Magazine article The Brown Journal of World Affairs

China's Security, China's Demographics: Aging, Masculinization, and Fertility Policy

Magazine article The Brown Journal of World Affairs

China's Security, China's Demographics: Aging, Masculinization, and Fertility Policy

Article excerpt

WITH 1.3 BILLION PEOPLE, CHINA is the most populous state in the world and comprises approximately 20 percent of the total world population. In March 2006, Zhang Weiqing, head of China's National Population and Family Planning Commission, announced that China's family planning policy had helped to prevent 400 million births since its inception three decades ago.1 China's population policy is often heralded as a success story for achieving a growth rate similar to that of developed states. But at what cost? In earlier work, we argued that China should alter its family planning policy in order to reduce the social instability and security risks that could result from the imbalance in China's sex ratios.2 In this article we extend the analysis by further examining the relationship between China's family planning policy and the demographic shifts taking place in its age and sex structure.


Chinas family planning policy, often referred to as the "one-child policy," has undergone numerous modifications since it was first introduced in 1979, rendering it more complex than its name suggests. The large increase in the population between the 1950s and early 1970s, coupled with a decline in China's economic growth, led to government fears that China faced a population crisis that would greatly hinder its economic and political development.3 These fears culminated in concrete policy action in 1979, when China introduced the one-child policy. Although the one-child policy did not become an official law until September 2002, the government at all levels throughout China acted as though the policy were law and attempted to enforce its rules and penalties.4

In the initial phase of the one-child policy (1979-1983), the government followed a policy of strict enforcement of the one-child norm; failure to comply in some areas led to the imposition of fines; removal of benefits such as subsidized day care, health care, housing, and education; use of psychological intimidation of co-workers or co-villagers; as well violence, including detention, beatings, forced medical procedures, and destruction of property.5 Following the peasant backlash against the 1983 campaigns of forced sterilization and abortion the government "relaxed" the policy in 1984 to a 1.5 policy (parents whose first child was a girl in some poor rural areas were permitted to apply for a permit to have a second child after a suitable period).6 Although family planning was a national goal supported by the 1980 Marriage Law and the 1982 Constitution, the Chinese Communist Party acknowledged that the one-child policy could be adjusted to meet local demographic and socioeconomic conditions, which resulted in a variety of provincial and local policies regarding fertility. According to regulations at the provincial level, the one-child rule is enforced in all urban areas as well as six provinces, the 1.5-child rule applies to 19 provinces, and a two-child rule applies to five provinces, although there are further exceptions and local variations within these provincial rules.7 The overall effect of these variations at local and provincial levels is that China has an average fertility policy of 1.47, which may be close to calculations for the actual fertility, which is estimated to be between 1.5 and 1.8.8

The fertility decline in China has had some positive effects beyond simply reducing the population growth rate and aiding economic development. Mortality rates for women, for example, have decreased in part because of the low fertility rate. A later age for marriage, greater birth spacing, and giving birth to fewer children, has led to lower incidences of maternal mortality with a subsequent rise in women's life expectancy.9 This benefit is offset, however, by the structural violence against women resulting from the renewal of cultural beliefs in the value of sons over daughters supported and sustained by Chinas fertility policy.10


The 2000 census in China provides the most recent comprehensive statistics for China's population. …

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