Strict quarantine measures in China may exacerbate the demographic crisis

And so, when a Shanghai family refused to be taken out of their home for government quarantine during the city’s sixth week of lockdown, a police officer warned them in what he thought would be a powerful threat to force them into submission – the future of their children.

“If you disobey the orders of the city government, you will be punished, and the punishment will affect three generations of your family,” said a policeman wearing a hazmat suit, pointing at the camera in a video posted on Chinese social media.

“We are the last generation, thank you,” the young man, who is not in the video, replied categorically, hinting that he does not plan to have children.

The video ended there, with no indication of whether the family was eventually taken away. But it has spread like wildfire across the Chinese internet, resonating with many young Chinese who are tired of growing pressure on them to have children — from a society and government that many say have provided them with little material and emotional security. which they need. to raise a child.

“At first I laughed, but in the end I felt a feeling of deep sadness. He is resisting by giving up his reproductive rights,” said a user on Weibo, a Chinese Twitter-like platform.

The continuation of the family line has long been a filial duty in traditional Chinese culture. But in today’s China, not having or postponing children has become a form of gentle resistance and silent protest against what many see as the frustrating reality they live in, with deep-seated structural problems stemming from the system they created. little power to change.

“This is a tragic expression of the deepest despair,” said Zhang Xuezhong, a human rights lawyer and former law professor from Shanghai. tweeted about video.

“We have been robbed of a future worth looking forward to. Perhaps this is the strongest condemnation of a young man of the era in which he lives.

Over the past decade, a growing number of Chinese millennials have put off—or outright rejected—marriage and childbearing as they face high job pressure, skyrocketing property prices, rising education costs, and workplace discrimination against mothers.
Last year, just 7.6 million Chinese couples got married, down 44% from 2013 and the lowest in 36 years. At the same time, the country’s birth rate fell to 7.5 births per 1,000 people, the lowest since the founding of communist China, with nine provinces and regions registering negative population growth.

The Chinese government is concerned. For decades, he strictly adhered to the one-child policy, which forced millions of women to terminate pregnancies that the state considered illegal. But as China’s birth rate plummeted, demographers warned of a looming demographic crisis.

Beijing ended its one-child policy in 2016 and loosened it further last year, allowing couples to have three children, and local governments are issuing a flurry of propaganda slogans and financial incentives to encourage more births, but the birth rate continues to plummet.

Some officials and political advisers turned a deaf ear to the demands of the youth. Last month, a law professor and delegate to the Jinzhou Municipal People’s Congress in Hubei Province suggested that in order to promote marriage and childbearing, the media should reduce or avoid coverage of “independent women” and “double income without children.” DINK) way of life” because they do not correspond to the “core values ​​of the country”. The proposal caused a backlash online.

As the pandemic drags on, frustration is only growing among many of the country’s younger generation.

Increasingly frequent and strict quarantines, and the chaos and tragedies they have caused, have made citizens aware of how fragile their rights are in the face of a state apparatus that does not tolerate dissent and a soulless bureaucracy trained to obey orders from above. little flexibility.

This is especially true of Shanghai, which is undergoing a seven-week strict quarantine. In the country’s richest and most glamorous city, residents are facing widespread food shortages, lack of medical care, and forced quarantines in spartan makeshift institutions. Authorities initially isolated young children from their parents and only changed course after a public outcry.

Growing frustration and anger erupted on Chinese social media and, in some cases, censorship. tried his best to keep up. Some residents protested from their windows, banging pots and pans and screaming in frustration. Others have clashed on the streets with police and medical workers, a rarity in a country where dissent is usually stifled.

Last week, local officials forced residents to turn in their keys after they were taken into quarantine so health workers could come in and soak their personal effects in disinfectant — with little scientific justification for their actions or concern for private property. rights.

For many residents, this was the last straw. Even their homes — their personal space and last refuge — could not be spared the zealous observance of the government’s zero-Covid policy. Some say their lives have been wasted in the pursuit of what officials consider “the highest good.” left powerless to protect their loved ones.

For many young people, the crisis unfolding in Shanghai is alarming. If even China’s most developed city, with the largest middle-class population, ostensibly the most open-minded bureaucrats, and the most cosmopolitan culture, cannot escape such authoritarian treatment, will other cities fare better?

“Who wants to have kids when it comes down to it? Who dares to have children?” asked a Weibo user.

“Your reign ends with me. And the suffering you have caused also ends with me,” said another.

The rapidly spreading anger soon attracted the attention of the censors. By Thursday evening, most of the videos had been removed from the Chinese internet. On Weibo, several related hashtags, from “We are the last generation” to “The last generation”, have been censored after sparking heated discussions.

But suppressing what young people want to say won’t help convince them to have children. On the contrary, it can only increase their discontent.

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