Now I know this is more of an edgy topic, but it’s one of the issues which generates the most anger and confusion amongst Americans when they think of China.
First a little history: China has always had a large, mostly rural, population. As it is everywhere, farmers in China also tended to have large families to help with the work. Up to the 1950’s it was common practice for families to have 6-10 children, many of whom would die before their fifth birthday. On top of the high infant mortality rate there was the Japanese invasion, and then a civil war that kept China’s population from growing despite the birth rate.
Needless to say, when the communists finally won control of the mainland, life expectancy went up, infant mortality went down, and the population started to increase quickly. This became more of a problem when Mao did some quick math (apparently not his strong suit) and thought that since people have two hands and only one mouth a huge population would be a blessing and not a burden. The policy continued for decades.
In the late 1970’s the government double checked the math and saw that Mao had forgotten to carry the one hundred somewhere, and the population was growing more quickly than the food supply. This led to the birth (sorry) of the one child policy. Now I wouldn’t say that it was a good thing, or that it didn’t cause a lot of other hairy problems (most of the stories you have heard are probably true in some scale), but in the long run I would say it was a necessary policy. The policy had come on the heels of several campaigns to encourage couples to marry later and have fewer children, but these simply were not enough to curb population growth.
Can you imagine what the reaction would be in the US if the government even hinted at telling us how many children we could have? In China at the time there was not much discussion as to whether or not this fell under the power of the government. For years the people had been forcibly moved, and had been subject to dozens of social experiments.
As a result of the policy there is an undeniable gap between the number of men and women. Female infanticide did happen, but not so often that it would come close to explaining the entire gap. The biggest reason is that families in the countryside (at the time close to half of the population) were allowed to have a second child if the first child was a girl. It was also legal at first to have sex selecting abortions, although later a law was put in place that made it so doctors were not allowed to reveal the sex of the child prior to birth (still in effect).
Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the one child policy as it is today, and later in the week I’ll try to post some of the conversations I’ve had with my Chinese friends about this topic.
Today’s propaganda posters came from www.chineseposters.net