The (daft) title of this post is fortunately not one of China’s 190 newly approved family planning slogans. This, on the other hand, is:
The family is a boat, love is a sail, healthy reproduction is your happy harbor.
How sweet. It’s certainly more harmonious than this:
If one person has too many babies, the whole village will have their tubes tied!
That one was listed among various "unharmonious family planning slogans around the country" by the Southern Metropolis Daily at the beginning of August. The writer of that particular slogan may have been disappointed to find that his literary skills had failed to win central government approval. But he can rest assured that his work will live on in the memory of many Internet readers, not to mention a number of aggrieved villagers who probably did not find that threat quite so funny.
(By the way, since "tube-tying" can be done to both men and women, I’m not sure which gender was being threatened.)
Before I go any further, I should provide just a bit of background for the benefit of those who accidentally stumble upon this blog when they were actually asking Google "why do only evil people have white cats?"
As well the China Daily link at the top of this post, I recommend this translation by ESWN of another Southern Metropolis Daily article, along with the pictures that accompanied that tube-tying quote.
Just about everyone in the world has heard of the "one child policy." That’s a bit of a misnomer since the one-child thing only fully applies to cities. In the countryside, if the first child is a girl, people have always been allowed to have a second attempt at a son provided they wait for a couple of years. That may not sound very respectful towards girls, but it won’t change until the economic necessity of having a son becomes irrelevant. Traditionally, daughters marry out of their village, while sons stay behind and take responsibility for their parents. When everyone is covered by insurance and welfare schemes and they know they won’t starve in their old age, people will be free to stop preferring sons to daughters. That has already happened to a large extent in the big cities, but not in the countryside - not yet.
China’s family planning policy has drawn praise from some because it has reduced the number of extra people on this Earth that seems increasingly small. It has also been criticized for the brutal methods that have been employed by many officials over the years.
Times are changing, but they don’t change overnight. The real body of this post is a translation of a Southern Weekly interview with Zhang Jian, the director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission. They discussed whether slogans still have a place in today’s China, why this big clean-up of slogans is taking place, and changes in the Family Planning Commission’s attitudes and methods. When I read the interview, I couldn’t help wondering about Zhang Jian’s occasional references to "before" or "in the past." For the rioters in Bobai, "the past" is only as far back as May.
What are the new slogans? When I read some of them out at work, they caused a bit of amusement among my Chinese colleagues. But that was nothing compared with the general outpouring of mirth when they discovered that I planned to translate them.
"You will fail!" was one of the responses.
Such words of encouragement. But it is truly impossible to communicate both the meaning and the full flavor of many Chinese slogans. Or maybe I should say it’s impossible for someone of my limited ability. The task is made even harder by the fact that a number of them rhyme! I cannot even attempt that.
Despite the laughter, one of my colleagues seemed almost disappointed when he said quite wistfully, "The new slogans aren’t exciting."
After all, it’s much more fun to be simultaneously amused and disturbed by outrageous banners that say things like:
One pregnancy gets the ring. Two pregnancies gets your tubes tied. The third and fourth, kill kill kill!
Compared to that, authorized slogans like this are no fun at all:
Mother Earth is too tired. She can’t support too many children anymore.
Nature should decide a baby’s gender. Artificial selection harms society.
When you go away for work, protect against AIDS. Above all don’t harm the next generation.
But fun, or no fun, I don’t think the government’s aim is provide amusement on the Internet. The interview below is accompanied by a selection of 28 new slogans taken from the list of 190. The above three are part of that list, as is the one about boats and happy harbors. I may translate the other 24 later, but that is definitely not a promise.
BEIJING, Reporter: Zhao Lei and intern: Fang Kecheng
A special interview with the driving force behind the new slogans, the director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, Zhang Jian.
"Non-standard slogans like ‘If you don’t abort when you should, we will take your house and your cow’ have almost disappeared. Some of them were put up before and not removed, but there definitely aren’t any new slogans like that."
"We want to promote a standard for slogans in other areas, and welcome the 17th Party Congress and the 2008 Olympics. The words of any particular period must be reflected in its slogans."
"Some of the slogans were empty. For example, "It’s good to only have one child." Why is it good to only have one child? We don’t know where a slogan like this came from. It’s very vague."
"You can’t have slogans that sound nice but then throw obstacles in the way. Words that you don’t really mean are no good."
Since mid-August, provinces and municipalities around the country have been carrying out a clean-up and standardization of family planning slogans. One county’s family planning commission went so far as to specify: "All administrative villages must have at least 10 new slogans. All townships must have at least 50."
