Monday, China announced that its birth rate had dropped for the 5th straight year. The current rate is as low as the birth rate was in 1961 during the Great Leap Forward, when millions of Chinese people were starving to death.
China’s ruling Communist Party has taken steps to address the birthrate decline, by relaxing its notorious “one child” policy, first allowing two children in 2016 and as many as three since last year. It is also offering incentives to young families and promising improvement in workplace rules and early education.
None have been able to reverse a stark fact: An increasing number of Chinese women don’t want children.
“China is facing a demographic crisis that is beyond the imagination of the Chinese authorities and the international community,” said Yi Fuxian, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has long argued that China’s Communist Party leaders were underreporting population figures.
The number of births fell to 10.6 million in 2021, compared with 12 million the year before, according to figures reported on Monday by the National Bureau of Statistics. That was fewer even than the number in 1961, when the Great Leap Forward, Mao Zedong’s economic policy, resulted in widespread famine and death.
For the first time since the Great Leap Forward, China’s population could soon begin to contract.
Indeed, assuming the Chinese figures are accurate, the country came very close to losing population this year. There were 10.6 million births and 10.1 million deaths. So how bad could this baby bust get? On his Substack site, James Pethokoukis points to evidence it could get very bad indeed.
A July 2020 study in Lancet suggests Chinese population will halve by 2100, (while India’s working-age population will surpass China’s in the mid-2020s).
In a study published last October, researchers at the Institute for Population and Development Studies at Xian Jiaotong University in northwest China argued that those UN estimates are way off. For instance; Those 12 million newborns in 2020 were 25 percent lower than the UN’s estimate. Overall, the study forecast China’s population could decline by half within the next 45 years. The projection was based on a forecasted birth rate of 1.3 children per woman versus the current rate of 1.7. Chinese authorities “need to pay close attention to the potential negative inertia of population growth and make a plan with countermeasures in advance,” the study concludes.
A report published last November by Simon Powell, analyst at Jefferies, predicts “China’s population will peak in 2022, which is almost 10 years earlier than the United Nation estimates. . . . If births decline by 20% p.a. from 2020 onwards, deaths will surpass births by about 6 million in 2025. We estimate China’s population will peak in 2022, which is almost 10 years earlier than the United Nation estimates.”
The possibility that China’s population could be peaking right now and on the decline for the next several decades hasn’t been overlooked by the CCP. We know it hasn’t because over the past few years they’ve made changes to the policy on children. Last May the government announced families would be encouraged to have up to three kids. But this year’s decline in births shows it’s not working.
If you read the NY Times story above you’ll notice that it is framed in very western terms, e.g.. “Chinese women don’t want children.” That seems to be true, but Chinese women didn’t want the one-child policy either and yet they still had to abide by it. The CCP ultimately does not care what the individual man or woman in China wants, it cares what is good for the collective. Clearly a shrinking population and a declining economy isn’t good news for the CCP. The question now is what Xi Jinping will do about it?
There’s an obvious solution to this problem in a communist society where all decisions come down from the top. Xi could create a new version of the one-child policy, but in this case the policy would require every married couple to have at least one child. If that doesn’t bring the average birth rate above the replacement level (assuming some people are still having 2 or 3 kids), Xi could order up a two-child policy. Whatever it takes to avoid demographic decline. In fact, some Chinese citizens have already begun mocking the possibility of a mandate. Last year a group called for new slogans to help them promote the three-child policy.
If the Chinese internet were to have its way, the next official slogan to promote the country’s three-child policy could be: “If you do not get married or have children, you will end up in jail. If you do, you will be ensured a happy life.”
This is just one example of the derision that met an official government association when it called on the public to submit propaganda slogans to promote the major family planning policy shift…
One said: “Have more children, die young, do not give your country any trouble.” Another person wrote: “Women who have three children die young; women who have boys age fast”.
As the story above notes, one of the real slogans from the 1980s when the one-child policy was in place was, “It is better to have 10 tombs than one child.” Subtlety is not the CCP’s strong point.
I shudder to think what the Chinese apparatchiks might come up with to ensure couples are having enough babies. The slogans alone will probably be enough to make a grown man blush. Here’s a South China Morning Post story from October about China’s population policies from 1949 until now.