Population

The Enlightened Despotism of Chinese-Style Family Planning

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Last year Financial Post columnist Diane Francis declared that "a planetary law, such as China's one-child policy, is the only way to reverse the disastrous global birthrate." New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who admires what a "one-party autocracy" such as China's can accomplish when it is "led by a reasonably enlightened group of people," likewise praises the one-child policy in his 2008 book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, where he says it "probably saved China from a population calamity" and hopes the current regime will show the same dictatorial fervor in pursuit of "net-zero buildings." If you wonder whether overpopulation really is a problem, read Ron Bailey's recent discussion of the subject. If you wonder what the solution endorsed by Francis and Friedman looks like in practice, read a new report from Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), which lays bare the brutal reality of the violently oppressive policy so glibly supported by rich Westerners who take their own reproductive freedom for granted.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the open letter from the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee that said "a couple should only have one child." Early on, the government felt compelled to make exceptions to this rule (for ethnic minorities and rural couples whose first child is a girl, for example), and over the years those exceptions multiplied. The Shandong Provincial Population and Family Planning Regulations, for instance, list "14 circumstances in which couples are permitted to have more than one child." CHRD neverthless estimates that 60 percent of couples are affected by the one-child rule, and it emphasizes that even those allowed a bit more leeway are still subject to an odious policy under which "the Chinese government continues to use coercion and violence to control the number of children its citizens have, depriving its citizens of their reproductive rights and intruding into one of the most private areas of their lives."

The tools that Chinese officials use to enforce this policy include "family planning contracts," birth permits, gynecological surveillance, fines that may amount to several years of income, denial of employment and government services, and forced abortions, sterilizations, and IUD insertions. CHRD finds that enforcement is wildly uneven, varying from one jurisdiction to another and over time in the same jurisdiction. While women in some parts of the country may get away with bearing an "over-quota" child by paying a fine, elsewhere women in the eighth or ninth month of pregnancy are abducted so their not-quite-born children can be killed and extracted. Areas where limits on family size are flouted for years with impunity may be suddenly subject to crackdowns in which population control officials use fines, property seizures, beatings, arbitrary detention, and kidnapping of relatives to whip people into line. CHRD describes the incentives facing local officials:

Family planning officials at the grassroots level are given incentives as well as pressure by their superiors to fulfill certain targets in carrying out the policy. Individual officers and their teams are pitted against each other in competition to meet these quotas, and those who excel in enforcing a certain number of the "four surgeries" (insertion of IUDs, sterilizations, abortions and late-term abortions) or the "three examinations" (examinations for pregnancies, the status of IUDs, and for gynecological diseases or illnesses) are given better pay, bonuses and promotions. Those who do not are criticized and their careers are jeopardized. The women and men whose bodies are concerned are seen as numbers, rather than people whose choices should be respected.

The "social maintenance fees" imposed on couples who exceed birth quotas provide a further incentive to enforce the rules:

Local governments often dedicate a particular percentage of the collected fines and fees to pay for the operation costs of the same family planning offices that enforce the policy. Staff members are therefore motivated to levy fines, especially since these offices are often required to provide services and bonuses with insufficient resources…Family planning-related fines have become an important source of income for township-level governments.

The report, which says "the family planning policy, as it exists now, should be abolished," describes many examples of egregious abuses condoned under this system, including confiscation of land for a missed pregnancy test, forced late-term abortions, and a mass kidnapping of elderly villagers to encourage compliance with sterilization edicts. Even if we can imagine a kinder, gentler version of this policy, it still could not be enforced without the use or threat of violence, and it would still represent an outrageous violation of individual freedom. "I don't have a choice over my own body," says one woman forced to use an IUD. "If I don't insert it, I'll be detained." Another woman writes: "I discovered that in China, in this society, women in villages have no human rights. [Local family planning officials] even said that I am under their management, that I do not have a choice, that whatever they say I have to do." A law school lecturer who lost his job and was hit with a $30,000 "social maintenance fee" after he and his wife had a second child refused to pay the fine. "Why should I pay money for having my own kid?" he told China Daily. "It's our right as citizens." Perhaps these people understand something about China's wonderfully successful population control program that eludes its foreign fans.

Matt Welch notes Tom Friedman's admiration for China's enlightened despots here and here. In "Thank Deng Xiaoping for Little Girls," a 2007 Reason article, I explored the link between China's population control policy and international adoption.

NEXT: Culture Shock

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  1. Is there a Walter Duranty Prize for Despicable Journalists?

