Momentous Chinese decision supports family values
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
Good-bye Little Emperor!
That’s what male babies have been called in China for years ever since Chairman Mao brought in China’s one-child per family policy in 1972 and set off a biological rush of baby boys because of the Chinese preference for male babies to carry on the family name and lineage.
Mao’s reason for bringing in the policy almost 40 years ago was simple. People were starving. So in true Chinese fashion, the wily old Chairman came up with a simple, but draconian, solution. Cut the birth rate. And for a while it worked quite effectively. China’s crude birth rate fell from 37 per thousand people to 20 and China’s overall population growth fell dramatically too. But after the Chairman’s death in 1976 it became slowly apparent that tinkering with one aspect of demographic growth created new problems that weren’t apparent at the time the one-child policy was introduced.
People that are well fed live longer, much longer than if they were mal-nourished. So the male birth rate in China soared while the female birth rate declined dramatically until the situation today where 120 male babies are born for every 100 females with millions of Chinese female babies callously aborted. But this demographic imbalance became a plague of its own as the Chinese life span increased it soon became apparent that three-person Chinese families were too small to support the country’s burgeoning population of elders.
This was something Chairman Mao and China’s Communist government didn’t think about at the time they introduced the mandatory one-child policy. But they’re thinking about it now as China faces a demographic time bomb.
The statement this week from China’s Communist Party Central Committee said the decision was made “to improve the balanced development of population” and stem development of a rapidly aging work force. Sound familiar? Yes, indeed, we have the same problem here where Statistics Canada issued a report in September that today there are more people aged 65 and over in Canada than children under 15. The implications of this are enormous for both Canada and China.
In Canada’s case it means that if it wasn’t for the 250,000 or so immigrants that Canada admits every year we’d be close to losing population as well as critically needed new workers. In China’s case the problem is even more dramatic because support of the venerated elderly is absolutely integral in a country where the primary social institution remains the family in spite of communism.
So how long is it going to take China to get its population back in balance? Answer this and Chinese authorities might give you a piece of the Great Wall, but most demographers think it will take at least two generations.
And this is where the real crunch comes in because Chinese authorities fear having millions of young men lounging around unable to find wives or even girlfriends is a recipe for social unrest or even revolution. The problem is especially acute in rural China where up to 60 per cent of local farmers are unable to find wives, according to a Han government report quoted in the Globe and Mail. “These villages are corners forgotten by love," the report said. "Because of the poor economic conditions in the villages, the single men have nothing to do except drinking and gambling together for the whole day, becoming a source of instability in rural society."
There is nothing a Chinese government apparatchik fears more than “instability.” And what’s more unstable than millions of single, young men with raging hormones and nothing to do? In China, such men are called “bare branches” prone to drinking, gambling and violence – but worst of all – political revolt. Hence the momentous decision this week to end the single-child policy in China. But will it be enough?
We better hope so because an unstable China, soon to become the biggest economy on earth, has the potential to destabilize the entire world.