Eco-Living Magazine

The Weight of China’s Heavy Hand

Posted on the 13 February 2013 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev
Some regions wait for economic development to reduce unsustainably high fertility rates. Others take more direct approaches. China’s One-Child policy represents one of the better-known efforts of the latter type. Introduced in 1979 when birth rates were near 6 per female, the One-Child policy has since been praised for its successes in reducing population growth but criticized for its impingement on a freedom many consider to be too precious to threaten. Commonly cited negative impacts include the social consequences, and the burden of an aging population on the up and coming working classes.A recent New York Times article highlighted the findings of a study that explored psychological impacts of the policy.  The study found that families limited to one child suffer from “psychological fallout”, with many of these symptoms manifesting in the sibling-less children themselves. Personality tests identified no-sibling sufferers born just after the policy was imposed as “less conscientious, more neurotic, and more pessimistic” than the average Chinese person born just before the imposed restriction[i]. As lucky participants of the sibling-blessed world across the Atlantic, many of us can’t identify with the lifestyle changes imposed on the study participants that led to heightened displays of such qualities.  But we can join in the discussion with those who ask, are these social side effects worth it, considering the alternative?

With regard to the study findings, my initial reaction prompts me to wonder: would these people be less pessimistic and less conscientious had they grown up with siblings in a China that hadn’t avoided the 300 million births the policy’s implementation has been estimated to avoid? Also, because most of the 35.9% of couples subject to the restriction reside in urban areas, would the pressure of another 300 million have forced a larger portion of China’s urban population into impoverished slum existences like the unrestricted growth in many of India and Africa’s metropolitan districts did? What would that do to the psychological state of the Chinese? And considering that China has already outpaced the United States as the world’s leading greenhouse gas emitter, how would the presence of 300 million more have changed that number, and potentially have further altered the state of the Earth’s climate?

It’s difficult to discredit the financial, societal, and emotional benefits of belonging to a society that allows multi-children households. Accordingly, the one-child policy did appear to deliver many negatives alongside its obvious positives, some likely more abstract than those listed here. But it seems that China decided its top priority was to avoid the risk of maintained exponential growth when it mandated change in 1979, placing potential negative side effects lower on its list of things avoid. Leaders recognized that a China with the 300 million people that would have been born without the one-child policy would be worse off than a China left to deal with the social consequences of limited reproduction rights.

In our own country, many concerns exist with regard to the unrestricted persistence of certain trends, but we frequently lack the political and social willpower to face the side effects of imposing mandated change today. When it comes to navigating the national path away from bad habits, the US democratic system has rarely turned out to be an effective driver. Of course, heavy handed regulation hasn’t always been the best way to bring about quick change, as any economist or CPC[ii] critic might argue. But I can’t help but wish sometimes that our own government could tackle necessary change with the same kind of devotion that China did. What if we always agreed to face the lesser of two evils head on, instead of waiting for the greater to sneak up on us in the end?

[i] This experimental method seems questionable considering the implied age variation between test groups, and lack of mention of other societal factors that could have differentially affected test subjects before and after 1979.
[ii] The CPC (Communism Party of China) is the primary governing body of the China.

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