The release this week of the design for China’s new zodiac stamps – for the Year of Pig in 2019 – has led to speculation that the government might soon relax its family planning policies that mandates just one child per family.

Among the multiple stamps released, one stamp features a family of pigs -- a happy five-member pig family. 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.

Some compared the new designs with old ones and saw a pattern, representing the evolution of China’s family planning policies. There is also a precedent. China Post had released a similar stamp in 2016 — the Year of the Monkey — which showed two baby monkeys. Subsequently, the Chinese government had announced that the one-child policy had been abandoned.

Policy watchers expect a likely announcement to this effect by the end of the year when the country celebrates its 40th anniversary of reform and opening up.

The mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, People’s Daily, also carried an opinion piece the same day the stamp was released, saying that China’s continuing low birth rate was increasingly affecting Chinese society and economy. It also said that raising the birth rate required a systematic national solution. “China’s demographic dividend is dwindling, labour costs are rising and social security pressure is large,” the paper said.

China’s approximately 930-million-person labour force shrank for the first time in 2012 for the first time in over three decades, and has been declining further as a population bulge of people now in their 40s and 50s pass into retirement. The Chinese labour force is estimated to begin declining by as much as 10 million a year starting in 2025.

China’s single child policy also resulted in a highly skewed gender ratio as the Chinese culturally prefer male children. As a result of abortions, infanticide, by 2020, there will be between 30 million and 35 million more Chinese men of marrying age than women. A more lax family policy is expected to correct this for future generations of Chinese.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Aug 09, 2018 06:05 AM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website