Three years after Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, the Chinese government implemented a widely controversial policy to halt its rapid population growth, the one-child policy. This policy limits the number of children the majority of Chinese (specifically Hans) families can have. The Chinese government has claimed the law has prevented 400 million births, about equal to of the combined populations of the United States and Canada. Beijing has stated that despite the international and internal criticism that the law has endured, the reduction in the nation’s population growth has brought many socioeconomic benefits to its people.
The communist leaders have suggested that the lower fertility rate, which has fallen drastically since the 1980s, has contributed to an increased savings rate for the average Chinese household. Their logic is that since millions of urban households only have one child, they will utilize fewer resources, and in turn save more money and time, and invest their extra resources in education, health care, and business. The government gas made the bold claim that the one-child policy is directly connected to China’s unrivaled economic growth. According to the government, the reduction in the demand for resources, and the lower unemployment rate, have made maintaining a steady labor force more practical and manageable.
The one-child policy has directly and dramatically contributed to the reduction of China’s fertility rate. We can see this in the government’s many initiatives. Since the introduction of the one-child policy, thousands of abortion clinics have emerged in almost every major city. Access to birth control and other protections has become more prevalent. Because many of these measures have affected only city dwellers, the Chinese government created mobile abortion clinics to travel around the countryside to promote abortions and sterilizations.
The Chinese government has also used the media to encourage urban dwellers and rural peoples to only have one child. In the 1980s and early 90s, posters could be seen with slogans such as, “China Needs Family Planning, and “Have Fewer Children Live Better Lives”. The government even gave rewards to people who supported and encouraged others to have one child. Parents who had one child would get a “one-child glory certificate,” which entitled them to certain economic benefits. The law also offers extended maternity leave, which includes other benefits for couples that delay childbirth.
The one-child policy has also affected China’s reduction in its fertility rate by using coercion and punishments to discourage couples from having multiple children. Couples can be fined thousands of dollars for having supernumerary children without obtaining a permit. The typical fine is sometimes five times that of an average Chinese family’s salary. If fines are not paid, homes and land may be confiscated.
The Chinese government has also violated women’s bodies by using coercive tactics to keep the fertility rate low. There are many reports claimed that forced abortions and sterilizations are common throughout rural and urban China. There are even reports of babies being aborted in their third trimester, and even immediately after birth. In the mid 2000s claims were made of authorities randomly raiding rural areas looking for unregistered children and forcing woman to have abortions if they already had a child. Reports of pregnant woman being thrown jail and told to have abortions are also prevalent.
Many scholars and human rights activists have argued that the one-child policy has not correlated as directly China’s lower fertility rate as the Chinese government claims it has. They have a point. Rapid economic growth, the rise of the population’s education, and women’s access to education and employment would inevitably have reduced the fertility rate. We can see this by looking at other nations, including developed Asian nations, which have lower fertility rates. But it is difficult to argue that the one-child policy has not reduced the fertility in China. The fact that the Chinese government has for so many years used a wide range of tactics to prevent and discourage couples from having more than one child has definitely had an effect on the fertility rate.
I suggest that the Chinese government’s persistence in preventing couples from having a second child has caused a sense of fear, internal pressure, and even anxiety that is now ubiquitous throughout Chinese society. The social pressures and coercive tactics used by the Chinese government has used on its citizens to prevent families from having multiple children, are causing profound problems throughout rural China, and even amongst the lower and middle classes in Chinese cities.
This pressure the Chinese government constantly places on the people, compounded with the are major penalties for having multiple children, has caused unprecedented social problems.
Too Many Men and Not Enough Women
According to the most recent census data, there are 120 men for every 100 women in China. In other words, there are too many men and not enough women. At no time in history has there been such a dramatic shortage of women in a society. The closest humanity has come to China’s present situation was is after World War I in Germany, Russia, Britain and France.
Some people have argued that because of a certain part of Chinese culture that prizes the birth of boys over girls, couples historically have taken steps to ensure that their first child is a boy. This may have had a small effect on the disproportionate gender ratio, but to make the gender gap so wide is unlikely. It is my opinion, along with those with many others, that the one-child policy is possibly the main contributor to China’s gender imbalance. The repercussions in China’s society are deep.
China’s gender imbalance has made it very difficult for men to find wives. Some men in China have become so desperate to find a wife, that they have resorted to human trafficking. Chen Shiqu, head of the Chinese government agency that is attempting to reduce human trafficking, has said that the great demand for women in China is “fueling the culprits.” Many of these women are coming from Yunnan, Guangdong, and even from countries outside China, including Vietnam, Burma and Laos. The one-child policy is partially contributing to the female human trafficking in southern China and neighboring nations.
The more fortunate bachelor’s are resorting to newspaper ads and other legal but odd methods to attract wives. Some of these advertisements have highlighted that their home has a “good bathroom.” Even some Chinese men who have careers, a home, and a car, are having difficulty finding wives. Sometimes their mothers go to parks while their sons are at work to help them find a wife. Less fortunate men have resorted to purchasing female prostitutes (there is a rise in prostitution in all major cities in China), by deceiving women by offering phony job offers.
The lack of women in China has also caused a major rise in crime. An associate professor of economics at Columbia University, Lena Edlund, has found that “a one percent increase in the ratio of males to females equates to an increase in violent and property crime of as much as six percent, suggesting that male sex ratios may account for 28 to 38 percent of the rise in crime.”
Time to Rethink the One-Child Policy
The one-child policy was an attempt to reduce China’s fertility rate the people behind it had good intentions. They saw that China’s rapidly growing population was rapidly growing, and it did appear that hundreds of millions of people would consume China’s resources, and possibly cause social, economic and political instabilities. But now China’s population is more or less under control. For the most part, China’s population is growing at a steady rate, and the one-child policy has prevented 400 million births. But some of the methods employed to prevent these births were morally reprehensible. Chinese society will have a difficult time dealing with the extreme gender imbalance, and its many repercussions in the next few decades. It is time that China rethink, revise or abolish its one-child policy.