The release this week of the design for China’s new zodiac stamps – for the Year of Pig – has led to speculation from a demographics expert and the public that the government might soon relax its family planning policies.
The China Post stamps have two designs, one featuring a hog running towards a better life, and the other showing a happy five-member pig family.
Although the designs were made public on Monday, after the stamps went to the printer, they will not be on sale until January 5, according to the China National Philatelic Corporation.
Some compared the new designs with old ones and saw a pattern, representing the evolution of China’s family planning policies.
Yi Fuxian, a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s medical school and a long-time critic of China’s birth policy, said on Wednesday that in 1980, when the one-child policy was formulated, the stamp released that year showed a single monkey against a red background.
In 2016 – which was also the Year of the Monkey – when the policy was expanded to allow two children per household, the stamp design coincided with a mother monkey with two baby monkeys, one on each side.
“Clearly, the two grown pigs and three piglets indicate a new era of population policies will begin, from controlling birthing in the past to encouraging birthing,” Yi said.
While some internet users guessed this meant families will be able to have three children, Yi said he thought the policy might be scrapped entirely next year.
The stamps were designed by 82-year-old folk artist Han Meilin, who was best known for creating the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games mascot Fuwa. He also designed the Year of the Pig stamp in 1983.
Han could not be reached for comment.
The National Health Commission – formerly the National Health and Family Planning Commission – did not respond to requests for a comment on the new designs.
Images on Chinese stamps have reflected policy changes in other areas as well.
In 1952, the “Land Reform” series showed farmers getting land and producing. In 1959, the “People’s Commune” series commemorated agricultural communes that were being set up in rural areas. In 2006, stamps were issued to mark the cancellation of the agricultural tax.
The new Year of the Pig stamps may be performing the same role in reflecting changing official attitudes towards China’s birth policy.
Local governments recently released a series of policies encouraging families to have more children. The most recent example was on Monday, when it was announced in Xianning, Hubei province that families that have a second child will be entitled to a housing subsidy, flexible working hours and longer maternity leave.
People’s Daily also called for more policies and benefits in a commentary titled, “Having children is personal affair as well as national affair” on Monday.
It claimed that a rapid decrease or increase in the population can lead to an imbalance, affecting economic and social stability.
Figures from the National Bureau of Statistics show that 17.2 million babies were born in China last year, 630,000 fewer than in 2016.
The People’s Daily commentary quoted Wang Guangzhou, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, as saying that even though the number of births of second children was increasing, the number of first children was decreasing.
In recent years, the total birth rate had also dropped, which needed attention, he said.
There have long been discussions about the effects of China’s family planning policies, among them the burden of an ageing society and the gender imbalance, which results in many men being without wives.