During the 1950’s and 60’s, China experienced population growth of 63%, as numbers grew from 540 million to 850 million (see fig1). In response to this increase, the Chinese government introduced the Late, Long, Few initiative - a voluntary guideline on family size - and followed it in 1979, by the One Child Policy, a legally enforced state sponsored birth control programme. The purpose of these policies was to avoid the growth experienced over the previous three decades, which China believed was at an unsustainable level.
It remains a controversial policy both inside and outside of China, attracting academic research and comment about its relative successes and failures and international government debate regarding its impact on human rights.
Fig 2 Population growth in China (see bibliography)
This essay aims to analyse China’s One Child Policy to determine whether it has been a blessing for China in controlling rampant population growth or whether the many disputed ills of the policy are a curse which China is better rid of.
For this analysis, three articles are considered. The first two are from papers produced by academics Theresa Hesketh and Malcolm Potts; both are supportive of the policy. In contrast, the view expressed by Arthur Dewey, the USA Assistant Secretary for Populations, Refugees and Migration, is highly critical.
Malcolm Potts, Chair of the School of Public Health at the University of California, states in his article that the Chinese One Child Policy is ‘unique in the history of the world’ and is ‘one of the most important social policies ever implemented’ (Potts). It has yielded, he claims, important economic benefits not only for China but for the world as a whole.
Potts identifies the root cause of the Chinese population problem as being in the 1950’s when the then Chinese leader, Chairman Mao de Zong, ‘encouraged’ his people to have more children.
He claims that the Chinese economy would not have grown at 8% per year over the last decade without the rapid decline in fertility resulting from the policy and believes that the Chinese ‘demographic crises’ stemmed from having a population growth rate above 2% per annum.
Although believing that the One Child Policy was successful in limiting population growth and producing economic success, he acknowledges, that it might have been possible to achieve the same results without it being in place. He also concedes that the One Child Policy has had ‘a variety of other effects’ besides those intended and some examples are given, including that China’s economic success has lead to the price of oil spiraling upwards for the rest of the world.
Therese Hesketh is a researcher at the Centre for International Child Health in London and produced a paper published in 1997 entitled ‘Health in China: The One Child Policy: the good, the bad and the ugly’. (Hesketh, 1997)
In her paper she starts with a brief history into China’s One Child Policy, from its introduction in 1979. She describes the rapid population growth of the 1950’s and 60’s as being the triggering factor for the implementation of the “late, long, few” policy, the predecessor of the present One Child Policy which she claims was responsible for producing a dramatic reduction in the total fertility rate (see?????).
Hesketh argues that the One Child Policy produced many benefits, and lists some of the economic and social benefits gained in China as a result. In accepting the policy’s success she adds that China has also managed to win widespread acceptance for its population management strategy. She does admit that the policy has had some less than desirable effects, identifying a "lack of choice in an area as fundamental as reproduction" and the consequent presence of coercion, forced abortion and sterilization by the authorities.
Arthur E Dewey, Assistant Secretary of Population, Refugees and Migration, states that the Bush administration is deeply committed to advancing human rights issues in China and around the world and are “committed to upholding the liberty and dignity of human life”(Dewey, 2004). He passionately opposes the forced abortions and involuntary sterilisations that have resulted in China as a consequence of the Chinese governments One Child Policy.
Since 2002 he says they have taken part in joint discussions and negotiations with the Chinese where they have explained the reasons and basis for their opposition to its birth control policy as supporting and sticking to the principles expressed and enshrined in the three international human rights documents,
Dewey speculates that there may be encouraging indications from China that they are reviewing the policy and its impact and are perhaps beginning to understand that their One Child Policy has had some extremely negative consequences, but also realises that as recently as 2002 the Chinese government have re-established their position formally, with their National Law on Population and Birth Planning. In his closing comments he states that America will continue to encourage China to move towards a human rights based approach to population control.
Malcolm Potts, the American academic from the University of California, is very much in favour of the One Child Policy. In attempting to justify his argument he uses a mix of bias, exaggeration, over simplification, unsubstantiated claims and distorted statistics. The mood is set by the sensational title of his article, “China’s One Child Policy-The policy that changed the world”(Potts????).
Evaluating this article is made complicated as it begins with a defence of the One Child Policy, but moves into a wider argument promoting the idea that countries should follow it as a population control model. He implies that government led and proactive birth control by involuntary, legally enforced methods, as in China, is the way forward, yet doesn’t offer any reasonable logic for applying the Chinese rules to other countries.
