The most salient characteristic of communism is the government ownership and control of the means of production. This signifies that private ownership of businesses is rare, or absent entirely. And the economy is not the only feature of a society that communist governments seek to control. The press, education, religion (if it is allowed at all), and the social lives of the people are all areas that communist governments control, or attempt to control. Communist China has been building a “social credit” system, where everyone is under constant surveillance, and is awarded “points” for obeying the many social rules handed down by government. These rules are constantly changing, and it is sometimes the case that ordinary people are unaware of what they have done to get downgraded. And if a citizen steps over the arbitrary lines, he can be denied a job, the ability to travel freely, and use of communication channels.
In 1979, the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) initiated its “one-child policy”, based upon the assumption, from population data at the time, that the country would become over-populated, and the government might not be able to provide the population with enough food, water, and energy. This policy was carried out, sometimes brutally, with a combination of propaganda, forced birth-control and abortions, financial disincentives, and other measures. Neighborhoods had party cadres whose sole function was to make sure that women did not have more than one child, and to dispense birth-control and advice. Families were fined for more than one child, and single-child families were rewarded with better education and medical care for the entire family.
The policy was quite effective, and the rate of population growth in China slowed down significantly. There were other, more-unpleasant side effects from this policy. Ancient Chinese culture had, and has, a preference for male children, who were considered more valuable since they carried on the family name and did more work; female children were sometimes considered a burden, since they cost a “bride-price” when they were married off, which was a hardship for the millions of Chinese peasants who still populate the countryside. This preference for male children led to the surreptitious killing of female babies, and has had the result of causing a lack of marriageable women in later years. The one-child policy has also resulted in a higher poverty rate for elderly citizens, who now only have one child to care for them in their old age. The other large effect has been the rapid aging of Chinese society, with many more elderly than children.
The CCP decided in 2015 that the one-child policy had overrun its usefulness, and they decided that their policy around births needed to be changed. At first, the Party communicated that women would now be allowed to have a second child without penalty. Of course, they were hoping that the change would cause most reproductive-age women to fairly quickly decide to go ahead and get pregnant with the second child. Well, that did not happen. You see, the one-child policy also included delay of marriage by women, who were urged to have careers themselves, and not get married or have children until later. Of course, the CCP neglected the female “ticking biological clock”, which reduces fertility as a woman ages. Many women liked their careers and the income it brought them, too.
So this week, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Beijing Targets Low Birth Rate”, about how the Communist Chinese government is attempting to juice the national birth-rate. It turns out that even a controlling communist government cannot simply turn the spigot of births, and immediately expect the country’s women to start spitting out more babies. There is a huge population inertia around children, and the ingrained one-child policy is proving difficult to reverse. Here are some quotes from the article.
China is now racing in the opposite direction, closing abortion clinics and expanding services to help couples conceive. But a legacy of the one-child policy, scrapped in 2016, is a dwindling number of women of childbearing age as well as a generation of only children who are less eager to marry and start a family.
Shandong province is known in China for sometimes extreme enforcement of birth restrictions, including a 1991 campaign in parts of the city of Liaocheng dubbed “Hundred Days, No Child”. A 2012 documentary…details how local officials, to make their birth data look better, forced women found to be pregnant to abortion centers, even if the baby was their first and allowed under the one-child policy.
Today, Shandong pays compensation or subsidies to millions of couples who lived by the rules, including retirees who now don’t have support because their only child died or became disabled or women who suffered injuries in connection with abortions or other birth-control methods.
Beijing’s about-face–in six years going from harshly restriction how many children couples could have, to now encouraging them to have more–makes little mention of the lingering effects of the one-child policy on demographics, nor its human cost.
You don’t say! The authoritarian Chinese Communist Party is discovering that there are some human behaviors that are very difficult for them to control, and society doesn’t turn on a dime, no matter how hard they push it. The central planners are discovering that social control is a very delicate thing, and their long-standing policies which have had many adverse effects, are not so easy to reverse. However, knowing the CCP, this will not make any difference to their mindset. They will go on attempting to force their women to marry earlier and have more children, to reverse the effects of their earlier population policy, but it may take many more years for these policies to have any effect. In the meantime, Chinese people will suffer, the workforce will shrink, and their booming economy may not boom so loudly.