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China Letter-News and Human Rights

China human rights news with focus on the Uygur of Xinjiang, Tibetans and Tibet, Chinese mining workers, religion, corruption and censorship.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Ultrasound Or Ultra-Unsound Policy?

one Child propaganda poster

Gender imbalance woes in China blamed on modern technology


A report recently in China's People's Daily looks at the growing gender imbalance in China and claims that it is as a direct result of modern technology which allows parents to find out the sex of an unborn child and then terminate the pregnancy if the child is a female.

According to the report the National Population and Family Planning Commission has focussed on the gender issue as posing a serious problem for China but in doing so incorrectly infers modern technology as being at fault ignoring the possibility that the policy itself may be to blame.

A Serious Problem

China faces some serious population issues in the next 40 years. Gender imbalance is the major one having potential consequences never before faced by a civilized society. The other is a consequent age imbalance, which in itself poses daunting social and economic questions for the Chinese government.

Faced with an exploding population and an economic system that could not support it the Chinese Communist party took the unprecedented step in 1979 of implementing a policy of population control which came to be known as China's "One Child Policy"

The policy effectively was introduced to stop a whole generation of Chinese children from being born and in doing so attempt to "buy" some time to allow the government to implement wide ranging economic reforms to position the country so that it could essentially feed itself into the future.

The "One Child Policy" whilst never a law was promoted through propaganda, "carrot and stick" incentives and in some instances by over zealous officials who took the 'spirit' too far resulting in numerous horror stories of harassment, forced abortions and sterilization of women.

However implemented it has been an astounding success. The Total Replacement Fertility Rate (TFR) in 1979 was 3.6 this had been brought down to 1.8 by 2000. Effectively meaning that some 250 million Chinese children were stopped from being borne.

But like any medicine to cure an ailment China's” One Child” initiative has had it's side effects.

A major adverse effect of the policy has been an unnatural skewing of the gender balance of Chinese society to a point that sees a ratio of 117:100 male to female births as compared to a world average of 104-107:100 males to females.

Historically China has valued male children over female mainly for economic reasons. Boys were considered more productive especially in the poorer rural areas and were also seen as a "superannuation" investment for Chinese parents. As well, culturally, China also has always been a patriarchal society where males dominate the social system.

China's "One Child" Policy combined with this historical perspective and modern technology which allows identification and selective termination of female fetuses has meant that gender imbalance in China's population has become a very major problem. A problem that can only be guessed at as to its social ramifications having as it does no historic parallel against which to compare.

Problems hinted at as to what will be the result of too many men for too few women range from medical and psychological problems through to economic and social concerns. The prospect of 2020 with an estimated 40 million Chinese males denied the opportunity of a settled married and family life with all its attendant positives for society generally is uncharted territory.

The other drawback of the "One Child” Policy is the artificial skewing of the age balance of Chinese society. We are now witnessing a second generation of Chinese that will have a negative fertility rate. In other words it is not regenerating itself. The result of this combined with increasing life expectancy is that the population will become increasingly aged.

After 2015, China's population structure will experience marked changes and the working-age population will not be as abundant as today. By 2020, old-age population will surge and by 2040, China's total old-age population (65+) will hit 397 million, exceeding many countries' current population. By 2050, the number of very old people those above 80 will top 100 million

Obviously a rise in aged means that working people i.e. those people between 15-59 years old, will decline proportionately. In 2000 China's working population accounted for 64.66 per cent in the total population; the figure will drop to 53.42 per cent by 2050."

Will the Gamble Succeed?

The ramifications are a plenty and must be quite concerning to government planners. How is the social security system to be structured and funded? What are the health care delivery and aged care considerations? How does relatively fewer workers support the economy and the high number of “non-productives”? Obviously through greater productivity but how is this attained and at what cost? Quantity will have to be replaced with quality but how?

The "One Child " Policy of the CCP has been an overwhelming and unprecedented social experiment which has had striking success within a narrow band of objectives. The question remains to be answered however is whether the negatives will outweigh the positives.

Has China been successful in "buying" itself enough time to effect social and economic structural change so as it can insure that it is able to "feed" itself or has it only succeeded in deferring the problem by 50 years?


Imbalance gender ratio a worry of China" People's Daily Daily. 30 June 2004 (Viewed 1 July)