    1. A regular column at the NYT.

  2. As PJ O’Rourke aptly put it, “Just enough of me, way too much of you.”

    And Restoras, if there isn’t there ought to be and Friedman should be the first recpient.

  3. Another woman writes: “I discovered that in China, in this society, women in villages have no human rights.

    Radical feminists vs. radical environmentalists……

    I’ll get the popcorn.

    1. I never knew I was a “radical feminist” until today, but if thinking “family planning contracts,” birth permits, gynecological surveillance, fines that may amount to several years of income, denial of employment and government services, and forced abortions, sterilizations, and IUD insertions. represents a denial of basic human rights makes you one, then I’ll be proud to wear the label.

    2. The “radical feminist” solution to this problem wouldn’t be allowing women to make decisions for themselves, but enacting a policy that compelled women to abort only male children for “balance”.

      They’re all on the same side.

      1. The radical feminists and radical environmentalists, that is.

      2. There is not one single person, female or otherwise, who advocates this.

        1. The internet is serious business.

    3. Too much armpit hair for me.

  4. paging organic girl.

  5. And Sullum ground truthed everything CHRD report…

  6. Ted Turner said something stupid along these lines the other day, Colbert made good fun of it.

    China’s one child policy is indefensible even if one somehow ignores the terrible effects on women it combined with age old sexism has had on women in China.

    1. Strangely enough, despite the one child law, every Chinese I know seems to come from a large family, as in 4-6 kids. How that happens has never been explained to me in a satisfactory manner….

      1. The one child policy started in 1982.

      2. You know a lot of Chinese citizens living in Mainland China?

          1. Man its almost as if a well-educated Westerner has met only a small subset of similarly elite Chinese people who have resources to pay their way out of restriction.

            1. I think that’s his point.
              “Some uteri are more equal than others.”

      3. Well, we already know government programs often fail to achieve their objectives.

        1. But this is Chinese Gov’t. Those people are supposed to be really good at math and oppression.

  7. Individual officers and their teams are pitted against each other in competition to meet these quotas

    See Pauly Krugnuts, evidence that government breeds competition!

    /sarc

  8. Goddammit. People, central planning is never going to work if everyone keeps insisting on doing their own thing.

    1. Heh…I saw a Baloo cartoon years ago that said something similar: A man in a crown on a balcony telling the people below, “Look, I’m the king, and if you don’t do what I say then I can’t be king anymore.”

      1. The wealthy, disobedient poor must be disciplined.

  9. Too bad a one-child policy wasn’t forced on Friedman’s parents.

  10. The progressive mindset has a lot of similarities with the sorts of fundamentalist beliefs that spawned the movement. One of them is the idea that the bigger the sacrifice you call for or make, the more wonderful you are…

    Their ideal imaginary person is someone who turns their backs on everything they want for themselves and sacrifice it all for the common good. The urge to procreate being one of the most basic things you can ask people to sacrifice…

    It’s a bit like expecting us all to be nuns and priests–and getting all huffy when people turn them down. It’s a sick worldview that judges people based on how much they’re willing to give up for the benefit of everyone else.

    I have problems with seeing people make those kinds of sacrifices based on religious belief, but when you’re just asking people to do it for the environmental sustainability of future generations?!

    At least with the fundamentalists, you get to go to heaven. With progressives, all you get is the smug self-satisfaction of knowing you made a sacrifice for everyone. …which isn’t a good enough reason to make me want to forgo anything.

    1. People have long admired selflessness and sacrifice long before “progressivism” or even any current form of fundamentalism. It’s easy to be selfish, hard to be selfless, hence the latter is admired more. It takes some work.

      I think it’s amusing that conservatives decry progressives for their supposedly libertine selfishness while libertarians hate on them for their fundamentalist selflessness…

      1. Demanding that everyone else finance your moral code is the height of selflessness.

        1. This.

          I don’t hate on them for their hearts being in the right place. I hate on them for wanting to use the force of government to make me agree with them and finance their endeavors.

          1. “I don’t hate on them for their hearts being in the right place. I hate on them for wanting to use the force of government to make me agree with them and finance their endeavors.”

            I hear what you’re saying, and I know what you mean.

            But their hearts aren’t in the right place.

            If they want to use coercion, their hearts aren’t in the right place. They think they’re in the right place, but they aren’t.

            You can’t help individuals by crushing the individual–and it always ends up the same way…

            Progressives: “Let’s help the uninsured”?

            American People: “Okay, how?”

            Progressives: “By siccing the IRS on them!”

            American People: “Huh?!”

            1. Ha ha! Because everyone knows that the affordable care act authorizes and compels the IRS to force everyone to buy health insurance.

