中国与世界,环境危机大家谈

china and the world discuss the environment

  • linkedin group
  • sini weibo
  • facebook
  • twitter
envelope

注册订阅每周免费邮件
Sign up for email updates


文章 Articles

Time to drop the one-child policy

Yang Xiaoping

Zuo Xuejin

Readinch

The original arguments for China’s strict family-planning laws no longer hold and these outdated restrictions should now be relaxed, argue Zuo Xuejin and Yang Xiaoping.

article image
 

Since 1980, China has implemented a strict family-planning policy. In the past 30 years, the country has seen major changes in its population growth rate and within the next couple of decades the total number of people will start to fall. Most of the original reasons for implementing the policy are no longer valid, and it is time for China to change its position.

Already the world’s most populous nation, for a time in the 1950s China encouraged families to have more children. In the 1960s, this shifted to a policy of promoting birth control, and then in the 1970s to a nationwide family-planning policy aimed at persuading families to have fewer children, to have them later and to leave wider gaps between births. China’s total fertility rate fell by an unprecedented degree.

On September 25, 1980, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China published an open letter to Party and Youth League members on the need to control the country’s population, marking the start of a strict family-planning regime – the one-child policy.

In 1984, difficulties implementing the rules in rural areas led to alterations and to the formation of the policy as it now stands. Urban residents are allowed one child, while a “child and a half” policy operates in rural areas, meaning families are entitled to a second child only if the first is female. The restrictions do not apply in Tibet.

The open letter made clear the reasons for implementing this policy.

First: controlling excessive population growth. The letter set the goal of “keeping the population under 1.2 billion” through to the end of the century, and pointed out that “Based on the current birth rate of 2.2 children per couple, our country will have 1.3 billion in 20 years and 1.5 billion people in 40 years.”

Second: increasing saving and investment rates. At the time, China’s agricultural and industrial labour productivity rates were still very low. Population control seemed a feasible method of cutting consumption, increasing saving and investment rates and promoting rapid economic growth. “Too rapid population growth will reduce accumulated capital,” the letter said.

Third: increasing standards of living. “It is hard to improve living standards with excessive population growth. Take grain supply as an example…If the population increases to 1.3 billion, arable land in China will fall to just over 1 mu [around 667 square metres] per person. Under current circumstances, it will be very difficult to provide an average of 400 kilograms of grain per person and enough commercial crops from so little land.”

Fourth: reducing consumption of resources and protecting the environment. The letter stated: “Excessive population growth will not only make education and employment more difficult, but will also result in over-consumption of natural resources such as energy, water and forests, increase pollution and worsen the conditions for production and the human environment. These will be hard to improve.”

Theories from abroad, such as those set out in The Limits to Growth, the 1972 book from on the consequences of rapid population growth from international think-tank The Club of Rome, also influenced the tightening of family-planning policy.

However, the changes in China in the three decades since reform and opening up – the launch of Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms – have shifted the ground on which the policies were built, and the whole area now needs to be re-examined.

First, China’s population is no longer growing too quickly and, within the next two decades, will actually start to shrink. The open letter of 1980 stated that China’s population was growing too quickly. At the time, the population’s natural growth rate was 1.19% annually. By 2008, this had fallen by more than half, to 0.51%. Meanwhile, the total fertility rate fell from 2.31 children born per woman to between 1.4 and 1.6. If sustained, these low birth rates will cause the overall population to decline.

Second, there has been a fundamental change in the way China’s economy grows, and there is an urgent need to expand domestic demand. Currently, China’s primary macroeconomic goal is to shift from high saving and investment rates to greater consumer demand. But continued population control means keeping a lid on consumption – the two aims are at odds with each other.

Third, grain production per head has greatly increased, and there is a problem of overcapacity in some industrial sectors. By 2008, per capita arable land had shrunk from the 2 mu (1,333 square metres) of the 1980s to 1.47 mu (980 square metres). But production of main agricultural products per person had actually increased.

Meanwhile, China has a fairly severe problem with over-production. The major economic driver should no longer be the pursuit of higher per capita GDP, but raising the quality and economic efficiency of the goods produced and reducing resource consumption and pollution produced during manufacturing.

Fourth, population is not actually the main factor in resource depletion and pollution. It is growth in per capita energy consumption – and not population – that ultimately drives increases in overall use of power. From 2000 to 2008, China’s total energy consumption doubled, despite the population only expanding by 5%.  

The key to saving energy and resources lies not in population control, but in reform of the production methods, technology and lifestyles that influence individual consumption patterns. Circumstances have changed, and China needs to consider why it is continuing with a policy of population control.

Ten years ago, China predicted its population would start to shrink in the middle of the twenty-first century. Officials have now moved this date forward. But a lower birth rate will not necessarily improve China’s situation.

In the past, discussions around population and population control tended to work on the assumption that controlling birth rates increases average income. But this does not tally with current research. Elderly members of single-child families in rural areas are more likely to suffer from poverty. There is a lack of theoretical or evidential support for the belief that having fewer children will increase rural incomes, and it should not be used as a basis for family-planning policy.

Of course, over the lifespan of a rural resident, having fewer children will mean lower expenditure on child rearing, and therefore higher income per head for the family (even if it does not necessarily increase total household earnings). But, in old age, this resident may face serious economic hardship. Moreover, the happiness of a household is not determined solely by its income. Satisfying the desire to have children may be more important than material living standards.

A common reason for opposing policy change is that a loosening of the rules will result in an immediate rebound in birth rates. But there is no evidence to support these concerns. In fact, trial areas where the policy has been relaxed to allow second children have actually seen lower birth rates than other parts of the same province.

