A different world: the unintended consequences of China’s one-child policy

The deaths of female babies by drowning, sex-selective abortion, malnutrition, denial of health care and abandonment.

These are some of the grim consequences of China’s one-child policy.


In 2012, CNN reported that Feng Jianmei, 22, was detained and coerced into having an abortion in the seventh month of her pregnancy, according to her husband.

But they aren’t the only ones.

China, once fixated on explosive population growth and worried about the economy’s ability to cope with it, now has a new problem, too sharp a drop in birth rates and too many old people.

The ramifications for China and the rest of the world could be severe.

In 1979, Liang Zhongtang, a Chinese economist and demographer, insisted that the one-child policy would be a “terrible tragedy” that would turn China into a “breathless, lifeless society without a future,” but he was ignored.

In 1980, the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, fearfully contemplating a population of one billion, initiated a one-child policy.


The rigorous enforcement of the policy quickly got ugly, with a particularly devastating impact on female babies, as families favored having male children.

“Chinese women’s reproduction is utilized as a feature of socialist modernization, a sacrifice for the good of the state,” said Winter Wall, founder and Managing Member at W3 Global Consulting in Denver, CO. “Reproductive rights in Chinese society have been co-opted by the government as a component of a broader push towards socialist modernization.”

While most Americans think of China in terms of the cheek-to-jowl masses of people crowded into Bejing, there’s much more to the story.

NPR reported this past year on the consequences of the one-child policy in China’s Rudong County in Jiangsu province.

The county launched a family planning pilot program in the 1960s. “Having a second child wasn’t allowed, so we had to work on (pregnant women) and persuade them to have an abortion,” Chen Jieru, the Communist Party secretary of a village at the time, told NPR.

The result? The policy, in combination with an exodus of young people to cities for better opportunities, has left the county’s young population shriveled while the elderly population has exploded.

The increasing number of the elderly is soon going to be a problem across China. There are now five workers to each retiree, but in a little more than 20 years that is projected to shift to 1.6 workers to every one retiree. “It spells shrunken tax coffers, reduced consumer spending and all-around diminished productivity,” said Mei Fong in her recently issued book, “One Child – the story of China’s most radical experiment.”

A senior Chinese economist, Liu Mingkang, speaking at the Asia Global Dialogue in 2012, said China’s population growth will end as soon as 2020 when its population will peak at 1.6 billion.

Youhua Chen, a demographer at China’s Nanjing University, has also gained some notoriety by warning about a sharp drop ahead for China’s population. The decline will be accompanied by soaring health care and pension costs, and collapsing real estate markets, he has warned.

Prof. Chen has predicted that China’s population will peak at about 1.4 billion and then fall precipitously to 500 million. His graph is below.


Title: Figure 1   Estimated China Population Growth 1950-2100   (Black line): Low (Plan, Program, Prospects…)   (Pink line): Medium (Plan, Program, Prospects…)   (Blue line):  High (Plan, Program, Prospects)   Graph courtesy of Mei Fong, Fellow, New America                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

If Prof. Chen is right, this means lots of problems.

“These problems will compromise economic development, strain social harmony, and place the traditional Chinese family structure under severe pressure; in fact, they could shake Chinese civilization to its very foundations,” said Nicholas Eberstadt, Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy with the American Enterprise Institute.

There are already signs of a slowing Chinese economy that will be exacerbated by the aging of the population. China’s economy is “like a speeding bicycle that has to keep going just to keep from falling over, “ said the Center for Strategic and International Studies in a report on China’s Long March to Retirement Reform.

Gordon G. Chang, writing in World Affairs, has posited that the decline in China’s population will also exacerbate China’s economic challenges, particularly its competition with India.

China has recently loosened the one-child restrictions, but it hasn’t resulted in a baby boom. So the prediction still holds that sometime in the next 10 years, India will overtake China as the world’s most populous state at some point before 2025, Chang says, and India will keep growing while China declines. India’s India’s workforce will pass China’s by 2030, according to the UN.

“When you see a country’s population decline, the country will definitely degrade into a second-rate one,” said Yao Yang, an economist with Peking University’s China Center for Economic Research.

In light of all this, it’s India, not China, that could end up dominating the middle of this century.

That will change things…a lot.

I just can’t keep up; who am I supposed to deplore now?

It’s just getting hard to keep up.

So many people with so many different points of view is proving to be a real conundrum.

Brandeis University recently invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali,

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute , a campaigner for women’s rights and a critic of intolerance, to receive an honorary degree at the school’s commencement on May 18.

