Being the Only: An investigation into China's 'Selfish Generation' using text and photography

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Smith, Martin J

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Younger, Janette A

Douglas, Michelle

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This practice-based doctoral project uses a multi-modal, artistic approach—specifically, the combination of text and photography—to interpret the experiences of people whose lives were affected by China’s one-child policy (implemented in 1980, then revised in both 2016 and 2021). This research study focused on the impact of China’s Population and Family Planning Law (PFP Law) which is also known by the public as the ‘one-child policy’ (OCP) on the Chinese people. The study consisted of 50 participants (aged from 25 to 78 years old) who have experienced this law and are currently living in Mainland China, Canada, Australia, and the United States. The sample group included a mixture of only children, only child’s parents, and only child’s grandparents. The researcher investigated the most highly discussed topics that related to the policy whilst also contributing from their own lived experience as an only child. These topics include elderly care, willingness to give birth and have siblings, regret about only having one child, monthly income, true feelings on the policy, improvements on education rate, resources and son preference. In-depth interviews method discovered that elderly care is becoming the highest concern for the only child and their family. The main findings of the research study discovered that after the three-child policy was announced, most participants do not wish to have more than two children. Moreover, unlike the previous research’s findings, there are a significant amount of participants believe the only child is not selfish. The outcome of this doctoral research is an artist book named Being the only. Broadly qualitative and practice-based research methodologies combined with autoethnography have been applied to interview source material to create my own diaristic narratives combined with photography. In this instance, I used the combination of text and image as an artistic approach to documenting only child families' stories juxtaposed with documentary photographs of China today that show both state authority and daily life.

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Thesis (Professional Doctorate)

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Doctor of Visual Arts (DVA)


Queensland College of Art

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The author owns the copyright in this thesis, unless stated otherwise.

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China’s Population and Family Planning Law

Creative arts research



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