China Ends Their One-Child Policy In 2015 After 35 Years

By Karen Harris
A child hugs a red lantern in China. (Zhang Yin/China News Service via Getty Images)

In the late 1970s, China was a mess. The population was growing out of control, and there was a real risk that would it would soon outpace economic development in the country, potentially leaving millions unemployed, homeless, and starving. Drastic measures were in order, so in 1979, the country implemented a radical and controversial law: the one-child policy.

Overpopulation In China

After the People's Republic of China was officially founded in 1949, the top concern of the Chinese government was shifting the country's culture and economy from agriculture to industry. It was working: As access to medical care and improved sanitation curbed the infant mortality rate and increased the average life expectancy, the economy—and population—boomed. At first, it seemed like a good thing, but by 1958, there wasn't enough food in China to feed everyone. A terrible famine swept the country, and tens of millions of Chinese people died as a result.

Government officials in China vowed to prevent such a devastating famine from ever happening again. They introduced a campaign to promote family planning, led by the popular slogan "Late, Long, and Less," encouraging families to postpone childbearing, space out pregnancies, and scale back their parenting ambitions to two children in urban communities or three for rural families. The campaign, which continued through the '60s and '70s, was somewhat successful, but many families were still having children at unsustainable rates.