The new family planning slogans are now being put up all over the country. The source of this upsurge was a notice issued by the National Family Planning Commission on July 19. In more than thirty years of family planning work, this is the first national campaign to clean up slogans.
The notice displayed a change of thinking in family planning work and concern by the family planning system about its own image that drew attention from domestic and international media who reported that China is clearing out brutal family planning slogans.
Grassroots family planning staff told this paper’s reporter that these 190 recommended slogans achieved a soft landing.
Southern Weekly interviewed the leading figure in this updating of slogans, the director of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, Zhang Jian. He revealed the purpose of this clean-up and its deeper background.
WHY DO WE NEED TO CHANGE THE SLOGANS?
SW: After the new family planning slogans were announced, they became a center of attention. Why did you choose this time to do it?
Zhang Jian: Family planning work has been developing for more than 30 years. Some slogans have really failed to keep up with the times. They’re not helpful to family planning work and they’ve damaged population planning and the national image. By "failed to keep up with the times," I mean putting into effect the current policies of a scientific concept of development, building a harmonious society and putting people first.
SW: As far as we understand, this clean-up and standardization of slogans was your personal suggestion.
Zhang Jian: When I took over the department last year I read an article by a grassroots family planning cadre in Hunan that I took very seriously. Later, I set up a research group to investigate and study how family planning slogans were progressing in the provinces and cities. We discovered problems and decided to put them right. In the first half of this year we collected about 5,400 slogans in the family planning system, brought experts together to discuss them, and then decided on 190 "recommended slogans."
SW: At the mention of family planning slogans, people still think of ones like “If you don’t abort when you should, we will take your house and your cow” and “First the ring. Second, your tubes are tied. And third, the fine.” What did you find in your investigations?
Zhang Jian: It’s easy to take bad things and make them out to bigger or worse than they really are, and that’s case with condemnation of family planning slogans on the Internet. Most of the slogans mentioned by netizens are remnants from the 1970s and 1980s. The family planning publicity offensive of that time was very hard-line and the slogans were pretty hard-line too, so they left people with a strong impression. Actually, slogans have already changed a great deal.
From our investigations we found essentially that a number of non-standard slogans like "If you don’t abort when you should, we will take your house and your cow” have almost disappeared. Some of them were put up before and not removed, but there definitely aren’t any new slogans like that.
SW: These slogans really reflect the thinking and methods of family planning work over a long period of time. Looking at them now, they seem very uncivilized, don’t they?
Zhang Jian: This has to do with the policy of "reducing the birth rate and strictly controlling population growth" of that time. Administrative measures were dominant, even to the point of violating the people’s rights. Before, the quality of some cadres was rather lacking. They didn’t try to persuade the public. Instead, they usually issued orders that had to be carried out. As for the writing of slogans, some of them were quite haphazard, probably because a leader told some clerk "Hey! Think of few slogans and paint them on the walls."
THE CHANGE OF FAMILY PLANNING POLICY
SW: According to traditional understanding, the main function of slogans is to pass on information about policy so they need to be scientific, precise and appropriate. Is there some standard for this?
Zhang Jian: The standard is very simple. It’s the scientific concept of development and the decisions of the central government. The new slogans aren’t just mild and fragrant. Science and precision are the top requirements of national publicity policy. At the same time, we certainly have to consider whether or not the public can accept them.
SW: Are there any cadres in the system who think that the new slogans have a tendency to be "soft" and think this could make it harder for them to carry out their work?
Zhang Jian: If someone does think this, I can only say that this person has not sufficiently studied the scientific concept of development and the decisions of the central government. The national family planning policy has not changed. It’s just that the thinking and methods of doing this work have changed.
SW: Is this clean-up and standardization of slogans intended to convey a change in the thinking and methods of family planning work? What kind of change?
Zhang Jian: It’s a gradual change towards "putting people first." We took on the concept of "putting people first" in 1994. We were the first government department to do this. Actually, we’ve already changed a lot. It’s just that the public doesn’t realize that. This clean-up and standardization of slogans is also meant to change the way we work and our image.
SW: Isn’t part of your publicity also a remolding of the image of family planning cadres?
Zhang Jian: You can’t say it’s remolding. Really we want to give the public a proper understanding of our family planning work. That’s the intention behind this clean-up and standardization of slogans. Another aim is to promote a standard for slogans in other areas, and welcome the 17th Party Congress and the 2008 Olympics. The words of any particular period must be reflected in its slogans.
SW: When the public wants to have children, how can family planning work "put people first"?
