China in the Post-Utopian Age

China in the Post-Utopian Age

China in the Post-Utopian Age

China in the Post-Utopian Age


Since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, critical changes have swept all levels of Chinese society. This text, which views contemporary China from a geographer's perspective, assesses the questions inherent insuch rapid evolution. how do the Chinese manage to provide enough food for more than a billion people? In what ways are they restructuring and modernizing their economy? How have they been able to provide mass access to such services as health care, education, and housing? The author also delves into the relatively unexplored realm of everyday life in the new China. Why do so many want to leave the countryside and move to the cities? how has life changed for women after centures of Confucian oppression in China? And what does the future hold for China's many ethnic minority groups?By providing answers to questions such as these, the book illustrates the centrality of geography to the study of China--a country where distance still acts as a major constraint on social and spatial interaction; where the population is so huge that demand for resources almost always outstrips supply; and where regional variations have produced a rich mosaic of human and physical characteristics.


If we let the population grow without effectively controlling it, the realization of the second step strategic goal for China's modernization drive will be directly affected, and the efforts to further improve the people's living standards will be thwarted. This will create heavier pressure on economic and social development in the next century, further reduce China's per capita resources, worsen its environment, and bring endless misery to our posterity.

-- Xinhua News Agency (April 28, 1991)

Introduction: The Politics of Reproduction

When the Communists took power in 1949, demographers in the West were convinced that drastic measures were needed to slow the growth rate of the Chinese population. Mao Zedong, however, was not convinced of that; in fact he was dismissive of such advice, referring to it as "bourgeois" Malthusian propaganda. In what would later become one of his betterknown public pronouncements, Mao observed in 1949 that

of all things in the world, people are the most precious. Under the leadership of the Communist Party, as long as there are people, every kind of miracle can be performed. We believe that revolution can change everything, and that before long there will arise a new China with a big population and a great wealth of products, where life will be abundant and culture will flourish. All pessimistic views are utterly groundless.

With statements like this Mao effectively put a damper on the incipient birth control movement in China. After the arduous struggle against the Japanese, followed by the long civil war against the Nationalists, Mao felt that to implement birth control policies would be a cruel punishment for the long-suffering Chinese people. He felt it would be unfair, in a purportedly egalitarian society, to punish the poor for having too many children, and in his opinion birth control was little more than "a means of killing off the Chinese people without shedding blood." Mao reasoned that the Chinese masses were a major component of the productive forces, and in fact they represented the only component that was in a healthy condition after the revolutionary struggles. For a few years Mao's views went unchallenged, and despite great debate over birth control policies, the official party line was that China's population should continue to grow. Mao was not worried about China having too many people because, as he put it in one of his pithy sayings, "every stomach comes with two hands attached." The effects of this decision -- or rather nondecision -- can be seen in the population growth rates recorded into the 1970s (see Table 5.1).

In 1956 the greatly revered Chinese premier, Zhou Enlai, had publicly announced his sup-

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