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Triplets children take part in an event to celebrate the fourth birthday of the world's only giant panda triplets, Meng Meng, Shuai Shuai and Ku Ku, at Chimelong Safari Park in Guangzhou, China July 29, 2018.
Reuters/Bobby Yip
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PENNY WISE

A proposed tax break for parents in China has led to a backlash against a “singles tax”

By Echo Huang

China seems to be pulling out all the stops so that its citizens have more babies. The next idea might be a tax cut.

The proposal that couples could get tax relief on spending relating to their kids’ education appeared as a draft amendment (link in Chinese) to China’s personal income tax law, which the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), the country’s top legislative body, released in June. The proposal is now in its final stages of public consultation.

Even though the tax benefit wouldn’t apply to married people who don’t have children, many still likened (link in Chinese) it to a tax on single people, and an attempt by the government to pressure people to get married and have children. Chinese authorities see singles, colloquially known as “bare branches,” as a threat to social stability because of the financial and sexual frustrations they face. Meanwhile, the falling number of live births in China is seen as a threat to the country’s economic development and therefore social stability.

Just last week, a local Communist Party-affiliated newspaper ran a commentary that proposed mandatory contributions to a fund to encourage people to have more kids. China’s national stamp office also recently released a postage stamp depicting three piglets in a family, suggesting China could abandon birth limits by the end of this year.

China, however, doesn’t encourage people to have children outside of marriage. A single mother who wants to enjoy the tax benefit, would need to first pay a fine for having a child out of wedlock in order for the child to get the same basic rights as a child born to a married couple.

Some people simply don’t see how the approach would deliver what the authorities want. ”I think it’s a stupid approach,” commented (link in Chinese) one user on social networking site Weibo. “No one will get married to save a few pennies.” Another said (link in Chinese) that people who don’t want to kids anyway won’t “rush to have one, because education fees cost far more than this tax break.”

The negative feedback may have ruffled authorities’ feathers. As the draft proposal goes to final consideration by the NPCSC next week, Weibo suddenly banned the term “singles tax.” An attempt to search for the word today (Aug. 24) returned the notice (link in Chinese) that “results are filtered according to relevant laws and policies.”