two decades since the announcement of One Child Policy — almost all my classmates and friends are only children. For my grandparents’ generation, it is common for a family to have more than three children. When it comes to my parents, my mother has two siblings and father only has one. This process of gradually having less children in the family was drastically pushed by the One Child Policy. When I was born, it was certain that I would be the only child in the family. 

In some way, One Child Policy forces families who hold traditional values to accept both male and female children equally. In a family that has both a boy and a girl, girls often have more of a chance of being treated unfairly, especially if the parents and grandparents hold traditional beliefs and value boys over girls.

But if a family only has one child, no matter if it is a boy or a girl, there won’t be any unfair treatment. A large number of single daughters receive resources and support from their parents, a result influenced by the One Child Policy. But issues caused by One Child Policy also exist. For example, hospitals often don’t allow expected parents to know the gender of their child beforehand, for fear that they might decide to have abortion if they don’t want a girl. One of my classmates who isn’t a single child told me that her family decided to take the risk and have her because originally the doctor told them she was a boy. 

I am fortunate that my family are not influenced by some of the traditional gender values. I was never treated differently for being a girl in the family. I am the only grandchild who lives in the same city as my grandparents, and when my male cousins come to visit, all of the grandchildren are treated equally, regardless of gender.

For me, one of the biggest disadvantages of being a single child is the lack of the company from children of my own age. I remember the stories that my parents told me about sharing a room with their siblings growing up, and wishing to have their own space. However, for me, as an only child who had a lot of alone time, having a younger sibling was one of the things that I longed for. When not in school with friends, I often feel lonely, especially during the long summer break — a feeling I found out later that was shared among many other single children. I would spend a long day staying at home by myself, reading books and biking around the neighborhood. 

When I was born in the late 1990s, the conflicts and resistances that arose as a result of the One Child Policy in the beginning had mostly been erased. Unlike people in the city, people in the countryside tended to want more children to help out on farms and so on. As a result, I hardly ever realized my identity as a single child while growing up. In 2016, the Chinese government announced the end of One Child Policy and the beginning of two children policy. In 2019, I can see more and more families with two young children in the streets of China. Being a single child and growing up in the historic single children phenomenon leaves me, and people like me, with a unique experience and identity.

-Mengshu Ye
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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