April 22nd 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The populist wedge: political disaffection comes to Australia

EDITORIAL Human Rights Commission needs to start afresh post Professor Triggs

CANBERRA OBSERVED Liberals' soul searching too painful to publicise

ABORTION Law condones the act as it criminalises the image

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Trump makes calculated response to Syrian atrocity

CHINA No easy way to reverse malignant one-child policy

FOREIGN AFFAIRS French election may determine Eurozone fate

ECONOMICS The taxing of companies: a clarifying perspective

PHILOSOPHY Rights bereft of obligations: or, Socrates versus the pig

MUSIC Classical colours: Mozart's fusion of opposites

CINEMA Beauty and the Beast: A fairytale of true enchantment

BOOK REVIEW Santamaria: a man against the tide

BOOK REVIEW The teen they would have made queen

Heartening response to readers' survey

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No easy way to reverse malignant one-child policy

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, April 22, 2017

China’s communist rulers have learned that you cannot turn fertility on and off like a tap. Although the cruel and barbaric one-child policy has been overturned, babies are not following in the numbers predicted. The effects of the one-child policy will be felt for many years to come.

The relaxation of the one-child policy in 2015 saw the number of babies increase in 2016 to the highest level this century, despite a fall in the number of women of childbearing age. The additional 1.31 million newborns fell far short of the 3 million China’s optimistic family planners predicted. According to China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, there were in total 17.86 million births in 2016, an increase of 7.9 per cent on 2015. Almost half the babies born in 2016 had one or more elder brothers or sisters. Some three-quarters of mothers complain, however, that they can’t support an extra mouth.

“The one-child policy, enforced over the decades through mass sterilisations and coerced abortions, was not just brutal, but futile too … The new two-child policy – a continuation of the bizarre and intrusive insistence on controlling one of the most basic human rights – is proof if any were needed of the Communist Party’s ability to put dogma ahead of the national interest,” said John Sudworth (BBC News, January 23, 2017).

5,000-year foundation uprooted

For 5,000 years, the family was the foundation of Chinese society. It was an employment agency, child-minding bureau, provided social welfare and was a police force that kept family members on the straight and narrow. Children, especially boys, were treasured. The introduction of the one-child policy in 1980, at the command of paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, was an attack on China’s age-old values of family first.

The one-child policy has destroyed the Chinese family. A generation will grow up without brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, and cousins. And they may not be able to marry. Women are scarce; one single child will have four grandparents and two parents, whom they may be expected to support.

The reversal of the one-child policy will not overcome China’s population problems. China is rapidly urbanising and women in urban areas often have no ambition to be mothers: they also say that they can’t afford to bring up children. This is a result of the high cost of living in China’s cities.

Moreover, the country’s workforce will drop by 5 million employees this year, and will continue to contract at that rate for years to come. The population will continue to age. Already 231 million Chinese are over 60, almost one-fifth of China’s population. The trend towards an ageing population, with fewer young people supporting more older people, will also continue. Nor will it cure the imbalance between males and females, due to sex-selective abortions and female infanticide under the one-child policy. Millions of men will be unable to find wives, unless they can buy or steal one. Kidnapping of young women, who will be sold to peasants in impoverished out-of-the way areas where all sensible women have left, is rampant.

China is a very large country, smaller in area than only Russia and Canada. It is considerably larger than Australia. Governing China has never been easy. China is broken up into provinces, and the provinces are broken up into counties and villages. Typically, the central government will issue instructions to the provincial government, which will pass them down the line.

There is, however, great room for interpretation and implementation. Enforcing regulations strictly and uniformly across the whole of China is almost impossible. Such was the case even with the one-child policy. In the cities, the one-child policy was brutally enforced, but three-quarters of China’s population are rural dwellers.

Jan Wong (Red China Blues, Doubleday, Toronto, 1996) is a Canadian journalist of Chinese origin, who in her student days participated enthusiastically in the Cultural Revolution (1966–76) until she came to her senses. Wong describes how the one-child policy worked in practice. Wong, who became China correspondent for Toronto’s prestigious Globe and Mail, spent time in Yuan Village in southern China.

Shen Xiaoxi, the Communist Party secretary of Yuan Village was a rapist, an embezzler, a tyrant and a thief. He used China’s one-child policy to reward his friends and punish his enemies. He helped kidnap brides for sale to the local peasants as the village’s main broker in the illegal wife trade, villagers told Wong.

