Various types of campaigns to manage the size of the population started as early as the mid-1950s. Generally speaking, they were targeted at women. The early campaigns concentrated on family planning rather than on population reduction, but it was obvious that all aspects of birth control were considered to be a female responsibility. This impression was strengthened further by the fact that the person in charge of the implementation of the policy was the (local) representative of the Women's Federation - usually a woman. In the period of mass upheaval that marked the Great Leap Forward, there was no time and no political inclination to address population issues.
As early as 1956, the term "planned childbirth" (jihua shengyu 计划生育) began to buzz around the various departments that were caught up in the planning campaign resulting from the relative successes of the First Five Year Plan. While most leaders continued to advocate birth control rather than birth planning, the latter increasingly became the guiding doctrine. Even Mao supported this development, endorsing the need for birth planning in public at various occasions in 1956-1957.
Contraceptives became widely available only in 1962, coinciding with the reaffirmation of the need for birth planning work. It was seen as key component of the exonomic recovery strategy following the grain and food crisis of the failed Great Leap. Even during the Cultural Revolution, and in particular after 1969, steady progress was made with setting up an administrative framework for planning policies. Yet, family planning remained voluntary until 1970. In that year, and again with Mao's explicit blessing, a beginning was made with a sustained attempt to implement family planning as part of a policy to reduce the birth rate to 2%.
To bring this about, a new model of family size was propagated, accompanied by such slogans as "later, spaced and few", and "one's not too few, two will do, and three are too many for you", limiting each couple to two children. Zhou Enlai was the proponent behind this plan, which was unevenly enforced.
In contrast with the first two decades following 1949, when family planning had been voluntary and the final decision to adopt birth control methods had been left to the couples themselves, some attempts now were made to implement the policy according to a quota system.
To publicize this campaign, a nation-wide network was set up to provide family planning services, in the form of committees for planned birth work, which were organized at every administrative level. The cadres working here - often, but not always women - were made responsible for family planning education. The delivery of contraceptives was closely tied in with the provision of basic health care by local clinics in urban areas and by the barefoot doctors in the countryside. Other means of birth control (IUD, abortion, sterilization) were provided free of charge.
The medical means of birth control were supplemented with the personal approach and peer group pressure in the small group (xiaozu 小组). In factories, enterprises, urban streets and rural villages, women were divided into small groups headed by a family planning worker, who organized the meetings and met with each member individually. Birth quotas were passed downwards through the administrative hierarchy until each small group received its allocated number of births. Thus, decisions regarding family size became subjected to intervention by the state in the form of controlled peer or group pressure.
Elisabeth Croll, Delia Davin, Penny Kane (eds), China's One-Child Policy (London, etc.: MacMillan, 1985)
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)