China population policy – success or failure?


China’s family planning policy has prevented 400 million births, Chinese officials say.

“Because China has worked hard over the last 30 years, we have 400 million fewer people,” said Zhang Weiqing, minister in charge of the National Population and Family Planning Commission.

“Compared with the world’s other developing countries with large populations, we have realised this transformation half a century ahead of time.”

And it looks likely that, nearly 30 years after the policy was first introduced, it will not be relaxed to allow couples to have more children. Many Chinese and foreign academics believe this is a mistake and will result in a number of serious demographic problems in the future.

The fall in fertility rates is also, at least partly, due to improving social and economic circumstances. In other East Asian countries, such as Thailand and South Korea, modernisation has led to women having fewer children, and yet these countries do not have strict family planning policies.

But Professor Wang does admit that China’s family planning policies since 1979 have helped reduce the fertility rate further and contributed to a change in attitudes. “A lot of people simply don’t want that many children. People have accepted the policy,” he says.

Chinese officials say the current fertility rate is between 1.7 and 1.8 births per woman, well below the 2.1 births needed to keep the population at a stable level. Overseas experts dispute this figure; they say the fertility rate is even lower and stands at 1.5.

This will result in an increasing proportion of older people, a smaller workforce to look after them and a disproportionate number of boys to girls. There are other problems too. China might have restricted its population growth, but this has not always helped solve wider problems, as was envisaged when the policy was first introduced in 1979.

Reducing the number of people, for example, does not automatically help the environment, as China has found. Prof Wang says the policy needs to be relaxed if China is to solve some of these problems.

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15 Responses to China population policy – success or failure?

  1. earthpal says:

    Hi Matt.

    I believe that the one-child policy is a gross human rights violation. The implications of this severe form of demographic engineering are clear for all to see, even the uninformed like me.

    To pick up on just one thing, as stated, there’s going to be a huge sex ratio imbalance because of the bias towards boys and they need to realise there will be a long social knock-on effect of having a girl-shortage.

    I say it’s a failure.

  2. matt says:

    I’m sure many folk agree with you. I understand that urban couples are quite happy to have a girl these days though.

  3. keithsc says:

    I remember going to a Green Party meeting some 15 years ago when they decided the UK’s population needed to be cut down to 25-30 million or less. The way it was discussed put me off the party but the reasoning behind it I find difficult to fault. Are there not too many people on the earth and isn’t the increase in population the main driver behind the increasing environmental problems today. Well that and the fact that everyone quite reasonably wants the lifestyle we have in the west. China has definitely not solved its environmental problems but wouldn’t they be a lot worse if there were another 400 million people there? It’s remarkable they are still retaining the policy at a time of high economic growth as I thought the main reason for introducing it was the poor economic situation.
    There have been some terrible human rights violations associated with it that I deplore and the imbalance of the sexes is going to be a huge problem but that doesn’t mean it has been a failure.

  4. matt says:

    South Africa has recently proposed re-starting the culling of some of its elephant population based on what they claim to be an unsustainable population; not enough grazing area, oh and they are threatening the ever growing needs of an expanding human population.


  5. jason palmer says: is more effective 🙂

  6. matt says:

    Thanks for this Jason. Certainly a more democratic approach to population issues.

  7. patty says:

    So is it a success or a failure ?

  8. matt says:

    Patty, it depends on what you are interested in here. If we’re talking reduced population numbers, then yes. If we are looking at problems created with social demographics as a result of the one child policy, then no, the policy has caused many problems such as f/m ratio imbalance and problems associated with resources & hopes concentrated on just one child!

    There is also the very shocking effect seen this year as a result of the massive earthquake. If ones child dies as many did in that disaster the parents have no other child(ren) to focus on after mourning.

  9. angela says:

    I think people should not go along with the one child policy because people should have their own rights to do what they want

  10. Stemtoguchi says:

    Wait a sec, gender ratio imbalances are not specific to China. They do occur elsewhere in the world. Hasn’t there been mention of an increase in the female population? And that’s assuming the China doesn’t get its own influx of incoming and outgoing residents. People move into the country, people move out. I do believe, from an environmental perspective, that the implementation of the one-child policy has effectively reduced, perhaps prevented, an over-consumption of resources. To think that right now they are tailing us in carbon emissions at their current population. Imagine 400 million +.

    Is it a breach of human rights? I can see how it can be, but greater problems arise from gross overpopulation. Resources are an obvious point. How about health care or education? Government begins to weigh those things and make decisions.

    Another thing, as long as they are content with it, I think they’d be all right. Why do we have to assert our values and compare it with theirs?

  11. matt says:

    I believe people come to this topic largely because they’re interested in and concerned about over-population of this planet from human beings, with the corresponding impact of resource extraction and habitat destruction, affecting not just humans but also other species. China is looked at because they have done something no other country has done, at least not to the same level.

    As a result it gives everyone a chance to study the impact of their policy on population numbers, structure and social-economics impacts of this. Of course these will be open to prejudice or preconceived ideas and affected by a lack of information at times from the Chinese authorities.

    I think you make the most important point; when and how does government population policy work for the greater good of the population? They have grave concerns now with resource availability, such as water and food, even with the current population level so, you are probably right that the one child policy seems necessary.

    Having said that, a UN programme in Egypt which has concentrated on the welfare, education and health of women in that country has shown to have empowered them to make more of their own decisions regards their life, including employment, marriage and child bearing. Apparently these women are ‘choosing’ to have less children.

    As more women in urban China have gone down the same route they have also delayed child bearing. Therefore the question might be whether such a policy is relevant now.

    Thanks for your thoughts Stemtoguchi.

  12. Dave Moore says:

    The planet is over run by humans and our exponential increase. The Chinese government has responded. They may have dictatorial methods but we should applaud there results and possibly imitate them. With our far higher levels of consumption per person, greenhouse gas per person and so on, each westerner does far more damage.

  13. matt says:

    Shhh Dave! You’re not meant to say that. We humans get very upset about our right to exist on planet earth, even it means destroying it in the process. Avatar.

  14. earthpal says:

    Merriest wishes Matty. Hope you and your family are all well. Have a lovely time and good luck for 2010. xx

  15. maddie says:

    hey the debate about china’s one child policy is very interesting. At school we are learning about it, and i am very stuck. i have to write a letter saying that it’s a failure. so i’m not sure how to write it. need to write for Friday 26th. I would be very grateful if someone could help me!


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