Chinese living in big cities are only allowed one child. Though there are exceptions to the rule, they do not apply to Yang Zhizhu, who is now taking the Beijing Family Planning Commission to court.
There have been strict rules in place for 30 years to prevent couples from having more than one child in urban areas. But there are always people who try to take on the authorities, for example, one father of two in Beijing, who not only lost his job when his wife had their second child, but also got fined 27,000 euros.
Yang Zhizhu is playing with his daughters. Yang Ruoyi is almost five and her little sister, Yang Ruolan, will soon be one. It is quite cramped in their three-room flat in the north of Beijing. Yang Zhizhu, a university lecturer, lives there with his wife and two children and his father. Clothes are hanging out to dry on the balcony; there is a child’s bicycle in the hallway and Yang, 44 years old, is hunched over a tiny desk in one of the very crowded rooms.
The Yangs were a normal family until they broke the one-child policy by having their second child. In March last year, right after the birth of his second daughter, Yang Zhizhu was suspended from his position at Beijing University. Not only that, he said, but "afterwards they reduced my salary of around 550 euros per month. In the summer they further reduced my wages. Since then, I have only received 100 euros per month. And then I got the fine for my second child – it will cost 27,000 euros."
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Yang’s wife is unemployed. The likelihood that he will be able to pay back the money is thus next to non-existent. He will never be able to raise so much money. But that is not the only reason he is taking Beijing’s Family Planning Commission to court. He also wants to create awareness of the injustices of family planning. He said it is normal to want to have children: "having children is like eating, it is one of mankind’s basic needs and we don’t need any laws to regulate that."
But the authorities don’t see it that way. People who break the one-child laws can expect to pay around ten times the average annual income in fines. They call it a "child rearing fee." A rights group based in Hong Kong has recently released a report on couples subjected to one-child-policy penalties. It said those who do not pay can expect reprisals, violence and can even be arrested. But these stories hardly ever make it into the public sphere.
While the measures are harsh, there are many exceptions to the one-child-rule. Married couples living in rural areas are usually allowed to have two children if the first-born was a girl. In Beijing, couples can have a second child if both parents are only-children. And in the east of China, near Shanghai and Guangzhou, authorities are considering making the rules more lenient in order to stop the population decline in urban areas. But Beijing remains firm, and none of the exceptions apply to Yang Zhizhu and his wife. Ren Qiang, a population expert at Beijing University, said he does not think the rules are just: "when it comes to human rights and equality, the same rules should apply to all. It is unjust to have certain rules that apply only to certain groups of people."
Professor Ren and other academics have long since been advocating for more lenient family planning laws, for one, to prevent the drastic ageing of Chinese society. But Chinese authorities do not seem keen on reforms. They claim had it not been for the one-child-policy, there would be 400 million more people living in China today. That would have dramatically slowed down the fight against poverty. Li Bin, head of the National Population and Family Planning Commission said individuals must heed what is good for the collective. "The economy is like a cake. The bigger the cake, the better. But we have to keep the number of people who want to eat the cake as low as possible and only allow their numbers to grow slowly.”
For Yang Zhizhu and his daughters Li Bin’s words are as cynical as ever. He said it is unfair that just because he lives in Beijing, he is being punished for his second child. And if he doesn’t pay the 27,000 euros, the authorities have already threatened to seize his assets. He does not really believe he will win his case against family planning, as the commissions have far too much influence in China. But he hopes his case will at least bring the controversial one-child-policy to the public eye and inspire people to think about it.
Author: Ruth Kirchner (sb)
Editor: Thomas Baerthlein