The Place Where China Began Its One-Child Policy Is Dying

The Place Where China Began Its One-Child Policy Is Dying

Sitting in her neighbor’s, house playing cards, 58-year-old farmer Si Jinxin asks a question that is troubling millions of China’s workers: “What are we going to do when we’re old?”

Si comes from a rural county on the east coast that will have to answer that question first — Rudong. It was here, half a century ago, that China began its one-child policy, a political drive to curb overpopulation that may end up sapping the country’s workforce and leaving millions of old people with no one to look after them.

“Rudong was so good at implementing the family planning policy,” says Si, whose only child, a daughter, lives about 200 kilometers (124 miles) away in the city. “Now we’re the ones who lose.”

On the flat delta of the Yangtze River north of Shanghai, Communist cadres embraced the call to stem the nation’s ballooning population a decade before it became national policy in 1979. The result is that Rudong is a window on China’s future, a windswept place of old people, closed schools and growing retirement homes.

“China will see more places like Rudong very soon,” said Wang Feng, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Irvine. “It’s a microcosm of the rapid demographic and economic transformation China has been experiencing the last decades. There will be more ghost villages and deserted or sleepy towns.”