China’s state-run Global Times reported Tuesday that Shanghai is exploring a “pilot” program in which the government helps women who wish to have children but are not in a position to have them to freeze their eggs for future use.
The proposal follows years of panic at the highest levels of the Communist Party over China’s declining birth rate, which has continued to plummet despite dictator Xi Jinping easing the repressive “one-child policy” that governed Chinese families in 2015. The Mao-era “one-child policy” made it illegal for a woman to have more than one child, resulting in mass forced abortions, sterilizations, and infanticides.
The Chinese Communist Party has boasted the anti-childbirth policy “prevented” 400 million births, a toll that includes both abortions and killings of infants. A significant percentage of those whose lives were “prevented” were girls, resulting in a devastating sex imbalance in the Chinese population that has contributed to the decline in the birth rate.
The Global Times described the proposed egg freezing program as a particular help for women who have undergone treatment for cancer, which often leads to infertility. The plan is reportedly the brainchild of attorney Qin Suo, a “professional woman who gave birth at an advanced maternal age.” The propaganda newspaper identified Qin as a local government official in addition to her day job as a lawyer.
“Three political advisors in Shanghai proposed to set up a public frozen egg bank in a pilot exploration scheme to help women in need, especially cancer patients who might lose fertility after receiving medical treatment,” the Times narrated. “[T] he political advisors suggested setting up a public egg bank and carrying out centralized management on frozen eggs to raise efficiency.”
The outlet quoted Qin as stating that the United States considers freezing women’s eggs a “standard medical service” and that China has much to gain from following that example. Among the hurdles the program would face is the fact that the Communist Party in Shanghai strictly regulates who has access to egg-freezing, limiting the list to “couples with a history of infertility and cancer patients who expect to preserve their fertility before undergoing surgery or chemotherapy.” Most preservation of eggs is not freezing in China, however, which means most expire after five years, the newspaper noted.
Chinese state media have been advocating for the Communist Party to implement programs that not just repeal limitations on having children, but actively incentivize couples to do so given the dire state of the country’s birth rate. The latest available data show that 14.65 million babies were born in China in 2019, a record-low in this century and a number last documented in China in 1961, at the height of Mao-era persecution and poverty. A scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Yi Fuxian, called that number “seriously overestimated” and claimed the true number of births that year was closer to 10 million.
A growing population is necessary for a healthy economy, given that older citizens retire or otherwise exit the workforce, leaving vacancies that need to be filled. Experts expect that the 2020 birth rate will be significantly lower than 2019’s given the extreme coronavirus lockdowns that China implemented nationwide and the crisis status of many of its hospitals, in which overcrowding could result in an increase in infant or maternal mortality.
Chinese experts believe that the nation’s population will begin to decline in 2028.
China Daily, another state-run propaganda newspaper, warned in December that “simply allowing a couple to have a second child does not mean they will have one, as the costs of raising children, escalating housing prices and mounting career pressures on women dampen couples’ desire to have more children.”
“The development will have wide social and economic implications. For instance, if the country’s labor productivity has not reached a certain level, the decrease in working-age population means the decline of national wealth,” China Daily noted. “On the other hand, the increase in the elderly population will raise the burden on the economy and society. In fact, some provinces are already struggling to meet the pension demands.”
The Chinese Communist Party, it urged, must help “improve people’s livelihoods” to encourage expanding families.
The Global Times this week highlighted, in a bizarrely positive fashion given the general disposition of the Party on the topic, the revelation by two Chinese celebrities that they had secretly had a baby together out of wedlock.
“Some netizens supported the celebrities’ choice, saying that raising children should not be automatically tied to marriage,” the Times noted, referring to online users of Chinese social media. The Communist Party strictly regulates opinions on its social media platforms, meaning the support for the two celebrities would only appear on the sites if the government wished it to.
The “one-child” policy and subsequent remaining limitations on family expansion apply only to ethnic Han Chinese citizens. Ethnic minorities are legally allowed to expand their families further, but are subject to much more brutal methods of birth “control.” In Western China, the Communist Party has pursued a campaign of forcibly sterilizing Uyghur women, which the U.S. government deemed “genocide” last week.
The Chinese government has defended the forced sterilization of Uyghurs by stating that it made them “no longer baby-making machines.”