Like the Oracle at Delphi, the powers that be in party and government in China often “do not speak directly, but indicate with a sign”. In the year of the pig, a stamp of approval seems to have been granted to the Chinese people. The commemorative stamp marking the onset of the porcine period shows three little pigs, smiling broadly, with their parents. Pudgy cuteness aside, the state-sanctioned image of a happy family with three kids has the world buzzing with speculation: Is the party-state about to change the norms for procreation once again?
China Post has been the town crier for eager couples across the country before. In 2016, just before the repressive one-child norm — in place since the 1970s — was finally scrapped, a happy primate family with two children was showcased on the stamp to usher in the year of the monkey. More importantly, China is on the precipice of a demographic crisis brought on by a generation of only children having to support dependants entirely on their own. As life expectancy increased, and population growth declined, the state and working population have had to subsidise an increasing number of elderly. Now, it seems, the Chinese government is realising what Amar, Akbar, Anthony did at around the time the one-child rule was introduced — ek se bhale do, do se bhale teen (two is better than one, three is better than two).
The question is whether the mixed results of the one-child policy can be undone by state propaganda and fiat. Like their counterparts across the world, urban Chinese are choosing to have fewer children, in part because of the huge costs of child-rearing. During the one-child policy, violations invited crippling fines. The Chinese government may hope it is the three little pigs from the fairy tale that it is invoking, a trinity to tackle the big bad wolf of a dwindling working population and sinking demographic dividend. However, the final policy, if and when it is announced, may recall the big bad pigs from Animal Farm.