By Mei Fong
Oct. 31, 2015
Two years ago, I found myself massaging a complete stranger. He, in turn, rubbed my shoulders, amid the organisers’s cries to “give it a good pounding!”. He and I had been put in a group, made to chant “love slogans” and introduce ourselves in quick succession to a circle of people in avid search of marriage partners. Everything was deathly serious, and about as romantic as someone expectorating. It was a singles mixer organised by Jiayuan, one of China’s biggest matchmaking agencies, where I went to research modern dating habits. The Nasdaq-listed Jiayuan, unabashedly using the stock ticker symbol DATE, held enormously popular events, some attracting tens of thousands of participants.
My dating foray was part of a larger exploration into the effects of China’s one-child policy, the name commonly applied to the set of curbs put in place 35 years ago to slow its population growth. Though known as “one-child”, the policy was riddled with exceptions that allowed some to have more than one child, depending on your profession, where you lived and how much you were willing to pay in penalties, a system that was enormously confusing even for people within China, let alone outside.
Last week, Beijing announced a loosening of these regulations, allowing couples nationwide to have two children. But the move, done to mitigate a looming demographic crisis, will do little to avert the damaging consequences that affect the daily lives of ordinary Chinese citizens. We are used to thinking of the one-child policy in extremes. Forced abortions. Sterilisations. Infanticide. In truth, it had a stronger and more insidious impact, shaping how one-sixth of the world live, love and die. People in China debating questions such as who to marry, what jobs to choose, how to buy a place to live or how to have a comfortable old age have had the answers to these questions shaped by the policy.