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As one of the most populous countries in the world, China saw the need to have a strong family planning policy. The country launched three family planning campaigns: in 1956–1957, 1962–1966, and 1971 to the 2016, to control population growth. These campaigns—especially the third one—were remarkably successful. China’s population was 22 percent of the world in 1949 with 541.7 million people, and 20 percent in 1999 with 1.26 billion.

Family Planning

Rapid population growth posed serious challenges to meeting China’s socioeconomic demands. Debate about family planning began in the mid-1950s. Those in favor emphasized that family planning would improve the welfare of mothers and children and promote socioeconomic development. This message was publicized through popular media from the 1950s through the 1980s. The posters, handbooks, and other publications featured in this section illustrate the many methods the Chinese and local governments used to teach and promote family planning.

Poster with two horizontal panels of images with text below each

Front cover page of a booklet featuring a title and image of children holding hands and playing outside
Front cover of a rectangular handheld calendar with dark blue border and yellow background and circular dial on top
Poster with a group of people smiling to a dentist sitting at a table, text below
Poster with a main image showing a young girl walking away and waving to a mother holding a young boy, title in red above and text below


Poster with two photographs on top and bottom, text captions below each
Poster showing an image of smiling workers are shown, one holding a sheaf of grain and a hand scythe, another holding a wrench in one hand with his other arm stretched above his head, palm open. There is a field of wheat in the foreground and a factory and cranes in the background. Text below

China began its third family planning campaign in the early 1970s, emphasizing wan, xi, shao (晚, wan, late marriage; 稀 , xi, longer birth spacing; 少, shao, fewer children). Unlike previous campaigns, the third was pursued consistently and effectively, providing a variety of birth control means, coupled with rewards and penalties.

During the Cultural Revolution of 1966–1976, the meaning of family planning was tied directly to revolutionary goals and was believed to be a central part of building socialism and liberating women. The posters shown here include emotionally charged and patriotic family imagery with vibrant colors, especially red, and serve to define healthy families in this changing society.

Poster with a plum-colored background features a smiling woman holding a booklet in one hand and a medicine or vitamin bottle in the other. Surrounding the woman are images of adults interacting with children including dancing, playing, and exercising
Poster with a main image of a rural family, blue sky behind them, red title below


This collection of cartoons explores themes such as family planning policy and its practice, popular science and “better babies”, healthy births, marriage, family life, and Chinese society. These cartoon posters use humor and satire to educate people on family issues and the goals of family planning in mid-20th Chinese century society.

Poster featuring 4 single panel cartoons, 1 two panel cartoon, 1 3 panel cartoon, and 1 four panel cartoon, title above
Poster featuring 5 single panel cartoons, 1 two panel cartoon, and 1 four panel cartoon, title above

Poster featuring 6 single panel cartoons and one 4 panel cartoon
Poster featuring 7 single panel cartoons

Child Health Education

Poster showing a boy wearing a red and white striped shirt and blue shorts bend at the waist, his left hand over his hip, and his right arm stretched over his head. A soccer ball rests nearby. An inset image shows a girl sitting on the edge of her bed in the early morning, fastening her show, with a rooster perching on the windowsill behind her
Poster showing a girl standing over a washtub, a bucket just behind her, wringing out an article of clothing while a boy tends to a pot of water over a fire rinsing a cup and plate. Behind the two children is a clothesline with a shirt hanging on it
A slide showing a teacher in a red skirt and green blouse bending over and shaking her finger, scolding a boy, in brown overalls and checkered shirt, as other children look on. A boy wearing red shorts and a yellow and black shirt stands further away peeking from around a corner

In the 20th century, under both Nationalist and Communist governments, China supported public health measures to strengthen the country. The state promoted preventative health, and children were a particular concern for both the health and the education ministries. The children’s health material promoted exercise, vaccination, controlling spitting, keeping utensils clean, and honest behavior. These messages are common to almost any public health campaign; their mode of presentation here is both clear and gentle.


This exhibition was produced by the National Library of Medicine and drawn from three earlier exhibitions curated by Dr. Liping Bu (卜丽萍).