World population is growing, it reached 6.5 billion in 2006 and it is still growing. Yet in 100 countries, of 230 countries surveyed, the fertility rate per woman is less than the population replacement rate, two children per woman, one of these countries is China where, according to the figures, the fertility rate is 1.73 births per woman. Since the early 1980’s China has had a draconian one child per family policy. It could not be implemented in any democratic state; people would not stand for it. In any case, birthrates tend to fall naturally, when economic prosperity, stability, education and health care increase, hence those countries with the highest birth rates tend to be the poorest countries in the world. The policy had advantages and disadvantages and the reason that Mao Tse Tung introduced it was partly to correct his own previous mistake and partly because China is the most populous nation on Earth.
It is necessary to look back in history to see why China implemented the one child policy. Mao Tse Tung’s Communist party began its rule in China in 1949, then the population was .5 billion Chinese. China was then, and still is, the most populous nation on Earth. Improved health care and sanitation, after a century of wars, unrest and epidemics, led to a population boom. China’s communist leaders believed this would produce more workers thus giving China an economic advantage. The communist party encouraged population growth by banning the import of contraceptives and condemning birth control as unpatriotic and selfish.
The mid 1950s saw the beginning of food shortages. The government began promoting voluntary family planning and abortion and provided contraception. Mao’s “the Great Leap Forward”, a badly planned attempt to force a Chinese industrial revolution, together with floods and droughts caused a famine, between 1958 and 61, an estimated 20-30 million Chinese died from starvation.
In the 1970s although conditions had improved and people were not starving, there were still widespread shortages and food rationing. A communist party propaganda campaign, encouraged later marriages, fewer children and long gaps between births but the population continued to grow passing 800 million in the early 1970s. Between 1970 and 76 the fertility rate more than halved from six births per woman to under three.
In 1976, Mao died and Deng Xiaoping succeeded him. Song Jian, a missile scientist wrote a book “Just one child: Science and policy in Deng’s China”. Song applied rocket science to computer population projections in advocating the one child policy. The Chinese leadership trusted Song. Can a rocket scientist really understand population growth better than a demographer or an economist?
In 1980, The One Child Policy became law as an emergency provision to last for 20-30 years only. Under its original provisions, couples had to ask party officials for permission to have a child at all, and there was much abuse of this. China’s government has continued the policy despite great changes in China’s economy and population. The provisions of the one child policy are:
It applies only to Han Chinese and those married to Han Chinese. Ethnic minorities may have two children. Farmers may have a second child if their first is a girl. Those breaching the regulations pay huge fines and suffer much heavier tax regimes. However, rich people, as in all countries, got around the legislation and had more than one child per family. The rules have been relaxed since their early introduction and couples, who are both only children, may have two children.
The advantages of the one child policy are often overplayed. China’s government estimates that it prevented 400 million births, but since these births never happened, how can anyone rely on that figure. Indeed, the one child policy does not apply at all in Hong Kong or Macau and yet their fertility rates are the lowest amongst a list of 230 countries and they are probably the most prosperous amongst the Chinese regions. Fertility rates in both provinces are below one birth per woman.
Also since the mid 1980s, at the urging of a demographer, China’s leaders have been running a two-child experiment in Yicheng, a rich region in North East China. In 2010, a Chinese newspaper revealed the results, after 25 years Yicheng’s population grew 5 percentage points more slowly than the rest of China. Its gender ratios were at the natural norm at 106 males to females. These examples prove that Chinese people, when economic development is optimum actually choose to have fewer children. This is in line with experiences in the developed World; all the developed nations are in the lower part of the list, producing many fewer children than poorer countries.
The disadvantages of China’s one child policy are many. It has caused appalling human rights abuses in China, including forcible abortions and sterilizations. Unelected local officials, desperate to show good population figures, have perpetrated terrible abuses, including kidnapping pregnant women and forcing them to have late abortions.
The Chinese, culturally, prefer boy children to girl children; boys perpetuate the family name and support their parents in old age, a huge consideration in a country with no pensions and inadequate social care. This led to parents aborting girl fetuses and to the killing of baby girls. Girl children were adopted out of China. This has all led to a huge, unnatural gender imbalance (120 males to 100 females) in the population. Young Chinese men now find it difficult to find a wife.
The combination of low birth rates and people living longer is causing problems within China. In China today, an adult child may be financially supporting two parents and four grandparents. The demographic time bomb has worried Western countries for 50 years. In the encouraged population growth in the 50s and the one-child policy in the 1980’s have stoked the demographic time bomb. China’s population is still growing, but the proportion of elderly people in the population is also growing. Already Chinese companies are reporting shortages of young workers and this is set to continue. In 2005, Chinese people’s median age was 32, by 2050, it is likely to be 45 and over 25% of the population will be over 65 years old. It is likely that time will end this bulge in the population.
When parents may have only one child, all their hopes and dreams are focused upon that one child. It means that both parents’ dreams must be lived through that child. A BBC world service radio programme reported recently on the problems. Chinese parents are concentrating so furiously on their only children, filling their time with extra tuition and extra-mural activities such as music lessons and the like, to such a degree that most Chinese children have no time to play and no childhood. Young people feel the terrible weight of their own and their parents’ expectations and fail to meet either, leading to psychological problems.
The one child policy has had unintended circumstances in China. A rocket scientist, rather than a population or economics expert, originally advocated the policy. It has occasioned appalling human rights abuses. China could only implement such a draconian policy because it is a totalitarian state. It is unclear, whether it would have been necessary but for the government blessing and encouraging population growth in the 1950s. The experience of western countries and some areas in China show admirably, that development, prosperity and good health care mean people choose to have fewer children.
China’s leaders announced in 2010, that the one child policy would operate until at least 2015.