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For the past 35 years, most families in China could have only one child. Today, the ruling Communist Party announced the end of that policy. Now the limit has been increased to two kids. Coming up, we'll ask what this means for women in the world's most populous country. First, NPR's Anthony Kuhn begins our coverage with this report from Beijing.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Forty-five-year-old Li Mei (ph) is standing on a corner, selling balloons. She's from rural Hunan province, and when I tell her that the one-child policy has been scrapped, a big smile spreads across her ruddy face.
LI MEI: (Through interpreter) I'm happy to hear that. Everyone wants to have a second child, but the fines are a burden on us. But that's the policy, and we can't fight it.
KUHN: She says the government fined her hundreds of dollars because she had three kids in violation of the policy. But she says it was worth it. In the countryside, some folks will pay anything to have more kids. In the cities, raising kids is more expensive, and people don't want more children even if they're allowed to have them. That's how hotel worker Li Meng Jing (ph) sees it. He welcomes a future China with a smaller population.
LI MENG JING: (Through interpreter) Having a lot of people is troublesome. You have to line up to get on a bus or do just about anything. It's not like in other countries where everyone's so orderly.
KUHN: In recent years, China's society has visibly aged. Its labor pool has shrunk, and its economy has slowed. Experts argue that even ending the one-child policy now, it's too late to avoid a demographic crisis. University of Wisconsin population expert Yi Fuxian predicts that without any family planning, China's population would peak at a maximum of 1.6 billion and then start to decline. So the one-child policy was completely unnecessary from the start. But he says it's hard for Beijing to admit that, hence the two-child policy.
YI FUXIAN: (Through interpreter) The Chinese government is concerned with losing face. If they scrapped all family planning at once, that would imply that the policy we've been following for the last 35 years was wrong. How would ordinary people feel about that?
KUHN: Yi points to China's wealthier neighbors, such as Taiwan and South Korea. Governments there encourage citizens to have more kids, he notes, but they still can't get their populations to grow. Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.
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