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China's 'Digital Parents' Provide Comfort and Support to Millions Online

2024-05-16 15:12:01.053000

China is taking steps to boost its falling birth rate by censoring online videos that portray unhappy Chinese families. The government fears that these videos will discourage young Chinese from having families. Hundreds of videos from online platforms Douyin and Kuaishou have been removed. Despite the removal of these videos, fakes of the original videos continue to appear online [321119b8].

China's population decline continues to be a pressing issue for the country. In 2023, the population declined for the second consecutive year, reaching 1.409 billion, a decrease of 2.08 million people from the previous year. The birth rate also hit a record low of 6.39 births per 1,000 people. These demographic challenges are a result of various factors, including an aging population, a decrease in birth rates, and the legacy of the one-child policy [f39e9481].

China's birth rate continues to drop, with 20,000 kindergartens closing in the past two years. The number of kindergartens in China dropped from 294,800 in 2021 to 289,200 in 2022, and in 2023, the number of kindergartens dropped dramatically. More than half of kindergartens in China are privately funded. Increasing the teacher-student ratio could help improve the quality of preschool education [f122fb52].

The declining birth rate will have a lasting impact on China's prosperity. Children are seen as economic hope for the future, as they support consumption and investment. The decline in birth rate is negatively correlated with household consumption [f122fb52].

The costs of child-rearing are often cited as a reason for small families in China. However, there is no direct link between fertility rates and average incomes. Ethnic minorities in China, who had different one-child rules applied to them, tend to desire larger families. This suggests that cultural and social factors also play a significant role in shaping fertility preferences [f39e9481].

China's leaders should be concerned about the low fertility rates and the long-term consequences. The declining population and skewed population structure pose challenges for economic growth, social welfare systems, and the overall stability of the country. Efforts to encourage more births, such as relaxing the one-child policy and providing financial incentives, have had limited success. It is clear that addressing the low fertility rates will require a comprehensive approach that takes into account not only economic factors but also cultural and social dynamics [f39e9481].

China's population decline is not an isolated issue. Other East Asian countries, such as Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, also face low birth rates and aging populations. These countries are grappling with similar challenges and are exploring various strategies to address the issue. It is crucial for China to learn from the experiences of these countries and collaborate on finding effective solutions [f39e9481].

China's declining birth rate due to the one-child policy has led to a demographic decline. In 2023, China recorded 9 million births compared to 17 million in 2017, resulting in an overall population decline of 2 million people. The Chinese Communist Party implemented the one-child policy in 1980 to address concerns about overpopulation, but birth rates continued to decline even after the policy was softened in 2016. China has responded by providing financial incentives to parents and changing family law, but many women remain uninterested in having children [f24c38f9].

Hong Kong is also experiencing a significant decline in student enrolments. The number of six-year-olds expected to start Primary One in Hong Kong is projected to decline by 36% over six years, from 49,600 this year to 31,500 in 2029. Yau Tsim Mong and Tsuen Wan will be the hardest-hit districts, with a projected 70% decline in Primary One enrolments. The primary school sector has described this prediction as 'very shocking' and is urging the government to lower the headcount threshold for operating a single class from 23 to 20 pupils to avoid further school closures. The number of 12-year-olds starting Form One is also expected to drop by 20% from 68,300 this year to 54,300 in 2029. The government has not proposed any new measures to address the shrinking student population [33b02f49].

Creators Jiang Xiuping and Pan Huqian, a viral Douyin duo, act as fictional parents, providing solace to young adults and adolescents amidst economic inequalities and a scarcity of mental health support in China. Their account, named “Sharing everyday moments with our daughter,” has attracted more than a million followers on Douyin. The videos, which depict an idealized image of middle-class families, appeal to the unhappy children who have grown up without the same parental support. In rural China, tens of millions of “left-behind” children are typically raised by their grandparents, as their parents migrate to the cities for work. A preference for sons has led to daughters growing up under discrimination. Pan and Jiang comfort viewers during vulnerable moments, whether that is a breakup or a failed exam. In the comment section, some followers say they are experiencing familial love for the first time. Internet users globally have resorted to social media for affection from virtual parental figures. In China, creators on Douyin and social network Xiaohongshu have also played virtual parent roles by cooking for viewers, taking them to supermarkets, and picking them up from school. China’s wealth inequality leads to disparate experiences, making many children feel as if they missed out. Pan and Jiang’s own childhoods reflect how China’s wealth inequality leads to disparate experiences. Though they act like happy parents on camera, the couple said their lives were difficult in reality. Outside of work, they try to live up to their reputation as everyone’s digital parents. One follower, whose parents had passed away, asked for a video of Pan and Jiang appearing in their dream as the deceased parents [36ed1266].

In conclusion, China's low fertility rates and the legacy of the one-child policy continue to pose significant challenges for the country. The declining population, skewed population structure, and cultural factors all contribute to the complex nature of the issue. Addressing the low fertility rates will require a multi-faceted approach that considers economic, cultural, and social factors. China's leaders must prioritize this issue and work towards finding sustainable solutions that ensure a stable and prosperous future for the country [f39e9481].

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