China’s One-Child Policy: A Requiem

Tom Flynn

On October 29, 2015, the Chinese Communist Party ended its one-child policy. For thirty-six years that policy had been the planet’s most aggressive, longest-running campaign against overpopulation. It was also a human-rights nightmare, marked by forced sterilizations and compulsory abortions. Especially in rural areas, women faced immense social pressures and devastating fines if they had a forbidden second or third child. Finally, strong cultural preference for male children led to a troubling sex imbalance, with as few as 85 girls born per 100 males. That said, China has claimed that the one-child policy prevented 400 million births. Free Inquiry Senior Editor Vern L. Bullough and his wife, FI Contributing Editor Bonnie Bullough, toured China in 1983, just four years after the one-child policy began. “We have to admire the Chinese for their determination to bring their growth rate under control," they wrote in Free Inquiry (Winter 1983/84). The Bulloughs frankly discussed the policy’s dark side but also recognized the existential danger if China did nothing to limit population growth. “We wish that some of the more drastic forms of persuasion did not have to be used," they concluded, “but we have no viable alternatives to recommend."
Reactions to the policy’s suspension have been varied. Joe Bish of the Population Media Center commented, “I imagine many who are concerned about human overshoot feel this is the final nail in the global demographic coffin." Count me among that group. I mourn the one-child policy’s passing—not because I’m confident it worked but because of the reasons why China’s Communist leadership apparently abandoned it. I’ll get back to that.

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