As a follow up to last Friday’s post
about Asia’s gender imbalance
, it must be said that public and media
recognition of this problem is not new. In fact, a decade ago, Time magazine wrote of the effects of “China’s
Lifestyle Choice
”. The article stated that, as of 2001, “China’s womb police” have “succeeded
remarkably well”. 

“Today
the average Chinese woman has two children, compared with six 30 years age.
‘For all the bad press, China has achieved the impossible,” says Sven
Burmester, the UN Population Fund representative in Beijing. “The country has
solved its population problem.’”

However, although China may have solved its
“population problem” in 2001, even then other problems associated with its
population control policies were apparent.  First, the population will in the future not be able to
replace itself:

“China’s population will actually start declining
in 2042, according to U.N. projections. In China’s cities, the one-child policy
has morphed into a no-child philosophy. In Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin, the
population would be shrinking if not for an influx of migrants from the
countryside…” 

Secondly, this will make it harder to look
after an aging population:

“In the cities, the need to tweak the old policy is
urgent. The coddled offspring of the one-child policy are reaching adulthood,
and many show little sense of family obligation. “They’re rebelling
against all sense of family,” says sociologist Li Yinhe. In a once
unthinkable break with Confucian tradition, many refuse to care for their
elders. China’s graying population is expected to peak in 2040, and there is no
mechanism in place to finance its welfare…’Instead of tinkering with
family-planning policy, China needs to tackle its social-welfare system,’ says
a Peking University professor. ‘We need to figure out who is going to take care
of our parents and grandparents.’”

Perhaps the film Logan’s Run will have a blossoming, yet
uncomfortable (for the elderly) renaissance in China in the coming
decades?  Finally, there is the
familiar problem of gender imbalance:

“Moreover, those young men who are interested in
starting a family don’t find it easy. Two decades of infanticide and sex-based
abortions have drastically skewed the nation’s gender balance. There are now
117 boys born for every 100 girls. “Every girl I meet has already had
several marriage offers,” says Gong Min, 24, a computer salesman. In some
rural areas, a trade in abducted brides is burgeoning. Last year 110,000 women
were freed during a crackdown on human trafficking, but most will never be
found.”

None of these problems
have gone away; in fact they seem to be getting worse.  There are now 123 boys under the age of
four for every 100 girls in China (see last Friday’s post).  This suggests that any attempts to
tackle these problems in the last decade in China have not been hugely
successful.  The existence of these
issues shows us that treating a country’s population as a “problem” that must
be controlled through government policies and measures is not consequence-free.
And adverse consequences should give us a hint that our clever “solutions” may
not be the best. 

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...