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As Americans March For Life, A Warning From China

This week, as American Pro-Lifers march in somber commemoration of the 43rd anniversary of Roe v Wade, the government of China has, however unwittingly, sent the United States and the rest of the West an urgent and fitting message: people are not the problem, and abortion is not the answer.  Indeed, the construction of that equation has the variables precisely backward.

Just a few short weeks ago, Houghton Mifflin published a new book by the journalist Mei Fong.  The book’s appearance coincides with the end of the destruction it details: China’s one-child policy.

On the off chance you didn’t know, as of January 1, China’s thirty-year-old policy limiting most families in the country to one child is officially history – and what a terrifying and brutal history it is.  Forced sterilization and forced abortions were but two of the more heinous tactics employed by Chinese officials to gain and maintain control of their nation’s population.  A government with absolute power over its people used that power absolutely, even as the government was, as Acton foretold, corrupted absolutely.  Here, Fong provides some of the uglier details:

[E]ven with a looser two-child limit there were still rules people found onerous, such as a requirement throughout the 1990s that women be sterilized after the birth of a second child, or a requirement that births must be spaced at least five years apart….

What if a woman didn’t want more children but would prefer not to be sterilized? What if a couple got pregnant with their second child, say, three years after the first, instead of five? That was when even Yicheng’s benign machinery would show its ugly side, according to Huangjiapu’s former village head Huang Denggao.

The usual mode of punishment was fines: Parents of children born out of plan would be hit with fines between five and 10 times their annual disposable income. “If the couple is too poor to pay, we’ll take things from their house, but only in a few cases,” said Huang.

TVs were a favorite, he said — worth a villager’s whole annual income — as were tables, bicycles and washing machines. These items were usually collected by a team of 10 part-time enforcers (usually “strong healthy young men”) and sold off, and the proceeds were kept by the township….

One of the most difficult tasks Huang had to do was persuade women to be sterilized, he said. Many women feared the procedure. Side effects such as excessive bleeding were not uncommon, especially given the conveyor-belt manner in which some of these procedures were done. …In one year alone, 1983, China sterilized over 20 million people, more than the combined population of the three largest US cities, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

I mention all of this today for a couple of reasons.  The first and most obvious is the aforementioned official end of the one-child policy.  Last fall, as leaders gathered to discuss and address economic matters and economic planning, the Chinese government tacitly acknowledged what most observers had known for a long time: the fact that the one-child policy had been an unmitigated disaster that will haunt the “new” China for decades to come.

The list of the problems facing China as a result of its one-child policy is both long and dismaying.  For starters, China is now the fastest-“graying” population in the history of the world, which is to say that it is aging far more rapidly and far more damagingly than even Japan or the nations of Western Europe.  In just a few a decades, the ratio of workers to retirees will be as low as any in the world, which means that any government-sponsored social-safety net for the elderly will be a fiscal near-impossibility.  And given the concomitant destruction of the traditional safety-net for the elderly – i.e. large families and multiple children – China will undoubtedly face a crisis of poor and largely neglected elderly unprecedented in human history.

All of this is in addition to massive losses in productivity that will stifle China’s still-developing economy, as a result of millions of “missing” workers.  It is also in addition to China’s now unprecedentedly-imbalanced generational sex-ratios.  This latter problem has been much discussed, but is still largely underappreciated, given the enormous potential it has to affect not just China, but the entirety of East and South Asia.  Three years ago, Rob Brooks, a world-renowned demographer and professor of evolution at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia described the sex-ratio and consequences as follows:

A long history of son preference, particularly among the Han majority, has led to female infanticide and the neglect of daughters in some parts of China. But in recent decades, the spread of cheap ultrasound (enabling sex-determination in early-mid pregnancy) and easy access to abortion courtesy of the government’s one-child policy, has led to the widespread abortion of female fetuses.

As a result, approximately 30 million more men than women will reach adulthood and enter China’s mating market by 2020.

The scale of this current sex-ratio bias dwarves that in the Nien rebellion, and the consequences could turn out to be more catastrophic.

Throughout history, a surplus of young men often heralded violence. The American frontier earned its “Wild West” reputation for lawlessness because its towns overflowed with men, yet marriageable women were vanishingly rare. In The Chivalrous Society, historian Georges Duby argued that European expansionism, from the Crusades to colonialism, was fueled by a surplus of ambitious and aggressive young men with otherwise poor reproductive prospects.

China is already feeling the effects of so many bare branches. The economist Lena Edlund estimates that every one percent increase in the sex ratio results in a six percent increase in the rates of violent and property crime. In addition, the parts of China with the most male-biased sex ratios are experiencing a variety of other maladies, all tied to the presence of too many young men. Gambling, alcohol and drug abuse, kidnapping and trafficking of women are rising steeply in China.

The bare branch problem will be compounded as income inequality rises.

Now, the second reason I mention China’s one-child policy today is because it should, though probably won’t, serve as a forewarning to those, in the West in particular, who see global “population control” as the key to managing perceived environmental problems, including global climate change.  Note here that China’s one-child policy and its focus on “pregnancy termination” and infanticide as means of birth control were not driven by the euphemistic notions that Westerners insist on applying to abortion.  It was NOT about “women’s health.”  It was NOT about choice.  Indeed, it was about precisely the opposite in both cases.  It was abusing women – and female babies – and about eliminating choice in the name of “protecting” society.

The American demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has called the one-child policy “the single greatest social-policy error in human history.”  “Chinese leaders,” Eberstadt writes, “stumbled into an elementary neo-Malthusian misdiagnosis” and engaged in “Socialist ‘scientism’—ideology masquerading as science—of the highest order.”  All of which is to say that the Chinese embraced an ideology that strategically sacrificed countless million human lives in an effort to correct social, economic and environmental problems that were simply NOT caused by overpopulation.

The same neo-Malthusian misdiagnosis, of course, animates the Western environmental movement today, as does the same Socialist scientism.  As I noted last June, in the wake of Pope Francis’s encyclical on man and the environment:

Contemporary environmentalism views the environment not as part of man’s domain, to be used and enjoyed wisely and carefully, but as a separate entity altogether, detached from, and in direct conflict with, human beings.  The contemporary environmental movement, which has its roots in Rachel Carson’s scientifically-questionable Silent Spring and Paul Ehrlich’s ridiculous book The Population Bomb, is premised on the notion that man is the enemy of the environment.  Man is the cause of all that ills the natural world, and thus man must be changed – “fixed” – to permit him to exist more peacefully and responsibly with his surroundings. 

The irony here is that just as “backward” Communist China is beginning to acknowledge its pseudo-scientific anti-humanist errors, the West – the erstwhile Christian West – is at risk of repeating them.  Anyone tempted to do so should be directed to Mei Fong’s book, One Child:  The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, for a sober, cogent rebuttal to the notion that “fixing” mankind can be done painlessly or rationally.