              Oh wait. It doesn’t. So, not such a funny post after all.

              1. Strawman of a sorts, you’re replying to someone who said “siccing the IRS on them”. Obamacare “authorizes and compels the IRS” to determine who’s bought officially blessed health insurance and to fine/tax* anyone who hasn’t. AKA the individual mandate.

                * Which it is depends on the phase of the moon and the intended audience.

        2. I guess JW wants law and contract enforcement (and every other part of government he thinks just) to be funded by voluntary bake sales.

          1. Because, as everyone knows, we can’t have a police department unless they’re out on the beat forcing everyone to buck up for Medicare and to buy health insurance.

          2. I guess JW wants law and contract enforcement (and every other part of government he thinks just) to be funded by voluntary bake sales.

            Being a minarchist, I accept that there has to be some level of taxation or other funding mechanism for defense. Roads can be privtely funded and built. User fees can fund judical activities and most of the other parts of the gummint, but if they want to have a bake sale to bring in some additional cash, I promise to buy a few cupcakes.

          3. What are voluntaryism?

      2. Selflessness and sacrifice are all well and good, MNG, so long as they remain personal. Forcing others to sacrifice strikes me as the very zenith of self-regard, particularly when the ones doing the forcing are so quick to congratulate themselves on their compassion.

        1. Again, I expect you oppose things like trespass and breaking contracts and would like to have some force to address that. Is it going to be financed with bake sales or are you going to force me and others to sacrifice for this force?

          1. I’m going to force you to help pay for this.

          2. actually its even WORSE for the poor if the only envorcement of property rights is by those wealthy enough to afford it. Let’s just say that as far as libetarianism goes, allowing government to enforce property rights is a *concession* to the populists

      3. Why are you on the internet? Shouldn’t you be donating all of your disposable income to finance someone’s healthcare? Why do you insist on violating those people’s rights?

        1. It just feels so much better to advocate to take some of your money too!

      4. It is not selflessness if I’m FORCED to do it! Be it by the government or a fear of hell.

      5. “It’s easy to be selfish, hard to be selfless, hence the latter is admired more. It takes some work.”

        Being selfless/altruistic is easy. It’s why it is the preferred muezzin call of the totalitarian regime. It takes courage to do the opposite: to cherish our own desires, to formulate independent values and remain true to them, to fight for our goals whether or not family or friends approve. To honor the self is anything but easy. Selflessness negates the individual. Those who push selflessness do not have a respect for the individual and their right to exist for their own sake. If your right to exist is contingent on services that you render to others then you exist only by their permission of favor. Your life doesn’t belong to you.

    2. Don’t forget Ken, that it matters not whether the self-sacrificing accomplishes the stated goals, or even has negative unintended consequences.

      Take the one child policy. By 2050 25% of China’s population will be elderly. That could be well over 300 million seniors that will need to be taken care of.

      The dystopian nightmare of old people starving, and their bodies piling up isn’t a libertarian one, but rather a reality of communism.

      1. Yeah, the communist party of China doesn’t admit mistakes–they just change things. China made a huge demographic blunder with the one child policy, and it’s pretty much dismantling the policy.

        It’s almost like absurdist theater, watching China’s public policy fall to market forces–while progressives cheer the Chinese on from the side lines for their central planning. Cheering on China for bad policy decisions the Chinese are abandoning themselves!

    3. They made a sacrifice for Gaia/nature/whatever. They don’t give a s*** about “everyone”. That’s the problem with radical environmentalism. Human beings are the last thing on the list of priorities.

  11. What strikes me as odd about this population control propaganda is that it’s alway directed at European and European descended populations.

    Why? We’re a rapidly declining population as it is. If there’s a problem with over population, we sure as hell ain’t causing the problem. Does someone have an ax to grind, or what?

    1. No no no! Any problem that non-whites have is the result of evil actions by white people. India’s in trouble because of English imperialism. Africa is in shambles because of various white imperialisms, and slavery. The middle east is a shithole because white Christians made war on Islam. American (white) capitalism destroys the world because economics is a zero sum game. As a white devil, I feel terribly guilty because all the sins of the world are caused by me… oh, the burden!

      1. The middle east is a shithole because white Christians made war on Islam.

        If only.

  12. Moar biggur bombz will fixit!

  13. http://wonkette.com/413811/thi…..mans-house

    There’s never a a revolution against the noblesse when you need one.