Zhang Jian: There is certainly a conflict between the desire to have children and carrying out policy. But without family planning, the development of our country would most likely be very different from its current state. When we speak of "putting people first," the main thing is to turn management into service. In the past, when our family planning officials went to farmers’ houses, they weren’t welcome. Now they’re very welcome. That’s because we can provide them with a lot of information about natal health. They confide a lot with our family planning officials. And our teams are very young and professional. It’s not old grannies with bound feet calling on them to publicize family planning anymore.
DO SLOGANS STILL WORK?
SW: Do you think the effect of family slogans has grown weaker? And why?
Zhang Jian: It’s certainly weaker. The main reason is that there are more means of communication. Most families in the countryside have televisions now. But 10 or 20 years ago?
SW: Aren’t the public also quite indifferent to the kind of publicity like big banners?
Zhang Jian: That depends on the situation. In the cities it probably is like that. In the countryside everyone still reads them.
SW: In that case, don’t slogans themselves need to depend on the situation and some of them don’t need to be used? As far as we understand, many townships and villages still make coercive demands, like insisting that a village has to have a particular number of family planning slogans.
Zhang Jian: I’ve never approved of coercive demands. How can you force people? I agree that some places don’t need to use slogans, like Beijing. But a lot of remote mountain regions still need them.
SW: Some people might think, why are we still using slogans in this day and age? In practice, do slogans really work? If they do have a use, what is it?
Zhang Jian: I’ve seen people on the Internet saying family planning slogans don’t work. Looking at it from the perspective of our work in practice, you really can’t say that family planning slogans don’t work. This is the most basic judgment. China has practiced family planning policy for more than 30 years and slogans have made a very big contribution. The government has to pass on policy information in various ways. Besides, the population situation is still very serious.
Here’s an example: Ten years ago I went to a village in Sichuan and casually asked a farmer, "Do you know the family planning policy?" "Yes, I know it!" "Where do you know it from?" From the slogans they write." Slogans are one of the most important kinds of publicity in the 30 or more years of carrying out the family planning policy, especially in rural areas.
Maybe in the capital Beijing, we don’t need slogans in the main streets and in our offices. But in the vast rural areas, slogans are an important medium for spreading information. Maybe Internet users don’t need slogans, but farmers do.
SW: Some people also say the country ought to distance itself from slogans and banners and the state shouldn’t encroach on this space. What do you think?
Zhang Jian: You can’t say that. This is a channel for publicizing policy and serving the public. Go to the countryside, especially villages in the central and western regions. It’s very important. You can’t abandon it.
SLOGANS ALONE ARE NOT ENOUGH
SW: The notice that was sent down says，“Writing and hanging up slogans isn’t supposed to be a way of showing determination to carry out family planning work to impress higher level leaders who are inspecting an area, and its not the end of the work either."
Zhang Jian: That’s right. There definitely was this kind of situation in the past. And some of the slogans were empty. For example, "It’s good to only have one child." Why is it good to only have one child? We don’t know where a slogan like this came from. It’s very vague.
SW: What kind of slogan is not "empty"?
Zhang Jian: I’ll give you an example: "Let families who put the family planning policy into practice be the first to enjoy the fruits of reform and opening up." This is too long. "Don’t put planned families at a disadvantage." The effect is very different. If you change it again to "planned families will get an grant of 50 yuan a month," the effect is even more different.
SW: So it’s question of telling the public about the benefits of family planning?
Zhang Jian: Right. This is what family planning staff need to seriously consider. People might have more children because they think it will benefit them. But it’s not in their basic interest. Planned families sacrifice real benefits, so we must certainly compensate them. It’s "compensation" not a "reward." We’re still not doing enough.
SW: What would be enough?
Zhang Jian: We need to make other people in the village envy households with two daughters, or just one daughter. We need to make planned families become heroic examples to be emulated. We need things to be as they were in a film we made a while ago where a family that had too many children said, "We really shouldn’t have had more children. Our neighbors who stayed within the plan now get 100 yuan a month compensation. Our son can’t give us that much money each month."
SW: So what you mean is, the content of a slogan needs to be matched by corresponding measures.
Zhang Jian: That’s right. The feedback we get from the grassroots is that we need to give adequate compensation. The compensation isn’t just financial. There are political and cultural benefits as well. For example, some places in Gansu have proposed that girls from households with two daughters should get extra points in college entrance exams. Some places need to make things more equal. For instance, rich people who have too many children should pay heavier fines They’ve got more social resources, so unless they’re fined more, things aren’t really equal. You can’t have slogans that sound nice but then throw obstacles in the way. Words that you don’t really mean are no good.