With China worried that it does not have enough girls, the central government is implementing new policies to counter the country's worsening gender imbalance.
A nationwide "caring for girls" campaign, speared by the central government's determination to narrow the imbalance over the next three to five years, has captured public attention.
"The Chinese government has started to lavish more care on daughter-only families," said Zhang Jian, head of publicity at the State Population and Family Planning Commission, the sponsor of the campaign.
The campaign has been launched in 24 counties where there is a serious gender imbalance.
Families with no sons will receive an annual allowance of 600 yuan (about 75 U.S. dollars) if the parents are over 60 years old. The average yearly income of families in these counties is around 2,000 yuan (about 250 U.S. dollars).
Daughter-only families will also get preferential loans to help them with agricultural production, Zhang said.
Only daughters will be given bonus marks when they take college entrance examinations and are promised "special treatment" when looking for jobs.
Huang Tianyi, a farmer in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, said he has benefited from the campaign.
His two-daughter family was poverty-stricken until the local government launched the "caring for girls" campaign.
With financial and technological help from the government, Huang opened a cow farm in 2004. Last year family revenues topped 5,000 yuan (about 625 U.S. dollars), double the figure three years ago.
"I am no longer ashamed to have daughters," said Huang. "We are earning more now and this year I will find a good young man to be my son-in-law."
The gender imbalance reflects a deep-rooted view among Chinese people, dating back thousands of years, that men are superior to women.
China's fifth population census in 2000 showed the ratio between newborn boys and girls was 117:100, considerably higher than the normal ratio of 103-107:100.
A sample survey carried out last year, which showed the gap had blown out to 118.58:100, has triggered government action.
Zhang said the imbalance could not be put down to China's population policies.
Imbalances have also occurred in countries like the Republic of Korea and India, which do not have a family planning program like China's, the official said.
Statistics from the State Population and Family Planning Commission show that the ratio between newborn boys and girls in the 24 counties where the campaign has been implemented has gone down from 133.8:100 to 119.6:100.
Zhang said the commission is considering extending the campaign to other places this year.
"China has focused too much on controlling population numbers, now it is time to focus on the structure of the population."