“Most gallingly of all to the peasants, he selectively enforced China’s tough one-child policy. ‘If you’re close to him, you can have six children with no problem,’ said one. Shen’s closest ally, the village accountant, had five, and never paid a fine. And three-fourths of the families in Yuan Village had three or more children, including Party Secretary Shen himself. But after one peasant accused Shen of corruption, he ordered the village militia to drag the man’s daughter-in-law, then pregnant with her third child, to the county hospital for a forced abortion” (Wong, 294).

When I was teaching at a well-regarded university in Luoyang – one of China’s ancient capitals – one of my best friends was the Communist Party student organiser. I asked him why he worked so hard. He said he had three younger sisters and a younger brother. The authorities ordered his parents to abort all four younger children. His father refused.

“My father died of overwork paying off the fines and bribes to save my brother and sisters. My father refused to kill his children. I am the eldest son. Now I must take responsibility for our family. That’s why I work so hard.” He was very well thought of by the authorities and landed a job with a trading company when he graduated, a plumb position.

Luoyang is in Henan Province, the granary of China. In Henan at harvest time, fields of wheat stretch from horizon to horizon, rich with grain. Mechanised harvesters, about the size of a large SUV, are always on the move. In the mountains, scythes are often used to harvest the grain. If Henan starves, so does China. Localised famines are not uncommon, though they are kept concealed from inquisitive foreign journalists.

When I assembled my class in Luoyang for the first time, I asked, out of interest, how many students had brothers or sisters. To my surprise, almost every student put up his or her hand. The writ of the central government does not go far in the countryside. The one-child policy was a horrific invasion of the private lives of the Chinese people but privacy is a concept that carries little weight with the Chinese Communist Party.

The current two-child policy is also likely to be just as widely flouted. The authorities began to ease the one-child policy when families composed of a couple who were both only children were allowed to apply to have a second child.

Han genocide

Some smaller ethnic minorities were excluded from the one-child policy. The one-child policy mainly applied to Han Chinese, who compose 90 per cent of the population of China. The name “Han Chinese” comes from the Great Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), which, along with the Tang Dynasty (618–907), was a high point in Chinese civilisation. The Great Han Dynasty was similar in prosperity, influence and inventiveness to the Roman Empire, with which it was a contemporary. The Han Dynasty lasted for over four centuries. It is interesting to note that the name for Chinatown in Mandarin Chinese is Tang Ren Jie, or “Street of the Men of Tang”, or Han Ren Jie, meaning “Street of the Han People”.

The one-child policy fell most heavily on the Han Chinese. To give an example. I was teaching at a college in Jiyuan, which is a county-level town of “only” a quarter of a million inhabitants. Its claim to fame is that it is said to be the source of the Ji River, one of the “Four Rivers” of ancient China. Jiyuan is in Henan Province. I was the only yang gui zi (“foreign devil”) there.

I liked the city very much, but it was not a rich city and it was difficult finding somewhere to eat. I could eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken, which can be found just about everywhere in China, but I soon tired of that. An upscale restaurant near me grew displeased with me for ordering nothing but rice and bean sprouts (the cheapest dish on the menu), so I went down the road to a small restaurant that sold mutton and noodles, with soup. The meal was very satisfying and very cheap.

I grew to be friendly with the proprietor, who wore a white Muslim skullcap, so I asked him why he had so many children – six. I asked him: “You have a lot of children. Is that allowed?” “Yes,” he said. “We come from a very small Muslim minority; there are only 10,000 of us left, so we can have as many children as we like.”

The one-child policy caused much resentment and hardship, without doubt. Unregistered children could not go to school, nor even legally travel on the train. Since the Communist Party imposed it on the Chinese people some 35 years ago, it has prevented the birth of 400 million babies, demographers estimate. The result is a workforce that is shrinking and will continue to shrink. It is estimated that by 2030, a quarter of the population will be over 60 years old.

The number of elderly people supported by young workers in the contracting labour force will continue to increase.

Abortion is legal in China, but sex-selective abortion is not. Despite this, female preborns are regularly aborted. China has one of the biggest gender imbalances in the world. There are 30 million more males in China than females, meaning that many millions of men will not be able to find brides.

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm