I have long wondered what it would take for the Chinese Communist
Party to abandon the one-child policy that it instituted back in 1980
when I was first in China. Now we know.
It certainly wasn’t the bitter complaints of the Chinese people
about this assault on their families and children that changed the
Party’s collective mind. The Party has never shied away from imposing
its will on the people it controls. Indeed, it believes, despite
rhetoric to the contrary, that the Chinese masses exist to serve the
state, not the converse. It is a crime in China to criticize Party
policy, and critics are punished, not heeded.
Nor was the Party at all concerned about the millions of children,
both born and unborn, who have been sacrificed as a result of this
policy. After all, eliminating people was what the population control
policy was all about. Diminutive Deng Xiaoping set the tone of the
policy back in 1979 when it said, “Use whatever means you must (to
control China’s population), just do it. With the support of the
Chinese Communist Party you have nothing to fear.” Party officials
have been “doing it” to Chinese women ever since, to the tune of 7 to
10 million abortions a year.
Did the Party leadership finally begin to regret the massive and
ongoing human rights violations that the one-child policy entailed?
Hardly. It takes a pretty hardened leadership cadre to send mobile
abortion squads to hunt down pregnant women, to arrest them for
violating the one-child policy, and then to abort and sterilize them
against their will. This has been going on for 30 years. It is highly
unlikely that Hu Jintao simply woke up one morning wracked by guilt
and said to himself, “This is wrong.”
No, the reason that the policy may be ended has nothing to do with
human considerations at all, but with cold dollars and cents
calculations. You see, as a result of the elimination of 400 million
productive young people from the population over the past three
decades, China now has a labor shortage.
For 20 years, the coastal provinces have been scouring the
backwaters of China for young people to fill factory jobs in assembly
plants that would otherwise go begging. The villages of China have
been emptied out as a result, and are now primarily home to the very
young and increasing numbers of the very old.
China has now hit the Lewis turning point, named after Arthur
Lewis, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who first defined that critical
moment in a developing country’s economic rise when its labor supply
dries up. In my view China has already hit the Lewis turning point,
given that wages, prices, and inflation are now soaring in China.
Others, like Dong Tao, chief regional economist for Credit Suisse Bank
in Hong Kong, say that China will hit it within two or three years.
China’s communist leaders now realize that they have created, by
means of their Draconian one-child policy, an artificial shortage of
labor by eliminating an estimated 400 million people from the
But they have a problem. They cannot admit that their policy was
wrongheaded from the get-go without delegitimizing their rule. So they
have decided to back away from the current policy slowly, by moving to
a nationwide two-child policy. This will not eliminate the abuses, of
course. Women will still be arrested for the crime of being pregnant,
locked up until they give their consent for an abortion, and then
aborted against their will. But these now will be women who are
pregnant with their third child, not with their second. The state, by
all accounts, does not intend to give up its control over the
reproduction of the Chinese people.
And so the Chinese Communist Party will continue to violate one of
the most fundamental rights of the Chinese people: the right to decide
for themselves the number and spacing of their children.