Is China running out of people?
One of history’s interesting anomalies is the transition of China from hard-core Communist (no private sector) to ultra-nationalist state-capitalism-on-steroids. Ideology aside, the all-powerful state endures.
Look no further than the draconian one-child policy of institutionalised domestic abuse and forced abortion. The government now realises that was a huge mistake.
China is a rapidly aging society. The “official” fertility rate is 1.3. But University of Wisconsin demographer Dr Yi Fuxian places China’s fertility at 0.9, slightly above South Korea, the world’s lowest. Whatever the number, China’s population has already begun to decline.
China’s current population is reported as 1.4 billion, but:
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences projects China's population will halve by 2100 if the country maintains a 1.3 TFR. If the TFR stabilizes at 1.2, the country will have a population of only 480 million by the end of the century.
That is even lower than The Lancet’s 2017 projection of 732 million in 2100.
China’s workforce shrinks by millions each year. Almost one in five Chinese are age 60 and over. The boys in Beijing are in a near panic. Consider the bungled release of the last census, withheld for weeks. Bad news from the regime is not good politics.
Writing on the wall
People running the People’s Republic saw it coming.
Back in 2015 when one-child was being phased out, Beijing’s marriage registration office issued a poster saying,
"Being a good wife and good mother is the biggest achievement of a woman."
The one-child policy was officially abolished in 2016. There followed a modest birth spike, but not for long. In 2021 it was declared permissible to have three children. However, with rising costs of living and a generation reared as only children, thus far nothing has changed.
Then in 2021 came a brilliant idea: The Communist Party leads the people, so Party members should set an example and have three children. From China Reports Network:
[Party members] should shoulder the responsibility and obligation of the country’s population growth and act on the three-child policy… No party member should use any excuse, objective or personal, to not marry or have children, nor can they use any excuse to have only one or two children.
The editorial called for party members unable to have children to “educate, guide and assist family members and friends to proactively have three children.”
[Party members] should never do nothing when family and friends are not getting married or giving birth, and should never be indifferent about them only having one or two children with any excuse.
Calling out the Party to practise what it preaches went viral. Then it suddenly disappeared. While China Reports Network is a state media outlet, commentary about the Party must be thoroughly vetted -- thus the delete button.
The Chinese Communist Party has over 95 million members. Party membership means prestige. Party edicts are not taken lightly. Members setting a patriotic example could possibly have had an impact. Hasn’t happened.
University of California Irvine professor Wang Feng nailed it about China’s population policy: “It’s outdated. What China needs is not another state policy, but rather a better and fairer society.” Note that the most visible Chinese population policy critics -- Professors Wang and Yi -- are outside China.
Carrots and sticks
All the same, the government is waging an aggressive campaign to boost fertility.
During one-child days, abortions were required. Now the government discourages them to promote “gender equality.”
China also discourages vasectomy. Many hospitals no longer offer the procedure. Young men requesting vasectomies are now counselled to wait and not do something they will regret.
Measures such as direct payments, home purchase support and reduced taxes are being enacted in many localities.
A city in Sichuan is paying $80 per month to couples with two or three children.
A county in Gansu offers a $6200 real estate subsidy for families with multiple children as well as a $1500 annual payment.
A Guangdong Province village offers as much as $500 a month for second and third babies until age two and a half. Not bad where average personal income is US$3300. However, the sponsor there is a wealthy private citizen.
Just last month Jiangsu became the first Chinese province to offer subsidies for maternity leave for second and third children. Also, the provincial government in Nanjing announced that families with more than one child can purchase an additional property at family-discounted mortgage rates.
It is too soon to assess the effect of such measures, but China hands are not optimistic.
Reggie Littlejohn, founder/president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, a group founded to “oppose forced abortion, gendercide and sexual slavery in China”, is skeptical.
The three-child policy will not work any better at encouraging births than the two-child policy. I predict that China's birth rate will continue to decline.
Will it [the government] turn to forced pregnancy? Since coercion is at the core of their population control policy, this possibility cannot be dismissed.
Beijing knows all about the carrot-and-stick approach. Back in 2017, some Chinese localities began requiring deposits from couples when they married, which would be refunded upon the birth of a second child.
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