In 1981 the Chinese government implemented the reproductive health program, also known as the one-child policy. This policy was intended to limit the number of births per family in order to stem a growing concern about over-population. This paper takes the position that while the population in China has stabilized, the overall effect of the policy has been detrimental to the nation in the long-run.
Chinese officials insist the reproductive health program is fully voluntary. Women are free to voluntarily select the timing and spacing of their pregnancies. There are no targets and quotas for births and sterilizations, abortion is not promoted as a method of family planning, and coercion does not exist (Mosher).
However, according to Steven Mosher the Chinese government sets national targets for family size and total population. These numbers are achieved through bribes and punishments for the officials responsible for enforcing the one-child policy, bribes and punishments for families, group pressure tactics, mandatory contraception and sterilization, and the dissemination of propaganda supporting the one-child policy. Mosher claims the most important factor in all of this is the number of live births, as long as that figure is decreasing how it is accomplished is immaterial. Other research indicates there have been a number of other unforeseen consequences as a result of this policy including the loss of a demographic benefit (Liu), gender disparities, unregistered children, an aging population, and other social matters (Pascu).
Jiali Li notes the Chinese government has sought to establish controls over almost every aspect of its citizen's lives since its establishment in 1949 and sees the one-child per family policy is a further example of this quest. The government introduced a number of measures to secure compliance, for instance "one-child certificates were issued…to offer a variety of benefits to couples who had only one child and promised to have no more" (563). Furthermore a birth quota system was implemented to monitor reproductive behavior and penalties were imposed on couples who violated the policy.
In 1798 Robert Malthus argued that an unchecked increase in the world's population would outpace increases in food supply. Malthus asserted the only way to keep population in line with the available food supply were through a series of population 'checks' which included war, famine, and disease. Furthermore, Malthus asserted that modern civilizations also used preventative checks, such as delayed marriage and abstinence; however despite these checks humans still put a strain on available resources (Mayhew).
During the 1960s ideas about population growth and resource depletion began to garner more attention. In 1972 Limits to Growth, a study based on a computer model developed by three researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to investigate five major trends of social concern: accelerated industrial development, rapid population growth, widespread malnutrition, depletion of nonrenewable resources, and a deteriorating environment. While the researchers acknowledged the model was imperfect, oversimplified and unfinished, they concluded that present growth trends in world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion continued unchanged the limits of growth on this planet will be reached sometime within the next one hundred years (Bailey).
In 1978 Song Jian a systems control specialist for China's state-owned defense industry visited Europe and learned about the application of systems-analysis theory to population problems. Applying this technique of analysis to China Jian determined the capacity of the land does not permit excessive increases in population. Jian calculated China's optimal population to be between 650 and 700 million, about two-thirds China's 1980 population. The study found that limiting woman to 1.5 births would produce the kind of population reduction they were seeking (Mosher).
The findings of this report became a Chinese political issue, population growth was said to be responsible for rising levels of unemployment, poverty, and falling levels of productivity and investment. In order to mitigate this problem a one-child policy was implemented in 1981. This policy requires IUDs for women of child bearing age with one child, sterilization for couples with two children, and abortions for women pregnant without authorization. In the mid-1980s the policy was modified to allow couples in rural areas a second child provided the first was a girl (Mosher).
The Chinese quota system is under the State Family Planning Commission. The commission sets a national population target each year and the number of children allowed to be born in the coming year is then allocated to each province. Provincial governments then assign responsibility to local officials to ascertain the exact number of children permitted to be born in their areas of responsibility. Local authorities then select the families to be included in the birth quota and authorize them to have a child. Under this system couples are not supposed to have a child until they obtain the official permit. Pregnancies that occur without birth permits must be terminated by "remedial measures in a timely fashion" according to the policy regulations (Li).
China is the world's only country that penalizes its citizens for violating population policy. Penalties for failure to comply with the one-child policy are enforced by local authorities who are themselves under various economic and disciplinary pressures to ensure that the number of infants born in their jurisdiction conforms to the birth quota. Typically, a fine is imposed as a means to limit childbearing. The amount of the penalty varies according to the severity of the violation. The financial penalties for having a second child without a permit normally range from 10 to 50% of the annual income of both husband and wife, imposed each year for a period ranging from 5 to 14 years. Heavier penalties are imposed on those having three or more children without permission. Those having their first child without a permit may also be penalized (Li).
In addition to financial penalties, other kinds of punishments may be imposed related to one's household registration type. Each Chinese citizen has an official record known as the household registration. This registration contains personal characteristics and background information. Household registration classifies Chinese people into two groups. The first group is commonly designated peasant registration and contains individuals who depend mainly on agriculture for their subsistence. The second group is designated worker registration. These people draw wages or other allocations from the state. Individuals with peasant registration are not guaranteed food, cash income, medical services, or old-age pensions. However, worker registration puts people under direct government control and at risk of more severe punishment beyond direct financial penalty if they fail to comply with the one-child policy (Li).
Recent Economic Gains
Prema Nakra notes that when the Chinese government initiated the one-child policy China was home to one fourth of the world's population and two-thirds of the Chinese people were under the age of 30. China's baby boomers of 1950s and 1960s were then beginning to enter their reproductive years. According to Nakra, China introduced the one-child policy to control what was perceived as the runaway birth rate. Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader at the time, believed that gaining control of the escalating population would be an essential part of transforming the country from an agrarian economy into an industrial economy.
Nakra contends Xiaoping's efforts to modernize China's economy have succeeded beyond all expectations. Between 1979 and 2010 China has experienced unprecedented economic growth in duration, pace and scale. In their efforts to modernize the Chinese have rebuilt their economy by opening their industrial sector to foreign investment, privatizing state-owned industries, and expanding higher education. China today is the world's second-largest economy, with a consistent growth rate of 10% per year. China has already claimed the number-two position in terms of GDP and at the current rate will assume the number-one position in the world by the year 2020.
Economists project that by 2032 a third of all Chinese will be over 60 years of age. This translates to approximately 438 million people outnumbering the entire population of the United States. The dominance of this population demographic means that fewer young people will be left to pay taxes and take care of the elderly (Nakra).
Lee Liu in his 2010 study, China's Population Trends and their Implications for Fertility Policy, also foresees a demographic problem on the horizon for China. Demographic dividend is the theory that age-structure affects economic growth. In the early stages of demographic transitions, high populations of young people result in a low working age ratio as compared to the general population. These circumstances suppress economic growth. As this population grows older and joins the workforce the economy benefits from their labor and grows as does the demographic dividend. However, as this population ages and the ratio of elderly to the general population increases, the demographic dividend dissipates and economic growth slows.
Economists assert a country needs to develop its human resources to obtain maximum economic growth. As pointed out earlier, when the Chinese implemented the one-child policy two thirds of their population was under 30. China's one-child policy has been compared to…