Your Monday Briefing: China’s Race to Encourage Births

After decades of restricting the number of children its citizens can have, China is desperate for a baby boom.

Families all over the country are now allowed to have three children, up from just one a few years ago, and one province is allowing women to have as many children as they choose, even if they are unmarried.

Some cities are encouraging and subsidizing sperm donation, and some are giving cash payments to new parents. There are plans to expand national insurance coverage for fertility treatments like I.V.F.

The policies highlight the challenges China faces as it seeks to stave off a shrinking work force that could imperil its economic growth. But the measures have been met with a wave of public skepticism, ridicule and debate, with many young Chinese adults pushing back on inducements to have children in one of the most expensive countries to raise them.

Numbers: Two-thirds of the respondents to a survey last year of about 20,000 younger people said that they did not want to have children.

Context: China’s population shrank last year for the first time since the 1960s. Many countries have confronted similar demographic challenges, but China has aged rapidly, at least partly because of its one-child policy.

The E.U. was built on the idea that economic exchanges, trade and interdependence were the best guarantees against war. “Many of us had started to take peace for granted,” Sauli Niinisto, Finland’s president, said this month. That mentality has given way to awareness that military power is needed for security.

As a long war looms, the E.U. will grapple with how to reinforce its militaries; how to navigate tensions between frontline states intent on Russia’s complete defeat and others, like France and Germany, inclined toward compromise; and how to manage an American election next year that will feed anxieties over whether Washington will stay the course.

Changes: Finland and Sweden, long content to remain neutral, are pushing to join NATO. Germany has announced a $112 billion investment in its armed forces. And nations like France, concerned about Europe’s military dependence on the U.S., are calling for “strategic autonomy.”

Related: Russia pounded the front line in Ukraine’s south and east regions with artillery strikes. China announced a state visit this week from the leader of Belarus, a top ally of the Kremlin.

Women in Iran are suddenly flaunting their locks, after more than four decades under a strict law that requires women and girls over 9 to cover their hair in public.

The current president, Ebrahim Raisi, had enforced it with a strictness and brutality that enraged Iranian women, many of whom were beaten or arrested after they were said to have violated it. Anger over the law boiled over in September after a 22-year-old woman, Masha Amini, died in the custody of the morality police, kicking off street protests across Iran.

The protests have largely fizzled amid a violent crackdown, and they are rarer in more conservative areas. But acts of civil disobedience continue daily, and the authorities are only occasionally enforcing the hijab law, according to women and activists in Iran.

Now videos of parks, cafes, restaurants and malls show more women uncovered. Celebrities and athletes have removed their hijabs in Iran and while representing the country abroad.

Quotable: “Whether the government likes to admit it or not,” said a graduate student in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj, in western Iran, “the era of the forced hijab is over.”

Wrestling academies have become bastions of freedom and hope for young women in India.

More and more families in the northern state of Haryana have sent their daughters away to become pehelwans: professional competitive wrestlers. Most students won’t make it to the Olympics, but many see the intensive schools as their best chance for a more independent life.

Shinta Ratri led an Islamic boarding school that became a haven for transgender women in Indonesia. She died at 60.

“Cocaine Bear,” the horror-comedy about a bloodthirsty bear on a coke bender, opened in theaters last Friday with considerable anticipation — mostly because of the title.

Starring a computer-generated apex predator, whom the filmmakers called Cokey, and the human actors Keri Russell, Margo Martindale and Ray Liotta, “Cocaine Bear” has a straightforward plot: A smuggler accidentally drops cocaine in the forest, and a bear snorts it up and “turns into a mix of Tony Montana and Jason Voorhees,” our critic, Jason Zinoman, writes.

The film is very loosely based on a true story about a black bear that died after ingesting cocaine dumped by a drug smuggler flying over Georgia. The bear’s corpse, stuffed and christened Pablo Escobear, supposedly ended up at a mall in Kentucky, a monument to the often tragic results when animals get into human drugs.

“For an audience desperately looking for a good time, they’ll find it,” Zinoman writes. The modestly budgeted film looks like a modest hit: It beat projections at the box office, and had a better opening weekend than “Paddington.”

This light vegetarian soup packs a ginger and lemongrass punch with chile heat.

“The Exceptions” tells how a group of women scientists revealed the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s long history of sexual discrimination.

Charlotte Rampling straddles dry humor and withering tragedy as a bibulous grandmother in “Juniper.”

Wirecutter reviews the best home soda makers.

Play the Mini Crossword, and a clue: Unhealthy, as a relationship (five letters).

Here are the Wordle and the Spelling Bee.

You can find all our puzzles here.

That’s it for today’s briefing. See you next time. — Dan

P.S. A by-the-numbers look at The Times’s reporting on the war in Ukraine.

Start your week with this narrated long read on Elon Musk’s appetite for destruction, and here’s Friday’s edition of “The Daily,” about a year of war in Ukraine.

We’d like your feedback! Please email thoughts and suggestions to

A correction: Friday’s newsletter described incorrectly population changes in Africa. The median age on the continent is not getting younger; it is slowly getting older, even if it is much younger than the global average.

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