It didn’t take long.
China’s Census was released on May 10, followed by three weeks of media angst about an ageing society, and voila! – as of May 31 couples are allowed to have three children.
Things can move fast in the People’s Republic – when the powers that be say so.
Things can also move not so fast. The 2020 Chinese Census was wrapped – done – by early 2021. Supposed to have been released months ago, findings were not kosher with the in-crowd, so mumblings and grumblings ensued behind the scenes. No census. Then the mandarins at the Peoples Bank of China (PBOC) got into the act, so it got really serious. PBOC said that if Chinese folks didn’t start having more children pretty soon, the world champion Chinese economy would slow way down. Not good. But still no census. Then a few more weeks passed while we waited on the Middle Kingdom inner sanctum.
Finally, on May 10 the Census was released. While there were no billowing clouds of white smoke as when a new Pope is announced, the gravity of the situation was obvious.
It was not good news.
Readers of MercatorNet knew what to expect. But in case you missed it, China’s Census revealed that in 2020 only 12 million babies were born in the People’s Republic, the slowest population growth since the 1961 famine of the ill-conceived Great Leap Forward. If your next meal is a few hours away, here are some not-so-appetizing anecdotes from that time:
- China’s fertility rate is one of the world’s lowest (1.3, natural replacement being 2.1). A scholar sceptical of the official figure of 1.3 is University of Wisconsin professor Dr Yi Fuxian, who calculated that the fertility rate is probably closer to 1.2. Dr Yi thinks the Chinese government has been rather cagey about fertility statistics in order to obscure damage from the disastrous “one-child” policy. He said “China’s population has begun to decline and is rapidly aging. Its economic vitality will keep waning.”
- Whether or not the process is already underway, the population will “officially” begin to decline very soon, as early as 2025, when there will be more deaths than births recorded each year. (Japan is already there. East Asia and the West are headed in the same direction).
- That will not be good for the people in a People’s Republic. Nor will it be good for business — a shrinking workforce puts a crimp in corporate profits. Then there is the empire, where projecting power is part and parcel of the brand. Given the results of the latest Census, some China-hawk editor could conjure an embarrassing headline like “The Incredible Shrinking China.” An aura of invincibility is fundamental to the empire business. Losing face does not bode well for a Celestial Century.
To fix things, the big guys acted fast. On Monday, May 31, the government shifted into no-holds-barred-family-values mode, saying that all married couples can now have up to three children. Wait a minute — the government allows people to have up to three children? Not making this up. The People’s Republic has a habit of telling folks what they can and cannot do, including within their own family. Some history from yours truly (MercatorNet, April 26):
In 2016 the Party line officially changed to a two-child policy. Many families able to have a second child did so, raising the national fertility rate to 1.58 in 2017. This proved only a temporary boost. China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported a 1.49 rate for 2018 and 1.47 for 2019.
China is now an ageing society, as the percentage of elderly (age 60 and above) has surpassed the percentage of children (age 15 and under). The elderly percentage rose from 10.45% in 2005 to 18.1% in 2019. The government projects that by 2050, one-third of the Chinese population will be age 60 and over.
None of this is rocket science, and we out-to-lunch pro-family types are scratching our heads wondering what took ‘em so long. Here’s the Grey Lady on the Politburo’s latest flash of brilliance:
The announcement by the ruling Communist Party represents an acknowledgment that its limits on reproduction, the world’s toughest, have jeopardized the country’s future. The labour pool is shrinking and the population is greying, threatening the industrial strategy that China has used for decades to emerge from poverty to become an economic powerhouse.
The Washington Post surmised a Forbidden City freak out: “The latest edict smacks of a mounting sense of panic within the halls of power.”
One young lady was tickled pink at the news:
“My mobile phone almost fell to the ground,” said Yolanda Ouyang, a 39-year-old employee at a state-owned enterprise in the region of Guangxi who had kept her third child hidden for two years because she feared that she would be fired.
“I’m so happy and so shocked,” Ms. Ouyang said. “Finally, my child can come outside and play out in the open.”
I’m glad Ms. Ouyang didn’t lose her mobile phone. About her child being able to come outside and play without her being doxxed, shunned, fined, fired, or have her Social Credit Score docked for the sin of excess procreation? Well, I guess that’s OK too.
Seriously, though, put your phone down for a minute and think about it: What a country! Where I’m from, hiding a child from the authorities is the stuff of kidnappers and crazy off-the-rails child custody cases.
While China is not alone in the fertility crisis, it was the government’s draconian, carbon footprint-reducing “one-child” policy (1980-2015) that kick-started the death spiral of falling fertility.
Now that they are realizing the error of their ways, expect drastic measures to incentivize families to have more children. As the most cash-rich country on the planet, where orders from the top are followed to a tee, there is no telling what they’ll come up with. Don’t underestimate them.
It’ll be very interesting.