The current population-control policy is an extraordinary measure, taken at a high social and political cost. China remains the only nation with such a policy, and a change would merely be a reversion to the norm. The argument for change is strengthening, and a consensus is forming within both the academic and the public spheres. As the open letter from 1980 said: “In 30 years, the currently pressing issue of population growth may have been eased, and a different population policy can be adopted.”

Zuo Xuejin is executive vice president and senior research fellow at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences; Yang Xiaoping is an assistant researcher at the Academy’s Population and Development Institute.

An earlier version of this article was published by China Reform

Homepage image by Elizabeth Thomsen

评论 comments

4

评论 comments

中文

EN

嗨 Hi Guest user

退出 Logout /


发表评论 Post a comment

评论通过管理员审核后翻译成中文或英文 最大字符 1200

Comments are translated into either Chinese or English after being moderated. Maximum characters 1200

排序 Sort By:

如果中国的人口政策放松,穷人会比中等收入者和富人生更多孩子吗

为什么政策宽松的试验地区生育率小于那些实行计划生育政策的地区,原因是很明显的。独生子女政策在其他地方可能很轻松地实行,而人们对试验地区的关注使得这些地方行为谨慎,因此试验地区群体生存状况和社会凝聚力不同于其他地方。

文章没有提到众多离开中国的人口以及国家提供的服务显著下降这些事实。后者有助于降低生育率——如果人口质量得到提高的话。

文章也没有考虑中等收入者和富人是否比穷人更喜欢较大的家庭模式。鼓励这上千万的其在世界范围内人均环境足迹已经远远超出其同龄人的中产和富人生育,对地球将会是一个灾难——对中国的名誉也是。

而且,中国仍然有丰富的廉价劳动力供应,所以真的不需要更多的人。

Will the poor have more children than the middle classes and rich if China's population policies are relaxed?

There are some obvious reasons why birth rates in the trial area - where the rules were relaxed - were smaller than those where the rules remained in place. The one child policy might have been lightly enforced elsewhere, the attention placed on the trial population will have made them behave perversely, the livelihoods and social cohesion of the trial population differed from those elsewhere.

The article fails to mention the large number of people leaving China and the progressive reduction in social services provided by the state. The latter would tend to lower birth rates - if the population is well informed.

The article also fails to consider whether middle income and rich people are more likely to prefer larger families than the poor. Encouraging the hundreds of millions of the former (as in Shanghai), whose per capita environmental footprint is already as large as their counterparts elsewhere in the world, would be disasterous for the planet - and China's reputation.

Also, China still has an abundant supply of cheap labour, so it doesn't need any more people.


不同意

我不同意。我认为放开这一政策,只有在大部分人口实现城市化之后(不管他们本身城市居民还是打工者)才予以进行,因为城市生活自动会导致人们生育意愿下降,也比较自由,有的人愿意多生,有的人不愿意生,也就是说届时才可以让城市自动调节人口生育数量。中国不是地大物博,是人多地少,真的没有空间和本钱再让国内人口上升。

将自己的幸福或希望寄托在后代的这种中国传统惯性意识,会随着人口城市化和新生代的成长而淡化,但在农村就难以变动,如果在还有那么多人口都留在农村的时候就一下完全放开计划生育,后果不堪设想。

I Disagree

I disagree. I think loosening the policy should only be implemented after most of the population has gone through urbanization (no matter if they are urban dwellers or temporary workers), because urban life will automatically lead to a decrease in people wanting children. It also allows freedom of choice. Some prefer to have more children, others prefer none. That means only then can cities regulate the number of births. China is not a country with an abundance of land and resources, but with an abundance of people and little land. There is no space and money to allow the population to increase.

The Chinese traditional stereotype to put one's own happiness or hope on the next generation will fade with the development of urbanization and new generations. However, this would be hard to change in rural areas. If the one-child policy is completely loosened at once while the population in rural areas is still large, the consequences would be disastrous.


不同意

首先,即使是在有计划生育政策的控制下,很多地区的人还是想尽办法生3胎、4胎、5胎、6胎,笔者若到广东的潮汕地区看看便可以发现这一事实。在广大农村地区,很多人人想尽千方百计地生多几胎。到时候也许计划生育政策的几十年成果就毁于一旦了。

第二,我们不能因为要发展国内市场就鼓励人们多生育吧。当人口急剧增长,也许国内市场在某段时间得到了增长,但长远来说,国家要花费大量人力物力以增加基础设施、教育投入等等。而且这样回到着现在已经很不平均的资源配置更加不平均。

第三,整个世界范围内,粮食供应不足和资源紧缺仍是一个大问题,所以如果人口过多增长,对世界也是一个大的压力!

Disagree

First, people in a lot of areas are still trying all their efforts to have 3,4,5 or 6 children despite the current one-child policy. Just see what happen in rural areas in China. For example, in Chaoshan area in Guangdong province, lots of people try every means to give birth to more than one child, which may offset all the achievements through the one-child policy in the past decades.

Second,we can not encourage people to have more children for boosting the domestic market. It may be true that the domestic market would grow for some time due to the rapidly-increasing population. However, in the long run, government expenditure on infrastructure and education etc must increase to match up the needs of larger population which costs a large amount of human and natural resources . As a result, it wil even worsen the unequal resource allocation.

Third,as food and resources shortage are still serious problems around the world, a big increase in population will also pose lots of pressure to the world.

(This comment is translated by Dong Hebing)


不同意

简直就是商品经济物质消费时代下的奴隶言论。

I don't agree

It's simply a speech of a slave in the era of the materialistic consumer economy.


合作伙伴 Partners

项目 Projects