Governing Chinas Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics

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More likely problems may be policy credibility, administrator morale, and intergenerational fairness — problems that a managed raising of birth limits might avoid. They still stand to lose pay, prestige, and promotions for lax enforcement of birth limits, which is why local officials sometimes still go to such outrageous lengths to enforce them. Evidently for these advanced rural areas, enforcement is not only not lax, it has become irrelevant as Huang notes for cities.

It is true that, as part of its shift from plan to market, the PRC has largely replaced administrative punishments with money fines. But relatively few people can easily afford those fines: even for the first unauthorized child, they are many times average local annual disposable income, and much more for additional unauthorized children. To the extent that some people do choose to afford the fines, that does not constitute lax enforcement: again, that IS the policy! It is also true that a relatively VERY few wealthy people go abroad to have unauthorized children and for better medical care and foreign citizenships for the children.

Professor Huang is also correct that evidently the government finds it difficult to change existing policy.

China’s Population Policy—An Exchange Between Edwin Winckler and Yanzhong Huang

No doubt the policy has created vested interests that oppose change. On the basis of Western political science, it is a plausible conjecture that the birth planning bureaucracy might be such an interest, which it may well be. Nevertheless, that conjecture overlooks several facts. From the beginning, it has been those most professionally involved with reproductive policy who have resisted too drastic and draconian policies Greenhalgh and Winckler , ; Greenhalgh , As for the present, I personally know several high national officials in birth planning who would prefer a two child policy, and who advocate that within policy circles.

In any case, the birth planning system could still have plenty to do under a two-child policy, or even under no birth limits at all. However, there are other likely causes of stickiness that are worth noting.

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Amid the intense political infighting among national political leaders, anyone who took the initiative on this would expose himself to potential discrediting by rivals. Another likely cause of stickiness is prudential: over thirty years the government has built up a mass habit of largely voluntary compliance with birth limits and other reproductive policies.

Susan Greenhalgh, Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng’s China

Finally, a further cause of stickiness is even ethical: how to respect the sacrifice of the generation or so that complied with birth limits, even while transitioning toward different rules for later generations. As in war, past sacrifice is not a reason to persist in a losing policy. Nevertheless, prudent policymakers would acknowledge the sacrifice. On the instructions of the Hu-Wen administration, the birth system has begun new social programs to compensate past compliers, something else that the birth system could continue to do even in the absence of birth limits Greenhalgh and Winckler , He MAY be correct that this is a case of successful national brain-washing.

Nevertheless, it might be respectful to individual Chinese to allow for the possibility that at least some of them — amid their crowded cities and competitive lives, appalling pollution and dwindling resources — might have their own reasons for concluding that some reproductive restraint has been appropriate. Particularly given that, by now, many couples choose to have even fewer children than policy would permit them. It might also be respectful of national policy-makers to consider the possibility that — for some populations, under some circumstances — allowing a population to reproduce itself absolutely at will might not remain an absolute right.

Professor Huang is also correct that birth limits are a domestic and foreign political liability for the PRC, dramatically reinforced by recent flagrant abuses, such as the local persecution of local rights activist Chen Guangcheng in Shandong and recent local insistence on a forced late abortion in Shaanxi. My June interlocutors argued that the government could not have prevented the latter expression.

Not only was that the intention of national reformers, it was a recourse promoted also by UNFPA within its model counties for demonstrating reforms.

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Such recourse is exactly what Chen Guangcheng was attempting. And look what happened to him: 0utrageous persecution by the local authorities whose illegal behavior he was challenging and no rescue by national political or program leaders! What is one to make of these recent abuses? Certainly not excuse them. Nevertheless, for general insight into current PRC governance, it is worth considering how such incidents could happen.

Who Made China's One-Child Policy?

The main point is that the central government remains largely dependent on provincial and local governments to implement policies. This is particularly so in social policy, for which the national government sets general policy directions, but whose supervision and implementation falls to provincial and local governments. Such central dependence on localities was the interpretation of my academic interlocutors in Beijing in June who, by the way, were just as outraged over these recent incidents as anyone else.

I certainly hope my interlocutors were correct, and that all local officials in China have taken note. Cai, Yong Greenhalgh, Susan Wang, Feng Winckler, Edwin A. Au contraire.

For instance, the concern over population quality encroached in what appeared to be a discussion over population quantity, just as in the pre-war period. This kind of poignant analysis truly complicates the post-war global politics of world population. In addition to introducing the new analytical framework to the critical studies of population, with Global Population Bashford changed the scholarship fundamentally in the following two ways. First was in the area of periodisation. Throughout the book, Bashford categorically emphasises that the post-war global population politics dovetailed with health, gender and sexual politics, environmentalism and cosmopolitanism was also rooted strongly in the pre-war politics of Earth and life.

Homei and Huang On the one hand, it is about how Malthus formulated population and how the likes of George Drysdale, Carlos Paton Blacker, Alexander Carr-Saunders, George Knibbs, Margaret Sanger, Radhakamal Mukerjee and Kingsley Davis engaged with the population problem where relevant to the backgrounds from which they came. But, on the other hand, the book presents convoluted histories as they are, and forcefully thrusts to the fore the aspects of inconsistencies and conflicts in the arguments, beliefs and moral judgements about the world population problem.


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It is an extremely difficult book to summarise, but it is precisely because of this that the book merits attention and praise. The book, indeed, helps you to think big. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Journal List Med Hist v. Med Hist. Reviewed by Aya Homei.

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