Last Updated 13 Apr 2021

Population Control in China

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In the 1950's China, under the government weakened by its countries opium dependence to westerners, the idea still existed that, "A large population gives a strong nation"

This led to China's population growing very rapidly, so rapidly in fact that this phrase was beginning to prove in correct. As china's population struggled to feed it's self, as well as extreme overcrowding especially in its cities.

The death rate in China dropped (except for a blip in the natural decrease caused by a minor famine in the 1960's) and its birth rate continued to grow rapidly. Even after the government implemented tolerant population control policies, for example the "later longer fewer policy". The hope was that if people were encouraged to wait longer before marrying, they would have children later in life and therefore is much more likely to have fewer children. However, this did not produce dramatic enough results to help slow China's rapidly growing population and end its pending famine crisis. This is probably due to:

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  • People were still living in a very traditional way. This meant that people, especially those living in rural areas, they had big families. To make up for what was ah high infant mortality rate, during famine years.
  • Women were not educated, and were considered the inferior sex whose job was in the home. They had no career so their only job was in the home.
  • Being a developing country, and at that time very anti- western ideas, and almost fearful of the western world, Chinese people had little or no access to contraception, and even less education on birth control and family planning.
  • No state pension meant that elderly people had to rely on their children to provide for them in their old age. So to be insured of safe elderly years they had to have at least one child who survived childhood and grew up to make an income. In this case boys were preferred, as they could have a paid job, not one in the home.
  • A Cultural Revolution made the population increase by 55 million every three years; this is nearly the same as the entire population of the UK.

In the 1959 to 1961, a famine caused but an Industrial Revolution triggered the government to launch its first population control policies. People moved away from rural areas and their traditional work as farmers to towns and cities, to work in factories, often owned by western countries brought to china by cheap labour costs compared to the western world. This influx of western ideas thwarted the government's campaign, as the later longer fewer Policy was not considered attractive by the Chinese population who moved towards a western ideal.

But the government continued and by 1970, State Family Programmes had been introduced. This lowered the population growth rate. In 1978 3 children per family was average but the government persisted, as this was still too many. This was in the form of various advertising campaigns, however their effect was not dramatic enough, and in 1979, the government wished to stamp out population growth completely. So they introduced a strict population policy.

The policy used a "carrot and stick" method to encourage families who participated, and punish those who did not. Encouragement was in the form of great incentives from the government. These included free education for the child, priority housing, family benefit and a state pension for the family. There were also high penalties for having a second child. Including loss of all incentives, and benefits and fines of up to 15% of the family's annual income. This more than halved the birth rate per thousand from 40 per thousand to 17 per thousand. But the government continued further, the legal age for marriage was raised to 22 for men and 20 for women, to marry couples also had to apply to the state for permission. State permission was also required to have a child. Abortions became compulsory for the second pregnancy.

China's population policy had been very successful at reducing population growth, it met targets set for 2000 in 1994. However the population policy had serious implications for the natural balance of population. The Chinese population has an entire generation of "little emperors" the title given to the supposedly spoiled, greedy, bad-tempered, lazy children of male only children. More seriously as young men this generation has difficulty finding a wife. This is a result of Chinese ideal of male supremacy. Families would try and find out the gender of the child before it was born, with the option to terminate if it was a girl. If a families first born child was female, it was at times abandoned so that the couple could try again for a boy.

The Chinese government also commissioned teams to go from village to village providing a sterilisation service. This at times was a very unfair method and often breached human rights. As the teams were paid by the number of operations they carried out. So often women were sterilised against their will. In China's anti-feminist society it was almost always that women were sterilised instead of men.

The government would defend their actions saying that there was a serious need for rapid population control or there would have been further suffering to the people. Credit can be given that the scheme worked and met target before time.

Today regulations on population control have been relaxed mainly due to the fact that all targets have been met. But also because of pressure from the west. This is mainly in rural areas of china where children are still a useful form of labour on farms, so two children is permitted. But in industrial regions one child is still most likely. Sterilisation is now provided in a manner that is less likely to be damaging and in breach of human rights.

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