Background: The People's Republic of China (PRC) has conducted several different population policies since its establishment. Although fertility has declined dramatically in the past three decades, the degree to which this was the result of the different population policies is still under debate. Purpose: We attempt to evaluate the effect of the different formal population policies conducted in the PRC by looking at the fertility behavior of rural women. Unlike urban women, rural women experienced less social control (in the absence of a work unit) and received fewer benefits from adhering to the one-child policy. Data: The data analyzed were collected from a stratified sample of households from 288 villages in 9 counties of Hebei Province, PRC, between 1996 and 1999. The number of children ever born was reported by 4,168 ever-married women aged 25 and over who had had at least one birth. Findings: Our analysis indicates that the formal population policies of the PRC had little effect on the number of children ever born to rural women in Hebei. These retrospective data, by cohort, indicate consistently declining fertility since the revolution (1949). Limited child bearing was associated with age and the level of education. Controlling for the effect of age and education, women born after 1960, at whom the one-child policy was directed, actually had more children than older women. Conclusions: The Chinese fertility decline, at least as reflected in the experience of rural women in Hebei Province, derived mainly from secular changes in women's access to education and other social resources rather than from the direct effects of population policies.