China’s Two Child Policy Correct, Western Press Wrong
Western press coverage of China’s recent announcement of moving back to a two-child policy has been an abysmal example of shallow reporting. Newspaper, television, radio and online “news” combine a failure to conduct background research with our expectation that every culture in the world should be just like us.
Media are all claiming the Party is hesitant to abandon the one-child policy because it would reveal the longtime Party policy was wrong. That is nonsense. Mao was not happy with any birth control policy; he viewed maximum growth as essential to building a modern nation. Mao died in 1976. China’s limitation on children was introduced in 1978 for enforcement in 1979. Science voices had long pointed to their massive growing population as creating a terrible burden on solving economic, social and environmental problems in China. They finally prevailed after Mao was gone. The initial restriction was a mild two-child policy, but the need for a one-child policy rapidly followed.
During World War II, our film director Frank Capra made famous the example that if Chinese came marching past you four abreast, they would never stop coming because more would be born, grow up, and join the march. That was when China had 400 million people. Today, with 1.4 billion, they can march past us 14 abreast and never stop coming! And without the one-child policy, that number today would be an additional 400 million more or 18 abreast!
Western news makes this last week’s decision appear to be a recent turnaround motivated by an aging population and the increasing burden of workers supporting the retired elderly. Again not true. In 2008, the deputy director of China's National Population and Family Planning Commission indicated that the one-child policy would only remain in place until 2015.
Even in 2008, a spokesman for the Committee on the One-Child Policy pointed out that only 36 percent of China's population was subject to a one-child restriction. It applied only to Han Chinese. There were no restrictions on the minorities or foreigners living in China. Residents of Hong Kong and Macau are also exempt. Natural twins or triplets are also permitted. And recently, admittedly due to the financial burden of a single child caring for two parents and four grandparents, the only-child-of-an-only-child who marries an only-child-of-an-only-child can have two children.
While I was teaching at a Chinese university in 2012, my wife tutored ten university students in English. Only three of the ten were only-children; the seven others had brothers and/or sisters and those siblings were also getting an education with full civil rights, not suffering as non-citizens as portrayed in the American press.
While lecturing at over 25 Chinese universities in the last 23 years, I have seen major changes in quality of life and attitudes toward family. In Shanghai and Beijing, the ratio of boys-to-girls is 105.5-to-100, the exact same ratio of boys-to-girls as in America. The surplus of males in less developed areas of China is a relic of a boy preference we also had in the last century; they call it “feudal thinking.” Farmers not only wanted bigger families to work the fields, but preferred boys. So yes, there are unwanted girls in orphanages. But no one can fault the People’s Republic who from their beginning ended arranged marriages and foot binding, and championed equal rights and education for women.
In contrast, India remains an economic basket case with uncontrolled growth that will surpass China. Every effort to modernize India is impeded by their ever-increasing population. Japan however made birth control accessible after World War II, curbed its population growth, and achieved a higher standard of living. It has even fewer workers supporting their elderly population when compared to China.
With the world population having passed 7 billion and growing to over 9 billion by 2050 and 11 billion by 2100, China’s policy was critical. Without it, China would not have received a United Nations award for having pulled 400 million people out of poverty.
“Why do Americans think our one-child policy is a human rights issue?” is a question I am asked every summer I go to China. I can only reply that Americans have not walked the terribly crowded streets of China or experienced the pollution caused by five times the population on less land.