A small crack has appeared in totalitarian China’s oppressive policies, but it may be sealed quickly. In response to massive protests in earthquake-stricken Szechuan province, the government announced a slight relaxation of the one-child policy.
Censoring growing protests
By the Chinese government’s own estimates, the number of public protests has been rapidly increasing over the past few years, now reaching about 80,000 annual incidents in this huge country of 1.3 billion people, the largest in the world. Mindful of the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, which attracted more and more of Beijing’s population until it was brutally suppressed, Chinese government officials today usually seek to prevent media coverage of public protests. And if they grant concessions to protesters, they prefer to prevent public knowledge of this, to avoid encouraging other Chinese citizens to insist on their rights.
This same policy has generally been followed for incidents stemming from population control. Only when exceptionally egregious human rights abuses break through Chinese censorship to reach Western media—as happened when thousands of women were rounded up for forced abortions in 2005—have Chinese officials done anything to redress their people’s grievances.
Moreover, the Western media typically ignore the everyday, vicious abuses of China’s population controllers. Instead, the media usually restrict their coverage to China’s violation of political and religious freedoms, rarely mentioning the systemic, nationwide abuses that dictate to Chinese women and their husbands how many children they may have.
The media takes note
But some “mainstream” Western media outlets did discuss China’s one-child policy when furious grieving parents protested after the devastating May 12 earthquake in Szechuan province.
Poorly constructed school buildings collapsed quickly when the earthquake hit, destroying approximately 7,000 classrooms. A large percentage of the schoolchildren killed in this disaster were only children, leaving their parents without any offspring to carry on the family line, to support them in their old age or to love.
Perhaps with an eye to the Beijing Olympics, held in August, and worried about its image abroad, the Chinese government initially did not engage in its usual oppression when dealing with the protesting parents. Instead, it allowed public protests without reprisals, listened and responded to parents’ grievances and demands, promised monetary compensation and, in an extraordinary move, said it would allow parents who lost their only child in the 7.9-magnitude quake to have another baby. Despite the chilling reality that the government of one-fifth of the world’s population decides who may or may not have children, the decision was a small ray of hope for those battling the formidable Chinese population control apparatus.
But now that the world’s media have shifted their spotlight away from the earthquake relief efforts, the government is returning to its old, repressive ways: “Angry parents whose children were crushed to death in schools that collapsed in China’s mighty earthquake are no longer being allowed to march, wave banners and vent their rage in public,” the Associated Press reported as early as July 8.
Local residents say that the police have warned them that more protests will lead to arrests—a threat that carries additional implications, because in China, it is not uncommon for the family homes of protest leaders to be bulldozed. Occasionally, local government officials will also bulldoze the homes of women who become pregnant without government authorization and go into hiding for fear of being forced to abort their children, despite the fact that the central government in Beijing claims to forbid this practice in population control cases.
30 years of coercion
Under China’s one-child policy, instituted in 1979, rural couples may have one child, or often two if their first child is a girl. Urban couples may have only one child of either sex. Some ethnic minorities are allowed more children so that the Chinese government can avoid charges of genocide. Those who violate the policy must pay fines as high as 10 times the average annual household income in China. They can also lose their jobs, as well as medical and educational benefits for their families.
A few years ago, the Chinese government issued a report claiming that because the Chinese people still want too many children, coercive methods to suppress their numbers must remain in force. Government officials have openly talked about retaining oppressive population control policies for another 50 years.
Thanks to the government’s vigorous efforts, prompted by Western population “experts” who claimed China’s expanding population represented a threat to peace and the world’s resources, the Chinese birthrate has been forced down dramatically since the late 1970s. According to the United Nations Population Division, China’s total fertility rate has dropped from 3.3 in 1980 to 2.5 in 1990, to 1.8 in 2000 and to 1.7 in 2005. Thus, on average, each Chinese woman gives birth to 1.7 children in her lifetime, well below the minimal population replacement rate of 2.1. If this low birthrate continues long enough, China will disappear from the face of the earth.
Long before then, however, China’s society will probably collapse under the weight of her own anti-life policies. If profound change does not occur soon, rapid population aging and a rapidly growing sex imbalance will almost certainly create massive social dislocation.
Growing older and poorer
The proportion of Chinese 60 years of age or over will go from 11 percent in 2005 to an alarming 20 percent in 2025, according to the UNPD’s optimistic estimates. At the same time, those in the 15–24 age bracket will decline from 17 to 12 percent. This will occur in a society that is still poor on a per-person basis and will remain so for a long time to come, with no social security programs to care for the aged, who must rely on increasingly scarce young family members to support them.
After 2025, the situation gets even worse: By 2050, those 60 or over will make up an astonishing 31 percent of the population while those 15–24 will still comprise only 11 percent. China simply cannot afford such a shift away from working-age people to an elderly population.
An unintended side effect of China’s population control pro gram has been the elimination of many more girls than boys. In China, sons are preferred both for cultural and practical reasons: They carry on the family line and are needed for hard labor on farms, and traditionally, it is sons who take care of their parents in old age. Daughters instead join their husbands’ families.
So, since the government allows most Chinese only one child, many couples ensure that their one child is a son by aborting girls in the womb or allowing them to die, once born. The spread of inexpensive ultrasound machines combined with easy access to abortion has led to a sex imbalance across Asia—especially in China.
As matters currently stand, by 2020, 30–60 million young Chinese men will not be able to marry Chinese women, and this number grows daily. Though the government has banned sex-selective abortion and is now even paying couples to have daughters, the sex ratio worsens every year.
Historically, a growing number of unattached young men in a society has led to social instability and even war. Tragically, sex-selective abortion has increasingly become a worldwide phenomenon, as radical feminists spread abortion to more areas and ultrasound machines become ever cheaper.
Soaring human trafficking
As the children born after the widespread imposition of coercive population control grow older, other socially destructive effects are worsening. The kidnapping and sale of young women is a skyrocketing business in China, as farmers desperate for wives pay criminal syndicates to traffic women from faraway parts of the country. And now, trafficking in children has gar nered more attention.
In July, HBO aired a British documentary that tracked a Chinese child smuggler‘s operations. Wang Li, who once sold his own girlfriend and one of his own sons, cooperated with the makers of China’s Stolen Children by disclosing how he matches buyers and sellers. The one-child policy drives most of the business: Sellers are often couples who had “one too many” children and must get rid of one to avoid government punishment. Some had a girl whom they chose to sell rather than kill, to make room for a son. Buyers often purchase girls as future wives for their sons.
An estimated 70,000 Chinese children are kidnapped each year. The government’s response? It usually does not investigate kidnappings and forbids parents to put up missing-child posters or otherwise search for their children.
If the suspension of the one-child policy in Szechuan holds, it will be the most dramatic official weakening of this draconian regimen in years. Facing serious new social problems caused by population control and eager to improve its world image, the Chinese government might take more baby steps to relax childbearing restrictions.
But if the exceptions to the onechild policy are withdrawn—just as the tolerance for public protest already has been—it will show that the Communist government’s 30- year reign of anti-child terror will continue as strong as ever.