Population Policy - Part 2
Propaganda posters were widely employed in the 'one child'-campaign, which started in 1979 in an attempt to deal with the staggering increase of the population in the 1960s and 1970s and to curb the projected problematic growth in the future. This campaign went much further than the "late, spaced and few"-campaign that had been started in the early 1970s. Reflecting the traditional educational purposes of the posters, special materials were produced that paid attention to aspects of reproduction, sexuality and conception. The responsible departments for these educational materials could range from ministries to local population policy centers.
'Posters popularizing the science of family planning' explained the mechanism of human reproduction, and the various available methods to limit one's offspring to a single child. They were produced for use in glass display cases erected in streets or for community rooms. Such educational posters included explanations about what a woman feels when she is pregnant, the use of condoms, etc. It should be no surprise that such posters in many cases contributed in a major way to an increase of the general sexual knowledge of many people, something that often was lacking.
In order to communicate the message that the offspring of a couple from now on should be limited to one child, traditional visual elements from nianhua (New Year prints) were used that were known to appeal to the people. The pictures featuring chubby baby boys and gold carp attracted the population of both rural and urban areas, whether or not they contained slogans to the effect that 'one is better.'
In other posters, young people still were called upon to marry later, to conceive later and have less children, as illustrated by the two posters below, which includes a calendar for 1988. Such urgings echoed the population policies espoused in the early 1970s.
Western bridal clothes were not the only indication that the people's livelihood was improving. Various elements of economic development started to creep into the more traditional poster-design. This started with highrise buildings in the background, and ended with the use of Western imagery: space ships, atomic symbols, even remote controls. The visual element that many of these posters have in common is the dove; this bird is not presented as the traditional emblem of long life, but as the internationally accepted icon of peace.
As the campaign progressed, the aim of having fewer children was equated with an increase in the national development of wealth for all. The single child would contribute to the national policy of modernization and reform. With fewer children to take care of, the 'inherent quality' of those children that were born would improve. By the mid-1980s, the urgings to limit the number of children increasingly were grounded in authoritative scientific justifications that stressed that in this way, the gene pool could be improved. These arguments were given a legal character in the mid-1990s with the introduction of legislation to promote eugenics. A recurring argument was that parents could concentrate on their single child and devote more time to their upbringing.
What really leaps out from these posters is their urban bias, and this should give food for thought about the effectiveness of the 'One Child'-campaign as a whole. In general, urban couples were more amenable to the goals of the campaign than their rural counterparts and abided more easily to the stipulations. City dwellers were confronted almost on a daily basis with the crippling effects the huge population had on the local infrastructure and the availability of housing. The control network of the population representative of the urban neighborhood committees also was much more comprehensive than that of her rural counterpart. These considerations all contributed to the fact that the policy on the whole was more successful in the cities. In the countryside, on the other hand, the population pressure was felt much less. Population representatives had fewer opportunities to keep track of births. As a result of the rural reforms, having many children was seen as a sure way to earn more income. In fact, many peasants considered the fines that had to be paid when more children were born as a small investment that the children would repay manifold in the future. Moreover, having as many children as possible still was seen as the only way to ensure that the parents would be looked after in their old age. And lastly, the lingering influence of ancestor worship made it imperative that at least one child would be male. In short, the lack of propaganda posters explicitly addressing the 'One Child'-policy in rural terms has been simply astonishing.
More posters on population policy:
Vanessa L. Fong, Only Hope - Coming of Age under China's One-Child Policy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004)
Tyrene White, China's Longest Campaign - Birth Planning in the People's Republic, 1949-2005 (Ithaca, etc.: Cornell University Press, 2006)