In the vast majority of countries, what these men and women did was not heroic at all. It was easy. Indeed, it was almost a matter of letting nature take its course. But the country we’re talking about is China. And what these men and women did was have more than one child.
What’s striking about this procreation is that since 1979, the Chinese Communist Party has ruthlessly implemented its infamous one-child policy. With just two exceptions - for some rural families whose first child is a girl, or when both members of a couple came from one-child families - this has meant that most Chinese parents have been restricted to one child.
The effect of what is one of the most spectacular social-engineering projects ever undertaken has been profound. In the early 1970s, the United Nations reported that Chinese birth rates were up at about 4.77 children per woman. By 2011, this figure had plummeted to 1.64 children per woman – a birth rate that the Chinese state now considers too low. The one-child rule also helped to create the world’s most unbalanced sex ratios at birth, with current estimates suggesting that there are 33million more men in China than women.
But demographic data doesn’t tell the whole story. The effect of the one-child policy has also been brutal. There have been innumerable reports of forced abortion, infanticide and involuntary sterilisations. And less severe, but still disheartening, others report crippling fines dished out for exceeding the one-child limit, plus the loss of employment, and ongoing persecution by local authorities. Little wonder that the CCP’s body for dealing with people’s reproductive habits, the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC), comprises over 500,000 public servants.
To consciously have a second child, then, is a significant act in China. It is an open invitation for the state to step in and mete out its financial and sometimes physical punishment. But over the past decade there have been increasing numbers of people willing to take that risk - not just Chinese citizens from rural communities where ‘overprocreation’ can be concealed or excused more easily, but wealthier professionals from urban areas, too.