By Jackie Cai and Adam Jourdan
SHANGHAI (Reuters) - With China facing a demographic crisis of stalling birth rates and a fast-ageing population, one city has taken a novel approach: a direct call to action aimed at young government officials to lead the way and have a second child.
The government of Yichang city in central Hubei province posted an open letter calling for young cadres to have more children to stem a slide in birth rates in the city which has started to hit economic growth.
China's demographic time-bomb has become increasingly urgent of late as the country faces its slowest economic growth in a quarter of a century, with a sluggish manufacturing sector hit by a dearth of cheap labor due in part to a shrinking workforce.
"Young cadres have to take the lead having a second child, while elder cadres should urge them on," the letter said, citing the need to bolster the city's working population and raise a fertility rate that has fallen below one child per woman.
"If things continue as they are, it will bring huge risk and damage to our city's economic and social development, as well as the livelihood of our families," said the letter, stamped by official departments including the city's health bureau.
China last year said it would ease family planning restrictions to allow all couples to have two children after decades of a strict one-child policy, a move aimed at relieving demographic strains on the world's second largest economy.
Beijing has loosened the rules over the last few years in the face of concerns the strict policy was leading to a shrinking workforce unable to support a fast-growing elderly population. By around the middle of this century, one in every three Chinese is forecast to be over 60.
"The low birth rate has aggravated the risk of the one-child policy, led to an aging population, a shortfall in the labor force, and lagging urbanization, which hits the city's labor productivity and overall competitiveness," the letter said.
The open letter, picked up by domestic media late on Wednesday but dated Sept. 13, has received a mixed response.
"Our jobs are stable so it's easier to have two children. Those with a busier job have to sacrifice more if they want a second kid," said Yan Liu, a civil servant with a 14-month-old girl in Shanghai.
Online, some people were more skeptical.
"It's really ridiculous," one user posted on China's popular microblog platform Sina Weibo. "Before the government strictly watched over people not have a second child. Now, they are forcing people to do so. Do we have human rights or not?"
(Editing by Michael Perry)