China's Population Policy

China’s population policy introduced in the second half of the 20th century was directed at decreasing the population growth. It included measures primarily based on the birth planning campaign and national family planning which targeted the total numbers of births in each district and assigned quotas to the families. In the long run, such policy led to population ageing, distortion in sex ratios and other difficulties for the economic and social system of the country. In addition to the consequences for the internal situation in the country, China’s population policy also had an impact on the global affairs.

Evolution of China’s Population Policy

The first birth planning campaign was instituted by Chairman Mao in 1953 following the results of the general census. After some years during the Great Leap Forward, China launched industrialization drive which nearly destroyed the agricultural system of the country. At the same time, it resulted into rapid deterioration of living standards, spread of famine and reduction of fertility. In 1962, Mao changed his policies and turned his attention back to the spheres of agriculture and food production (Adshead, 2014). In turn, it led to the Cultural Revolution whose aim was to return to the principles which were perceived as basic for Chinese people, especially those which were upheld by the peasantry. During the period of Cultural Revolution primarily characterized by turmoil and constant political changes, family size in China rapidly increased. For example, in the period from 1957 to 1970, China’s population grew from nearly 630 million to 880 million people (Adshead, 2014). Thus, the population of China was once again growing very fast and by 1970 Chinese families had had an average of five children.

In 1971, following the events of the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four period, the Chinese Government decided to adopt a new population policy in order to lower the demographic growth because by that time the population of China had reached 880 million people as estimated by the United Nations (Adshead, 2014). This policy was adopted by the State Council and became an essential element of the Chinese modernization measures. Such measures provided for the concerted effort based on the effective birth planning campaign and the development of national family planning services which were often backed up with legal abortion. One of the main advocates of birth control was Zhou Enlai who proclaimed the new decision of the government that was at that time known to the population by the slogan: later-longer-fewer (Tian, 2017). The political campaign included strong material incentives in case of a voluntary restriction of the family size. At the same time, it was actively promoted by the whole political and organizational system of China, ranging from central committees to local levels. The given campaign also included late marriage as part of its efforts to lower the fertility rate and decrease population growth (Tian, 2017). For example, men were expected to marry between 25 and 27 years of age and women between the ages 23 and 25. As the population policy evolved in the next few years, provinces in China were given demographic rate targets which they were supposed to achieve and maintain. Also, there was established a system of responsible staff who was assigned with specific birth planning responsibilities. In general, their task was to ensure that local targets were achieved and that individual families complied with the regulations emanating from provincial or national authorities of a higher level.

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Implementation of One-Child Policy

Within a decade after the period discussed previously, the goals of the population policy were considerably refined and the government took a completely new measure in an attempt to sharply limit fertility. At the beginning of 1979, the Chinese government formally announced the “one-child family policy”. As a result of this new decision, in 1979 Chinese families were strongly encouraged to limit their family size which implied the possibility of them having only one child (Chang, 2012). At the same time, in the rural areas, families were sometimes allowed to have two children.

By September of 1980, the Central Committee of China’s Communist Party had issued an “Open Letter” which informed the country’s population about the launching of an ambitious birth planning program oriented on the following 20-30 years, which required all the families to limit themselves to having only one child (Chang, 2012). With the intensification of the birth planning efforts in China, it defined the objectives of its policy on the internal and international levels. Liu Zheng designated them as “the promotion of human reproduction in a planned way in accordance with the needs of national interest and social development so as to prevent anarchy in human reproduction”. Furthermore, later marriage and birth control were proclaimed as its principal goals. The decision of Chinese government to impose reproductive norms on the population, allowing families to have only one child meant the refusal of personal family aspirations with a view to achieving the national social goals. In particular, this decision influenced the life of recently married couples. The government set targets for the total numbers of births in each place and then assigned quotas to smaller units. Young people also needed permission from their work units to get married and to have a child. 

