The China Family Planning Association announced last week that it will launch 20 pilot programs in cities across China to “build a new-era marriage and childbearing culture,” as the state-run Global Times put it on Sunday. In other words, the regime in Beijing is once again looking for a way to hold off demographic collapse.
The Global Times said the launch of these “new-era marriage” programs was timed to coincide with the International Day of Families, a May 15 annual event inaugurated by the United Nations in 1993.
The U.N. said it was particularly concerned about fertility decline and “demographic change” on International Day of Families 2023 as almost every industrialized nation built its social welfare system around the assumption of constant population growth and a high ratio of young taxpayers to retirees:
Research indicates that decreasing fertility also increases women’s labor participation. On the other hand, fertility declines results in smaller families which are less likely to cope with care and other household obligations. As such in time of unemployment or illness, families have fewer members to rely on. Moreover, low fertility rates may undermine labor forces and social structures triggering drastic responses with hard to predict consequences for issues raging from social security to gender equality.
The Global Times quoted officials at last Thursday’s rollout event in Guangzhou who said the pilot programs will “focus on tasks including promoting marriage and having children at appropriate ages, encouraging parents to share child-rearing responsibilities, and curbing high ‘bride prices’ and other outdated customs.”
“These pilot regions are expected to take innovative and proactive measures to help foster childbearing-friendly atmospheres and contribute to advancing Chinese modernization with the support from the high-quality development of the population,” said China Family Planning Association vice president Yao Ying, putting things a bit more bluntly than any Western demographer would.
The Global Times recalled a spate of 20 pilot programs launched in 2022 as well, with venues including the national capital of Beijing, and implicitly acknowledged the older programs were not sufficient to arrest population decline.
The new focus, and the key concept behind the slogan of “new-era marriages,” is the problem of high “bride prices” — the ostensibly exorbitant cost of getting married, which usually includes a promise by the groom to present the bride’s family with a hefty financial gift known as caili.
The far-left New York Times (NYT) newspaper reported in March that Chinese Communist officials are arranging “symposiums” in which young women are pressured to sign pledges that they will not require “bride prices” of any kind.
The Chinese Communist Party has decreed caili is an archaic and insulting tradition that treats women as property to be purchased from their families — but the Party was, in turn, criticized for being sexist and patriarchal for treating women as golddiggers who compete to see who can bring in the highest bride price.
Some critics noted it was rather patriarchal of the Party to direct its no-caili seminars entirely at women and they chastised the Communists for forgetting that bride prices became popular during the harsh One-Child Policy years as a means of convincing families not to abort female children because they wanted their one child to be a more valuable boy.
The Global Times hinted that Chinese officials are blaming ancient marriage traditions and “bad social customs” for keeping young people from getting married and having children.
“The society needs to guide young people more on the concept of marriage and childbirth, and encourage young people to get married and have children,” demographer He Yafu told the Global Times.
Yao’s talk of “high-quality development of the population” clearly means children being raised by intact families. The Global Times noted that Chinese municipal governments are making a big push to hand out marriage licenses on Saturday — they are treating it almost like a job fair, with extra staff standing by at registration offices to tie those knots! — because the date “Five-Twenty” sounds like the Chinese phrase for “I love you.” (Chinese smartphone users sometimes text “520” to each other as shorthand for a declaration of love).
The Global Times concluded with the dour observation that none of these festivals and pilot programs seems to be changing the minds of young people with “low willingness to marry and have children,” possibly because none of the costs and incentives Beijing is attempting to tweak have nearly as much impact as the career and lifestyle sacrifices young people believe they will make by having children.