China Discovers the Value of Children—400 Million Lives Later

By Steven W. Mosher

Editor’s note. This is adapted from a talk Mr. Mosher gave Thursday evening at NRLC 2018 convention.

Steven Mosher

My introduction to the one-child policy came in a dusty rural clinic in South China in 1980. Hundreds of local women had been arrested in the people’s commune I was living in, charged with the crime of being pregnant, then handed over to army doctors for assembly-line abortions. The sight of women 6, 8 and even 9 months pregnant being delivered of dead babies by cesarean-section is one that I—and they—are unlikely ever to forget.

Local officials explained to me that the Chinese Communist Party, then led by Deng Xiaoping, had decided that China was overpopulated. “Use whatever means you must to control China’s population,” Deng had reportedly instructed senior officials. “Just do it. With the support of the Party you have nothing to fear.”

Party officials have been “just doing it” to women ever since. Each year for the past 38 years—in the longest running political campaign in PRC history—they have arrested, fined, aborted, and sterilized millions of women for violating the rules governing childbearing.

The policy is known in China as “Planned Birth,” which every Chinese woman alive understands to mean … the Party, not you, will decide how many children you have and when you will have them. And each of the Party leaders that followed Deng, from Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao and now Xi Jinping, likewise believed that China’s path to greatness depended upon keeping the wombs of Chinese women empty. Up to recently, they even bragged about having eliminated 400 million people from their population.

Now comes word that the Party is poised to abandon birth restrictions. Perhaps as early as the end of the year, Beijing will announce that Chinese women are free to have as many children as they wish.

Why is President for Life Xi Jinping doing this? Has he heard, as I did, the cries of China’s women? Is he appalled by the slaughter of tens of millions of infant girls by infanticide and abortion? Is he disturbed by the sight of the resulting “excess” men, 30 million strong, roaming China’s cities and towns, and the explosion of sex trafficking and other crimes that have followed?

I suspect that the answer is, “none of the above.” The Chinese Communist Party has never been much concerned about the human cost of the massive social engineering programs they have engaged in, from the Great Leap Forward to the One Child Policy. The consequence of the Great Leap Forward was the death by starvation of 42 million people. The consequences of the One Child Policy are an order of magnitude larger. That policy has eliminated, by forced abortion and infanticide, of 400 million children.

China, you see, has turned Malthus’ “dismal theorem” on its head. Instead of population growth outpacing food production, as Malthus predicted, in China we see the opposite. There, it is population control that is undermining the economy.

What happens when you eliminate 400 million of the most productive, enterprising people in the world? Nothing good.

China’s population is now aging, its workforce is shrinking, and its economic prospects are dimming. The State Council last year projected that about a quarter of China’s population will be 60 or older by 2030, up from 13 percent in 2010. The country was almost four million workers short in 2016, a number that will grow with each passing year. Overall growth is slowing dramatically, with Harvard’s Kennedy School projecting just 4.4 percent growth annually over the next decade.

Xi Jinping constantly invokes his China Dream, which is one of vaulting past the United States into global primacy. And he is determined not to let an aging population and a declining workforce derail that Dream.

Not surprisingly, his answer to China’s baby shortage is to ramp up reproduction.

His first move in this direction came back in 2015, when he ordered that all couples be permitted to have two children. The end of the one-child policy did not produce the expected baby boom, however. According to China’s Bureau of National Statistics, births have continued to fall, dropping 3.5 percent to 17.2 million last year alone.

Now Xi is going to allow couples to conceive at will instead of on command, but I doubt it will make much difference. I predict that the number of births in China will continue to drop dramatically in the years to come. This will reflect both a shrinking population of women in their reproductive years–remember that tens of millions of females in their birth cohorts have been killed—as well as lower fertility desires overall. Most Chinese women now say that they want no more than one, or at most two, children.

That won’t be enough. Reversing China’s death spiral and stabilizing the population will require the relatively few women available, or at least many of them, to give birth to three or more children.

What this suggests is that the “reproductive freedom” that the Party may soon offer women may prove to be only a temporary stop on the way to something much darker. Something perhaps more closely resembling reproductive servitude, than reproductive freedom.

Does anyone doubt Beijing’s willingness to use coercive, often brutal methods to impose its will on the masses? State control of reproduction is, in fact, a long-established principle in the People’s Republic. The late Chairman Mao Zedong decreed in the early Fifties that it would be the Party, not the people, who decided family size.

Does anyone doubt that, if Chinese women don’t voluntarily produce enough workers for the high-tech industrial future that Xi has envisioned, that he would hesitate to order that childbearing be made mandatory?

If the coming spring of reproductive freedom fails to produce a bumper crop of babies in the fall, the now-familiar order will come down:

“Use whatever means you must to increase the birthrate,” Xi Jinping will direct his senior officials. “Just do it. With the support of the Party, you have nothing to fear.”

Steven W. Mosher is the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order.