He references examples to include India and Niger to prove his point that falling birth rates equals economic gain. There are no relevant similarities made between these countries and China to explain why it’s worth comparing them. Indeed, Newly Industrialising Countries (NIC’s) such as???? developed their financial wealth through times of population growth(?????) but gives no justification for using this figure. He argues that population growth must be kept under 2%, but gives no justification for this figure. Potts does not consider the possibility of a decreasing birth rate having negative economic impacts such as those reported by the BBC relating to Japan (BBC????). Furthermore, his argument that both economist and demographers accept that falling birth rate offer the kind of economic advantages that have resulted in 8% growth over the last decade are not substantiated by actual reference to supporting texts.
Despite his defence of the One Child Policy, there are glaring weaknesses in his argument when he agrees that voluntary family planning programmes can also be highly successful. He admits that it may have been possible to achieve the same population numbers and economic results without the Chinese Policy in place, therefore destroying his argument that China should be followed as a model.
Finally, his criticism of the Chinese government’s method of population control extends only to a cursory list. Potts downplays the negative consequences of the policy them as almost an afterthought. There are no efforts made to quantify the negative consequences or assess the cost in human terms - freedoms and quality of life of the individual.
(Mean Number of Children Born per Woman) in China, 1969 to 2004. (See bibliography)
It is initially difficult to assess whether Theresa Hesketh is in favour of or against the policy. Her article starts with a balanced overview of the One Child Policy including its negative effects (Hesketh, 1997). There is no bias shown at this point as one would expect from a scientific, evidence based paper. Like Potts, she also accepts the possibility that the One Child Policy may not have been necessary at all.
The latter part of her article moves from science and fact to opinion. Given that statistics and data are strictly controlled in China, academics should be wary of their significance. Hesketh accepts wholesale Chinese figures to promote the positives of the policy. Negatives are given little credence, seeming minor and unimportant. She offers little proof that the policy has, as she claims, gained widespread acceptance or has been of benefit to other nations. The “ugly aspects” are relegated to a footnote at the end of her article without really exploring the impact on people.
Arthur Dewey states clearly and unambiguously his objections to Chinese population policy. He uses strong, emotive language “deeply committed”, "horrific behaviour" and “extensive corruption”(Dewey????). He constantly returns to his central point regarding human rights, freedom and liberty of life and rejects “coercive abortion and forced sterilization”.
His opposition to the One Child Policy is given moral authority as it follows principles promoted by, various independent international bodies, amongst them the United Nations, who state that there should be no coercion within population policies (reference???).
Dewey believes attempts to influence China have not been pointless, by suggesting that the Chinese have responded with assurances that they “emphatically” declare an end to penalties for out of plan births.
As a result 25 out of 31 provinces no longer issue birth permits (reference????).
With the exception of discussion of gender imbalance, the article lacks statistical support. Dewey neglects to share the results of his ‘fact finding’ missions, perhaps as like the first one week period, they were inconclusive. The “measurable progress” that the author refers to is in fact barely measured at all in the article.
Dewey’s single biggest failing is his lack of recognition for the potential population crisis that awaits China in the absence of strict population control. His singular interest is human rights, yet there is no mention of the drastic impact that rampant population growth may have on Chinese people
In conclusion both Potts and Hesketh fail to convince the reader of the success or need for such a policy. They both use sensationalism and bias in their arguments. They use selective statistics, future projections or no data at all. They both sacrifice balance in their argument by de-prioritising the negative aspects of the policy. The main weakness in their arguments is their failure to recognise the human rights violations, particularly as both authors concede that similar results could have been achieved without the one child rule. Hesketh in particular does not convince. Her article is questionable of a scientific study- a paper, full of unreliable statistical information and bias. She does not suspend judgement despite the lack of credible hard facts.
If the heart of the debate is economic gain and its perceived social benefits verses human rights and freedoms, then Dewey presents the stronger case. Despite similar weaknesses in his argument through a lack of factual evidence this is a strong emotional issue and Dewey argues convincingly the moral aspects of the case. He implies that real economic success will only be sustained if it is based on universal human rights and argues this within the framework of international human rights legislation. Since the two
aforementioned authors do not present strong factual arguments, then the issue is one decided through personal sensibility. Dewey does more than the other authors to appeal to the reader’s conscience. It is with this in mind that this evaluation concludes that China’s One Child Policy has most definitely been a curse.