  14. Financial Post columnist Diane Francis…New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman

    are:

    A) Freakishly stupid
    B) Evil
    C) Amoral
    D) All of the above

    1. You can’t be evil AND amoral.

      1. They found a way.

  15. The “social maintenance fees” imposed on couples who exceed birth quotas provide a further incentive to enforce the rules:

    This is the same mindset that would impose fines for not having health insurance, because of the alleged externalities.

    1. Are you serious? Are you serious?

      1. That never gets old.

  16. How that happens has never been explained to me in a satisfactory manner….

    Well, you see, the Daddy Bee does a little dance, and one thing inevitably leads to another (there could even be some drinking involved), and nine months later- taah daah- the stork is climbing down your chimney with a squirmy little bundle of joy.

    1. Yet another reason for banning alcohol sales.

  17. Hey statist fucks, when you are looking for an example of a government that works as you envision government can work and you find yourself pointing towards China, that is a sign of desperation on your part, not inspiration.

    The China you point to, the centralized totalitarian government is what they always had, and it is the one that nearly destroyed them. The peasants revolted, from the ground up, and unwilling to go through another Cultural Revolution or Great Purge, the officials turned a blind eye. That is from wince their increasing wealth is derived. The skyscrapers and big toys for elites projects you so admire did not come until after the fact.

    1. …pointing towards China…

      That’s only because it’s more well known that North Korea.

      1. And you can actually see Beijing at night.

  18. Let me guess, Diane Francis is part of that new post-politics movement, “No Labels”.

  19. “family planning contracts,” birth permits, gynecological surveillance, fines that may amount to several years of income, denial of employment and government services, and forced abortions, sterilizations, and IUD insertions.

    Sounds like the annual NRDC board picnic…

  20. A dictatatorial regime can certainly implement decisions faster. With the ‘right’ people in charger, perhaps those decisions may even be better (depending on what criteria you use). What fans of authoritarian types of government seem to miss is that the people currently in charge won’t always be in charge. How much is one willing to risk that much less savory characters will be calling the shots in the future? Is is much easier for a powerful central government to do a great deal of damage than a great deal of good.

    1. That is a risk I’m willing to take. The alternative is to let people make their own choices, and admit that big government is a failure. If I do that, life has no purpose for me.

      1. You can always make fun of those who sacrifice for you.

  21. What strikes me about these writers who fawn over China’s one-child policy is that they are also the types to believe strongly in the welfare state, government intervention into the economy, and other “progressive” policies.

    Herein lies the problem: with a falling population, you cannot have a welfare state. It’s impossible. There would be no way for the small number of working-age people to support the large number of older people. With each generation being approximately half the size of the previous, you would have to have a population that works–essentially–until death. Additionally, because of the large numbers of elderly citizens, a good portion of the younger population would have to work in fields related to taking care of them. Inevitably, the “benevolent dictator” would decree some sort of rationing policy for end of life care.

    All in all, a terrible idea. It’s a good thing it’ll never happen.

    1. I think I have a solution

      1. Well, I’m ready for a soma holiday.

  22. I wonder when Margaret Atwood is going to write about a Utopian autocratic “secular” government that has absolute control over a woman’s uterus?

    1. Shortly after TeaBaggers develop brains!

  23. All in all, a terrible idea, but I’m not too sure about the second part.

    With appropriate death education, indoctrination, and propaganda, people could be conditioned to select suicide before they require expensive geriatric and end-of-life medical service. That’s why the State provides death education in school, publishes “Your Life, Your Choices” that encourages terminally ill veterans to consider withdrawal from treatment at VA hospitals, and promoted end-of-life counseling in draft health care legislation. With a fully developed program for death indoctrination, the benevolent dictator’s rationing policy would only have to apply to non-conformists.

  24. Concern Troll (Diane Francis) is Concerned.

    Why is she a troll? Either before or after her conversion to the “One True Way” of population control for Gaia, she selfishly decided to have two children. TWO CHILDREN! What was she thinking?

    And courtesy of the Washington Post:

    Wang Weijia and her husband grew up surrounded by propaganda posters lecturing them that “Mother Earth is too tired to sustain more children” and “One more baby means one more tomb.”

    More than 30 years after China’s one-child policy was introduced, creating two generations of notoriously chubby, spoiled only children affectionately nicknamed “little emperors,” a population crisis is looming in the country.

  25. What strikes me as odd about this population control propaganda is that it’s alway directed at European and European descended populations.

    I have a theory.

    Wait, sorry, I misspoke?

    Eysenck has it.

    Yeah. That guy.

  26. What i find interesting is that in Communist Romania the problem was thought to be to low a population so abortions and birth control were banned and couples required to have five children or face fines. although the goals was the opposite of China’s the results included abandonment of children was so terribly similar.

