It has been a long time since Liu Jinghu and his wife enjoyed a weekend to themselves. Saturdays and Sundays in smoggy Beijing are dedicated to their only child, 2-year-old son Xiaojing: there are early childhood exercise classes, singing sessions with other families and Lego-building sprees in a living room scattered with toys. Looming in their minds is the specter of expensive tutoring to get their toddler into a good school and, further into the future, the pressure to buy their son an apartment so he can persuade a woman to marry him.
Liu and his wife were themselves only children in a nation teeming with singletons because of China's one-child policy, which was unveiled in 1979 as a quick fix for a poor, populous society. The couple's lack of siblings means they are legally allowed to have two children. But Liu says he doesn't have the time, money or mental strength for another kid. "We don't want to spend our lives working just [for our child]," he says. "We want more from life than that."
The world's most populous nation, 1.35 billion strong, will soon have too few people or, rather, too few of the right kind of people. That's because more than three decades of government-mandated family planning, often called the one child policy, have succeeded beyond the architects' grandest dreams.
Ironically, the one-child policy now threatens to undermine the very economic success it helped spawn.