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Implementation of “one-child policy” meant that the population policy of China began to rapidly evolve from a voluntary to a compulsory phase which turned into an integral part of social development plans in China. This was considered as an essential step for the achievement of the “four modernizations” connected with such spheres as industry, defense and agriculture, along with science and technology. They were presented to the general public as essential means necessary for securing the health and welfare of future generations. When they were tightened to the population policy, compliance became mandatory for all the Chinese families. At the same time, the pregnancies which were not authorized were subject to termination. In turn, it resulted in a rapid increase in abortion rates throughout China. For example, in the early 1980s, women who were pregnant beyond the plan often faced pressure from the birth control bodies, which insisted on their having abortions done.

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In order to denote the policy of China in relation to the limitation of the population growth, one should say about the conceptual notion of family planning in China and the peculiarities of how the term “birth planning” is being used. Chinese program was named a “birth planning” or “population planning” because of their special emphasis on these fields in China. It is based on the belief that human procreation and material production are to be kept in balance in a socialist society. At the same time such an approach is connected with the idea that the good of an individual must correspond with the collective good and the main goals of the society. By using the thesis about the goals of the whole society as justification for the actions of the government, in the period of 1982-1983, Chinese government strengthened its policy of birth planning (Riley, 2017). However, in the following decade this campaign was relaxed a little and those families who had only daughters got the opportunity to try for a son.

Consequences of the Population Policy in China

One of the main consequences of China's population policy was a significant decrease of the fertility level, which, in its turn, led to the emergence of a wide range of undesirable side effects. Early in the middle 1980s, some scholars argued that in case of complete success of one-child policy, its side effects would be connected with possible reduction in manpower, high rate of population aging and distortions in sex ratios. Although the Open Letter issued in 1980 relieved the concerns about the possible negative effects of China’s population policy, after several decades of its implementation it resulted in a number of social difficulties and considerable human suffering.

Distortion of Sex Ratio

By 2011, China’s government officials began to talk about the necessity to end “one-child policy” in the near future, which was connected with concerns about the decrease of working-age population in the country (Riley, 2017). At the same time, due to the fact that for a long time there was preference for giving birth to boys, currently China finds itself in the situation where it is going to face the shortage of young women in the coming decades. This is because in the past female fetuses were often aborted after ultrasound identification and girl babies were more likely to be made available for adoption. In 1990s, China changed its policy and started allowing foreigners to adopt the unwanted children (Ebrey, 2013). Thus, by the end of the decade many of such orphans, primarily baby girls, were adopted by the US families.

As it was said above, the past population policy of China led to the increased sex ratio at birth, which in turn resulted into distorted sex structure across the population and the emergence of the phenomenon of women shortage. Thus, nowadays a lot of men cannot find a mate, and the country is expected to experience a male marriage growth for several decades to come. Besides, such a situation is related to the growing migration, different mortality levels of men and women and age gaps between spouses. However, in regard to the population in China, the most important factors are the numbers of marriageable men and women, which are greatly influenced by the changing age structure in the country. In turn, this can lead to the situation of even greater number of excess males in the population proportion in the country.

It can be said that the population policy of China has greatly influenced the issues of family organization and family dynamics in the country. For example, such traditional elements of Chinese culture as ancestor worship, lineage and solidarity with patrilineal kin were rejected as feudal and out of date practices. Also, the authority of family heads declined because collectives usually took over property and allocated labor. Furthermore, as children and women used to spend much more time away from their homes, in some way family lost its previous central role in their lives. One of the positive consequences of the reform became the shortage of coerced marriages as at least in the cities people could choose their own spouses and seek companionate marriage.  