  27. The problem with Social engineering is all these pesky human beings get in the way.

  28. Also for those of us keeping score here the progressive communist Thomas Friedman is worth roughly 25 million dollars. How nice for him to live in capitalist America.

  29. > The tools that Chinese officials use to enforce this policy include
    > “family planning contracts,”

    I thought contracts are the most Holy of documents to libertarians, especially the repressive libertarians.

    Call a document a contract, and it has the Moral Authority of Consent — even if no one actually consented to it, the consent is legal fiction created by communistic-parasitic-sociopathic tort lawyers, and/or it fails the basic requirements of Rational Choice Theory.

    Even if the so-called “contract” is mandated by the government.

  30. My physician uncle told me doctors and nurses were ordered to snuff out the “extra” babies before they were presented to the mothers.

    1. Wow! That settles it. Must be true!

  31. The left has always been fascist, and fascists have always been leftists. Hardly surprising, but always nice to seem them openly admit to their autocratic tendencies.

    1. Left and leftists aren’t interchangeable, genius. Try reading a book now and then.

      1. I would like to nominate shamgar50’s comment for an award.

        1. I would too. A well-polished turd would be appropriate for such a brain-dead ignoramus.

  32. The “social maintenance fee” idea is not bad. I propose something similar — elimination of exemptions for dependents.

    1. But then people might not breed as much, and that would mean less consumers and cheap labor. Wouldn’t that play havoc with Libertarian portfolios?

  33. On Instapundit, the link to here is titled: “GUESS WHO LOVES the enlightened despotism of Chinese-style family planning?”

    The first name that immediately came into mind upon hearing the mention of China was Friedman.

  34. Friedman has TWO children! Elitist bastard! Where is the guillotine when it is most needed.
    Of course, he has a house the size of large hotel and lectures us that we need to freeze in a lean-to in the dark to save the planet!
    Do these people have no mirrors? Do they not listen to what comes out of their mouths?
    The real question is why does anyone listen to them?

  35. Of course this Libertarian rag supports people breeding like rats. It’s good for business. Not good for people, but great for profits! More consumers, more cheap labor willing to work without any benefits or safeguards. A true Libertarian paradise.

    One day, the countries of the world will HAVE TO embrace a policy similar to China’s.

    1. Then top yourself, shamgar50, and lead by example.

    2. Having >1 kids = “breeding like rats”?

      “One day, the countries of the world will HAVE TO embrace a policy similar to China’s”

      Really? Why is that? Because you say so?

    3. “shamgar50|12.24.10 @ 4:04PM|#

      Of course this Libertarian rag supports people breeding like rats. It’s good for business. Not good for people,…”
      Hey, brain-dead! Chart overall human welfare against population.
      It takes true stupidity to ignore facts, but I’m sure you have the gold medal.

  36. The greatest title one can have is ‘Third’

    1. Why? Was ‘First’ not good enough for you, Mom and Dad??

      1. Bean there, done that.

        1. I’ll do you soon, too, Bean..

  37. From Francis’ article: “Ironically, China, despite its dirty coal plants, is the world’s leader in terms of fashioning policy to combat environmental degradation, thanks to its one-child-only edict.”

    Hmmm, China as an environmental leader? I can’t wait for her next article on how China is leading the feminist movement by freeing women from the drudgery of bearing children. I can see the title now, “Forced Abortions Empowering Chinese Women”

    1. “Ironically, China, despite its dirty coal plants, is the world’s leader in terms of fashioning policy to combat environmental degradation, thanks to its one-child-only edict.”
      Yep, Macao, Monaco, Singapore, why they’re all enviro sink-holes, right? Unlike, oh, Haiti which has a much smaller population density:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L…..on_density
      The stupid presumption that more people = worse eviro is not only not proven, it’s dis-proven.

  38. Fertility declines as urbanization rises; China is now 40% urban and there is talk of scrapping the one-child policy.

    The strategic demographic issue is the need to equate population growth with the economy’s capacity to absorb it into the workforce. Otherwise, you get social unrest and, for a government, a nation of 1.3 billion is one helluva tiger to ride.

    I’m afraid this article assumes that if a given policy works for the 0.3 billion of the USA, then China is being beastly for failing to adopt it.

    I’m not surprised.

    Speaking in Shenzhen in 2004, Al Gore was asked by a Chinese member of the audience if there could be any difference between US national interests and the national interests of other countries. It visibly caught him off-guard, but he finally said: “No, because the principles of the US Constitution come from God.”

    Amen.

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