An end to child policy Guo Zhigang:
The current birth control policy is the legacy of an era of population explosion, and the fact that the policy is lagging behind our times is becoming obvious. The biggest threat facing the Chinese population is no longer it growing out of control, but rather population ageing and even negative growth. The very low fertility rate distorts population growth and crushes balanced development in the long term. As a result, China is going to have an aging population that is much larger than anyone’s predictions.
Because China has such a massive population, it might be hard to believe that China’s fertility rate is actually very low, even to the Chinese government. China has had six nationwide population censuses since 1949, which provide important population statistics as references for governmental policies. These censuses show that from the 1990 to 2010, the fertility rates of Chinese women aged between 35 and 39 dropped from 2.48 children to 1.52. The most recent population census, took place in 2010, and shows that the nationwide total fertility rate is only 1.18 children per couple. However, for 20 years, even the government didn’t believe the fertility rates of those censuses, simply because they were incredibly low. The government preferred to believe the figure was inaccurate, and put the “true” fertility rate at 1.8 children, on its own guess, and based all birth control policies on this figure.
However, there is enough evidence to indicate that the census results shouldn’t simply be dismissed as “inaccurate”; for many years, population growth has been much smaller than the government’s estimation. For example, the 11th Five-year Plan predicted a 10 million yearly growth, while in fact the yearly growth was only 6 million. By the end of every Five-year Plan for the past 15 years, the population was always 20 million less than the government’s expectations. In fact, the census results, low as they are, can be perfectly rationalized. Under the one-child policy, 63 percent of Chinese couples can only have one child, and on average each couple can have 1.47 children. Therefore, even if there is some miscalculation, for the last two decades the fertility rate still cannot go over 1.5 children per couple. While Chinese women are giving birth to fewer babies, their fertility age has also been postponed, which will also drastically reduce the fertility rate. Therefore, it is no wonder that China’s total fertility rate has been extremely low. The problem is so immediate that even if the government adjusts the policy now, it will only provide a partial solution to the low fertility rate. For modern Chinese society, strict birth control policies are only one of the causes of the low fertility rate. The market economy, better education, and the impact of urbanization have all played important roles. Urbanization has changed the younger generation’s lifestyles, their life goals, and their views. It also made raising and educating a child very expensive. When the younger generation has to support an ageing society, the economy loses its vitality, which in turn makes young people more unwilling to have children, and China will be caught in a vicious cycle of low fertility. Regarding this aspect, the Chinese mainland is growing similar to Taiwan and neighboring countries like Japan and South Korea. In these areas, the government’s efforts to boost the fertility rate have not been successful, and
so far it is hard to find any government which has masterfully handled the problem. China has been running into the same problem and at a speed much faster than expected. We know what’s it like to have an oversized population, but we never had any idea what it would be like to have a seriously ageing population. But, as ever, the threats we are not aware of are the biggest dangers.
The one- in sight? Chen Enfu:
For 30 years after the founding of the PRC, China struggled with poverty, and the lack of birth control policies was one of the reasons for such poverty and backwardness. The birth control policy after the Reform and Opening Up was effective: the birth rate was reduced from 5.8 children per couple to 1.8. Were it not for the one-child policy, China would now have 400 million more people than its current population.
Recently, the government decided to carry out a new policy where a couple can have two children if they both are the only child in their family. However, I’m of the minority opinion that China should still stick to the one-child policy. Having two children should be allowable only in special cases (for example, minorities and having a first child born with serious diseases), and having three children should be strictly forbidden. Also, couples without children should be rewarded.
The Chinese population is already 1.4 billion. According to the South China Morning Post, even without the new two-child policy, the population is going to continue to grow by 6 million every year, reaching close to the limit of what the country’s resources can support. Environmental deterioration is, directly or not, caused by a growing population, and the population is going to further challenge the limits of China’s ecosystem.
In developed countries, the government has to stimulate the birth rate by rewarding people who have babies. In China, however, the people have not yet moved away from the traditional notion that “the more children you have, the more blessed you are” (多子多福). Before the population is reduced to a reasonable number, we should stick to the birth control policies I suggested above.
Population control is crucial in dealing with economic and job market problems. The expanding population is now no longer what the growing GDP and China’s development can support. A strict control on population is what it takes to keep current social problems and the depressed job market from worsening. As of now, migrant workers in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai are excluded from the urban residents’ welfare system. If the population of these cities remains restricted, then it will be easier for the migrant workers to own the city’s hukou (permanent residence permits). When millions of young migrant workers are integrated into these big cities as long-term residents, then the Chinese urban population is not aging at all.
By implementing a strict population policy, the government can save a lot of money on health care and education. The government can invest these funds into improving the lives of the elderly or postpone the retirement age, as the Japanese government does. Our current retirement age is causing people to retire too early; one third of retirees start to work again after their retirement. China should subsidize families in which a member died in military service or a workplace accident so that people can take high risk jobs without worrying about their families and children.
For a harmonious society, we can replace punishing families with too many children, by rewarding families that have fewer children than the policy requires. The fewer children a family has, the better social welfare they can have, and a family without children should have the most generous social welfare terms.