Population Ageing

Speaking about the consequences of the population policy in China, one can say that since the early 1970s the population growth in the country has fallen to a remarkably low level. The swiftness of such demographic transition in China at that time was facilitated by the implementation of strict measures of population control discussed above. As it was mentioned earlier, the most representative among them was the one-child policy. Because of such policy modern China faces several pressures, one of the most serious of which is the ageing of China’s population as its consequences will be felt for many decades to come. At the same time, one-child policy led to the situation characterized by the exhaustion of China’s demographic dividend and closure of its demographic window. For example, although the age dependency ration in the country did not rise significantly between 1953 and 1990, in recent years it had increased much more rapidly and reached almost 14 percent in 2014 (Chang, 2012). Nowadays, China accounts for nearly a quarter of all elderly population throughout the world and the share of people older than 65 years is expected to rise and reach 12 percent or 170 million by 2020 (Riley, 2017). Thus, in the next few decades, this population group will probably double.

Due to the fact that number of working-age population and labor force in China will continue to decrease in the years to come, China will be responsible for carrying the burden connected with the support of elderly population. In turn, the need of such support will be related primarily to the social insurance and welfare demands of the elderly population, which usually rely on the state. At the same time, the ageing of population in the country is likely to continue to have a negative impact on the standards of living and the ability of the government to effectively implement a comprehensive social security policy. Therefore, the situation of a significant increase of the number of elderly population in the country will contribute to the shortage of support and care which can be provided on behalf of the government for elderly people.

Because of the long implementation of “one-child policy,” modern families in China face a situation where the family structure is being changed, as nowadays families in the country usually consist of four paternal and maternal grandparents, a couple and only one child. In the absence of formal social insurance, this places tremendous pressure on the family (Riley, 2017). Such a new family structure in China presents a serious problem to the financial planning efforts of the government, which greatly influences the future image of the country’s demographic system. Rapid increase of aging population in China exerts pressure on finances of the government not only through the growing burden of pensions, but also through the working-age population’s duty to support the rising number of pensioners. At the same time, the system of financial health in China is largely sensitive to the proportion of dependent groups of population to workers as this system is financed by payroll taxes paid by current workers. Also, due to the acceleration of the aging process, the issue of older age can be the factor of dragging down the whole economy, contributing to high levels of social imbalances and instability. Thus, it can be admitted that in the case of China, the goal of bringing population growth under control led to the emergence of even greater social and economic challenges than the problems that ought to have been resolved by China’s previous population policy.

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Racial and Cultural Diversity’s Extinction

One more important issue for modern China is racial and cultural diversity extinction. As China has adhered to strict implementation of population policy for many decades, its total fertility rate experienced significant decline. Also, the total fertility rate is influenced by many factors, such as delayed childbearing, which leads to imbalances and underestimation of the fertility level. Due to the high level of actual fertility decline in the country, it had important impact on small ethnic groups. Some of them were allowed to have more than one child, while the other ethnic groups were not limited in this respect at all (Riley, 2017). At the same time, as the government did not provide a sufficient level of social welfare measures to these groups in remote regions of China, so that they could not build large families. In turn, this led to a high level of population decline and resulted into a more rapid population decrease among these groups, which led to them being under the risk of extinction.

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International Consequences

At the same time, the consequences of past population policy of China have not only internal but also international impact, which can be seen both on the regional and global levels. For example, the most striking regional development in this regard consists in the fact that by the beginning of the 2020s the population of China will have been overtaken by that of India (Tubilewicz, 2017). Also, despite China’s population being expected to reach its peak during the 2030s, it will then begin to decline. There are also projections that by 2100 China’s total population will reach nearly 1 billion while that of India will reach around 1,66 billion (Tubilewicz, 2017). Thus, unlike the situation in China, the population in India is expected to continue to increase.     

Conclusion

In conclusion, China’s population policy was initiated in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution characterized by rapid growth of the population. Chinese government decided to adopt a new population policy known as “one-child policy” in order to lower the internal demographic growth as a part of modernization of the country. Population policy implemented by China greatly influenced social and economic life of the country. The most striking consequences of such policy were ageing of the population, increasing burden on the working-age population, distortion in sex ratios, changing role of family in Chinese society and the cultural diversity extinction. At the same time, China’s previous population policy will have consequences on the international level, as in several years to come China is likely to lose its status of the country with the largest population in the world.

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