China Has Avoided Rampant Population Growth

By staff reporter DANG XIAOFEI

AT the First Plenary Session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on September 21, 1949, Mao Zedong pointed out that China had a population of 475 million. As of June 30, 1953, the country’s total population had surpassed 600 million. Statistics indicate that in 1970 the average number of births per Chinese couple was five and the total population had reached 830 million.

Drop in Birth Rate

To curb population growth, since 1953, China had introduced contraception and birth control. In 1982, the family planning policy was incorporated into the country’s Constitution as a basic state policy, requiring over 90 percent of Han couples to have one child only. In special circumstances and only after official approval, some couples were allowed to have a second child. For ethnic minority groups, although family planning had also been advocated, the policy implementation was more lenient. Later, based on overall practicalities, China made adjustments to its birth policy. For example, since 1984 across the country’s rural areas, couples whose only child is a girl have been allowed to have a second child; couples belonging to minorities whose total population is below 10 million have been allowed to have two children, and in special circumstances couples may have three. The family planning policy has successfully helped China avoid an unwieldy increase in its population.

“Over 40-odd years, China’s family planning policy has prevented 400 million people from being added to its population,” said Mao Qun’an, spokesman for the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC). In 2012, China’s natural population growth rate dropped to 4.95 births per 1,000, half the average world level, from 25.8 per 1,000 in 1970.

Statistics show that by the end of 2012, China’s total population stood at 1.354 billion, with 16.35 million births yearly, maintaining a low birth rate. In contrast, the number of births in 1970 was 27.39 million.

“If it hadn’t been for the family planning policy, China’s per capita arable land, food, forest, fresh water and energy would be at least 20 percent lower than the present level,” Mao said. In fact, even thus, China’s per capita forestland, grassland and fresh water resources are only one ninth, one third and one quarter of the world levels, respectively.

Negative Effects

Inevitably, China has also witnessed negative effects of the family planning policy. First of all, the demographic dividend that has fueled China’s economic growth is gradually disappearing. As of the end of 2012, China’s working-age population (15-59 years old) fell by 3.45 million compared with 2011, marking the first drop in China’s net working-age population for a considerable period of time. It is estimated that from 2023 China’s working-age population will decrease by an annual average of 8 million, according to Li Bin, minister of the NHFPC. China is aging fast. The aging population is expected to peak at 400 million by the early 2030s, with its proportion to the total population rising to one quarter from one seventh today.

“A reduction in China’s labor force signals the gradual decline of China’s demographic dividend,” said Zhang Yi, deputy director of the Institute of Sociology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). In his view, the adjustment of China’s family planning policy to allow couples to have two children if either parent is an only child is a major move towards improving China’s demographic structure. However, Cai Fang, director of the CASS Institute of Population and Labor Economics, said that only once the generation born after the relaxation of the birth policy enters the labor market would the positive impact of the adjustment in improving demographic structure be palpable.

Another side-effect of the birth control policy is reflected in the stark reality of elderly parents losing their only child. The first generation of Chinese parents subject to the one-child policy is aging. Statistics show a yearly increase of 76,000 households whose only child dies. As of 2010, the number of couples nationwide over the age of 50 who had lost their only child surpassed one million. The plight of parents bereaved of their only child is one of the reasons for many people’s reservations about the one-child policy.

Moreover, other drawbacks resulting from being an only child such as a lack of cooperative awareness and loneliness impinge on young parents. All these factors led to calls for the easing of the one-child policy.

1   2