Take a quiz on China's one child policy

Timeline of China's population and related policies

  • Communist leader Mao Zedong

    August 1949: U.S.: Can China feed itself?

    U.S. Secretary of State Dean Acheson in China White Paper writes: "The first problem which every Chinese government has had to face is that of feeding its population. So far, none have succeeded."

    September, 1949: Mao: Large population is "good"

    Communist leader Mao Zedong, in direct response to Acheson, retorts that a large population is "a very good thing ... Of all things in the world, people are the most precious."

    October 1, 1949: Mao declares People's Republic of China

    Communist party chairman Mao Zedong the founding of the People's Republic of China in Beijing's Tiananmen Square: "The Chinese people have stood up." China's population: 550 million.

  • birth control records

    February 27, 1957: Mao waffles on birth control

    Chairman Mao Zedong: "People have no plan for reproduction. That's anarchy. Human beings should control themselves and grow in number in accordance with the plan." That philosophy was later turned into policy as illustrated in this photo of a women's birth, IUC and sterilization record.

  • Great Leap Forward

    1958-1961: 30 million die of starvation

    30 million Chinese die and many more suffer from famine and state-planning disaster known as the Great Leap Forward. Era of scarcity influences future population debate. This photo shows the two Mao and Deng durnig the Great Leap Forward.

  • 1963: Later, Longer, Fewer "voluntary" trial begins

    Voluntary pilot program begins in Wendeng County, Shandong. It encourages couples to delay marriage, extend intervals between children, and have fewer children. Source: Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng's China, Susan Greenhalgh

  • Population Bomb

    1968: Best-seller The Population Bomb is published

    Author Paul Ehrlich controversial book warns of global population crisis: "Underdeveloped countries of the world face a population-food crisis ... a minimum of 10 million people, most of them children, will starve to death during each year of the 1970s." Get the book.

  • 1972: Club of Rome: global population warning

    Influential Club of Rome think tank issues The Limits to Growth: "If the world's consumption patterns and population growth continued at the same high rates of the time, the earth would strike its limits within a century." View the website

  • February 17, 1973: Mao talks of sending "excess women" to America

    To a visiting Henry Kissinger, Chairman Mao spoke of sending 10 million "excess" Chinese women to America: "By doing so we can let them flood your country with disaster and therefore impair your interests ... we have too many women ... they give birth to children and our children are too many."

    Not to be outdone, Kissinger quips the U.S. had no "quotas" or "tariffs" on Chinese women. Mao later apologized to a female interpreter. BBC has the story

    December 1973: Voluntary "Later, longer, fewer" goes national

    Voluntary campaign to promote birth control begins across China.

  • Deng Xiaoping

    September 9, 1976: Mao dies

    Deng Xiaoping, seen here in this photo greeting party officials, eventually takes power after Mao's death.

  • October 1978: Voluntary two-child policy begins

    The slogan: "One is best, two at most"

  • March 30, 1979: Deng endorses birth planning

    Top leader Deng Xiaoping on birth planning: "[A large population] poses serious problems with regard to food, education and employment. We must greatly increase our efforts in [birth] planning."

    In April of that year, China's finance minister and population spokesman Li Xiannian says this: "We must truly control population growth ... it is best for couples to have only one child."

    By October Xiaoping increases rhetoric: "We advocate one child per couple; those promising to have but one will be materially rewarded."

    Liang Zhongtang

    December 1979: Opponent warns of consequences

    Chinese demographer Liang Zhongtang (photo left) warns a one-child policy would put China on a path to a rapidly aging society, with "150 million gloomy and lonely old people and China would become a breathless, lifeless society without a future."

  • September 25, 1980: One-child policy released

    One-child policy takes the form of an open letter to Communist Party and Communist Youth League. The policy is described as a "last resort" to ensure enough resources - food, clothing, housing, transportation, education, health, jobs - per person. Couples are limited to one child only, except some ethnic minorities and couples with "persistent problems."

    The policy is meant to be temporary: "Within 30 years, the present tense population growth issue can be relieved. Then, a different population policy can be applied."

    1980: Signs point to new policy

    In January 1980, leader Deng Xiaoping sets goal of US $1,000/person by year 2000, requiring quadrupling of economic output. Six days later, planning officials mention aggressive population goal of 1.2 billion by 2000.

    Influential missile scientist Song Jian writes: "Without a one-child policy ... people will have nothing to eat and nothing to drink! There will be so many Chinese that all the roads will be covered with people!" Source: Greenhalgh

    Top economic planner Chen Yun is quoted say: "Advocating that each couple have only one child is our number one task."

    Finally, in early September, Xiaoping: "We certainly must persist in advocating one child per couple. On this there can be no compromise, for if this barrier is broken, there is no hope for the Four Modernizations."

  • Liang Zhongtang

    February, 1981: One-child enforcers get incentives

    Chinese government emphasizes "reward and restrictions should be applied if necessary, so that to ensure family planning work is carried out smoothly."

    Che Yuelian, in the accompanying photon, is one of the people responsible for enforcing China's one-child policy. She's a Village family planning enforcer in Yicheng, Shanxi province.

  • 1984: New exemptions, relaxed implementation

    1984 document begins a long process of new exceptions to the policy, varying by province. Examples: first child is a girl, both spouses are only children, first child is adopted, spouse has a child from previous marriage, one spouse is overseas Chinese, one parent has hazardous job, couple lives in remote area. Source: Greenhalgh, Susan: Shifts in China's Population Policy, 1984-86: Views from the Central, Provincial, and Local Levels. Read more

  • August 1985: Two-child policy trial begins

    Yicheng County in northern province of Shanxi begins government-approved trial allowing two-children per family. 2000 census shows Yicheng's population grew more slowly than the whole of China.

  • 1988: "1.5-child" Policy Unveiled

    Policy allowing second child for rural couples whose first is a girl is formally adopted.

  • 1991: "One-veto" rule for officials

    As population nears the 1.2 billion goal set by Deng Xiaoping, te government ups goal to 1.3 billion, and warns party members to meet population targets, or else the government "will deal with their cases seriously," including job loss, demotion, financial penalties.

    1991: Second birth-control campaign

    A second major wave of the country's birth control campaign begins and lasts two years.

  • 2000: Sex-ratio imbalance: 117-100

    National census: 117 boys are born for every 100 girls. It would grow to 119-100 by 2005

  • March 2008: Official: policy to remain another decade

    China's top population official says one-child policy would not be eliminated for "at least a decade." read the article.

  • 2010: Age 20-24 population peaks

    U.S. Census Bureau reports China's population of workers age 20-24 peaks, then will decline sharply read the Census report.

    September 25, 2010: 30th Anniversary of One-child policy

    The founding one-child policy document in 1980 notes a "different," relaxed policy within 30 years

  • 2026: China population peaks

    U.S. Census bureau projects China's population "to peak at slightly less than 1.4 billion in 2026, both earlier and at a lower level than previously projected." read the Census report.

Watch an audio slideshow on the backgroiud of the policy