History makers: Chinese parents

With Friday’s news that China’s eastern province of Zhejiang has become the first to implement the Chinese Communist Party’s relaxation of its one-child policy, we celebrate those who have long been willing to defy the state womb police.

In the vast majority of countries, what these men and women did was not heroic at all. It was easy. Indeed, it was almost a matter of letting nature take its course. But the country we’re talking about is China. And what these men and women did was have more than one child.

What’s striking about this procreation is that since 1979, the Chinese Communist Party has ruthlessly implemented its infamous one-child policy. With just two exceptions - for some rural families whose first child is a girl, or when both members of a couple came from one-child families - this has meant that most Chinese parents have been restricted to one child.

The effect of what is one of the most spectacular social-engineering projects ever undertaken has been profound. In the early 1970s, the United Nations reported that Chinese birth rates were up at about 4.77 children per woman. By 2011, this figure had plummeted to 1.64 children per woman – a birth rate that the Chinese state now considers too low. The one-child rule also helped to create the world’s most unbalanced sex ratios at birth, with current estimates suggesting that there are 33million more men in China than women.

But demographic data doesn’t tell the whole story. The effect of the one-child policy has also been brutal. There have been innumerable reports of forced abortion, infanticide and involuntary sterilisations. And less severe, but still disheartening, others report crippling fines dished out for exceeding the one-child limit, plus the loss of employment, and ongoing persecution by local authorities. Little wonder that the CCP’s body for dealing with people’s reproductive habits, the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC), comprises over 500,000 public servants.

To consciously have a second child, then, is a significant act in China. It is an open invitation for the state to step in and mete out its financial and sometimes physical punishment. But over the past decade there have been increasing numbers of people willing to take that risk - not just Chinese citizens from rural communities where ‘overprocreation’ can be concealed or excused more easily, but wealthier professionals from urban areas, too.

Think of the professor and his wife who, in 2010, refused to pay an £18,000 fine simply for having a second child ‘Why should I pay money for having my own kid?’ the professor said at the time. Sadly, not only was he himself fired from his job, but the state also refused to recognise his second child as a citizen, meaning she won’t have access to public services like education and healthcare. Or think of the seven-month-pregnant 35-year-old urbanite who fled her flat one morning because the family-planning officials were coming. ‘I was going to fight to the death if they found me’, she said defiantly. Indeed, such was her resolution that she formed part of a network of bloggers intent on publicising the fight against the CCP’s one-child policy. For these affluent Chinese citizens, the issue is simple: the government should not have the right to dictate how many children people have. These procreational activists may be from a narrow, wealthy stratum of society, but their cause is that of all Chinese people.

These men and women intent on keeping the state out of the womb were not only battling the CCP. Whether they knew it or not, they were also bucking one of the most pernicious of Western environmentalist orthodoxies, namely the idea that more people on the planet equals more problems. Indeed, some in the West can hardly disguise their envy of the CCP’s willingness to regulate family sizes. As one magazine wonders, ‘population expansion means more mouths to feed, which requires more space and energy, which increases the demand on resources and the environment, [and which is] perhaps too large a demand for Earth to support… So, how can we curb this growth? Should there be a global one-child policy, like the one enforced in China?’

In fact, so striking is the affinity between Western environmentalists and the population-controlling CCP, that the CCP even started to use environmentalist arguments to justify its one-child policy. So, speaking at the Copenhagen summit on climate change in 2009, Zhao Baige, vice-minister of the NPFPC, presented the one-child policy as a ‘climate-friendly’ initiative. Citing research commissioned by what is now known as Population Matters, Baige proceeded to claim that ‘promoting family planning’ was the cheapest way to tackle climate change. For Western environmentalists, the respect is mutual. Jonathon Porritt, one-time green adviser to New Labour, and long-time Friend of the Earth, admitted that ‘had there been no one-child policy in China there would now have been 400million additional Chinese citizens’. Little wonder that in November 2011, Li Bin, director of the NPFPC, even gave China a big self-congratulatory pat on the back on the basis that China has been ‘fulfill[ing] the World Population Plan of Action and the Millennium Development Goals set by the United Nations, making positive contributions to the world’s population development’.

So, with the news this week that China’s Zhejiang province is to be the first to implement the CCP decision in November to relax the one-child policy, it is perhaps time to remember those Chinese citizens prepared to battle the Chinese state, and defy the right-thinking callousness of Western environmentalists.

Tim Black is deputy editor at spiked.

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