Some of her comments allege a link between Islam and mistreatment of women. “The connection between violence, particularly violence against women, and Islam is too clear to be ignored,” she said in a Wall Street Journal piece. “We do no favors to students, faculty, nonbelievers and people of faith when we shut our eyes to this link, when we excuse rather than reflect.”

An outcry of opposition to her appearance arose from some Brandeis students and The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group. “She is one of the worst of the worst of the Islam haters in America, not only in America, but worldwide,” Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council, told the New York Times.

Unwilling to face the heat, Brandeis cancelled its invitation to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. “We cannot overlook that certain of her past statements are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” the university, that bastion of free speech and academic inquiry, said in a statement explaining its decision.

So, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali comes to Portland to speak, should I go and listen or publicly deplore her, start a social media campaign against her and urge that everybody boycott her appearance?

I’ve also been reading about how upset some people are with Chauncy Childs, the owner of a planned Moreland Farmers Pantry in Sellwood. When it was discovered that she’d posted comments on Facebook about her opposition to same-sex marriage, some folks went ballistic.

Chauncy Childs

Chauncy Childs

According to The Oregonian, the outrage even extended to people who came to Childs’ defense. “The idea of blacklisting and boycotting people for their thoughts and beliefs, as opposed to their actions leads to a world that is less tolerant, less caring and more segregated,” Nick Zukin, co-founder of Kenny and Zuke’s delis, told The Oregonian. Gay rights activist Byron Beck lambasted Zukin and urged people to boycott his businesses, too.

“They’re choosing to open a business in a very open-minded neighborhood,” Tom Brown, president of the Sellwood Westmoreland Business Alliance, said without apparent irony to The Oregonian. “I think their personal views are going to hurt.”

Given this situation, should I stop by the Moreland Farmers Pantry if I’m in the neighborhood or deplore its owner’s views and pass it by?

And, by the way, I’m debating whether to install the Firefox browser on my laptop, but I’m conflicted.

Not long ago it was discovered that Brendan Eich, the newly appointed CEO of Mozilla, developer of the open source browser, Firefox, donated $1,000 in 2008 to support the campaign for Proposition 8, a California ballot proposition that aimed to ban gay marriage in California.

Brendan Eich

Brendan Eich

The donation was uncovered in 2012 when Eich was Mozilla’s Chief Technology Officer, but it didn’t become a huge controversial public issue until he was appointed CEO in late March 2014.

At that point Eich came under heavy fire from some Mozilla employees, gay-rights activists, executives of companies active in the Firefox marketplace and others.

Will Oremus, senior technology writer at Slate, said Eich’s departure was a sign of the times.

“There was a time when supporting gay marriage made you a radical,” Oremus wrote. “Then there was a time when it made you a progressive. Now we’ve reached a point where not (emphasis in the original) supporting gay marriage makes you unfit to lead a major Silicon Valley organization.”

The National Organization for Marriage, initially created to support Proposition 8, has jumped into the fray, too. It has called for a boycott of Firefox “to protest the company forcing out its CEO over his support of Proposition 8.” A conservative website, TruthRevolt.org, has urged people to uninstall the Firefox browser in protest of “Mozilla’s decision to fire Eich.” (Note: Eich resigned)

Others took the anti-Eich crowd to task for attempting to quell free speech and silence those who hold dissenting views.

So, what do I do? Should I deplore Mozilla for giving in to the pressure of the crowd and intentionally get a Firefox browser or should I bond with the critics of Eich’s donation and boycott Mozilla products?

And while I’m thinking about it, what should I do about all the other companies whose employees, including some executives, made donations in support of Proposition 8?

FiveThirtyEight put together a table of thousands of dollars of Prop. 8 donations by major Silicon Valley companies that showed money coming from employees of firms such as Google, Apple, Intel, Oracle and Yahoo.

A further analysis of the data showed that 83 percent of the donations by Californians were in opposition to Proposition 8, but there was a lot of variation between companies. At one big tech company based in California 60 percent of employee donations were in support of Proposition 8.

Should I deplore that company, maybe boycott its products?

Oh, I almost forgot Chick-fil-A. You may remember how, in 2012, the chain’s president, Dan Cathy, was reported to have said, “”We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit…We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families.” His comments spawned outrage among some gay rights activists and politicians and calls for a boycott of Chick-fil-A.

Dan Cathy

Dan Cathy

I know there aren’t any Chik-fil-A’s in Oregon, but if I come across one out of state can I stop for a bite to support free speech or am I still supposed to be deploring them?