By Steven W. Mosher
Every year or so, some enterprising young Western reporter (usually
greatly aided and abetted by China's State Family Planning Commission)
declares that China's draconian population control policies are a thing of
The truth, on closer examination, always appears rather different.
Leslie Chang of The Wall Street Journal is the latest breathless convert
to the notion that China's "Womb Police" are a thing of the past, replaced
by "kinder and gentler" family planning workers who practice sweet
persuasion rather than compulsion. Reporting from Minglan village a
couple of hundred miles north of Shanghai (a trip undoubtedly sponsored by
the Chinese government) Chang writes that China is "easing [its]
once-brutal approach to family planning."
She offers as evidence the story of Mrs. Sun Fang who, following the birth
of her son, was visited by family planning workers who came to her house
bearing "a wooden box filled with all kinds of contraceptives, whose
merits and side effects they proceeded to explain. Which one, they asked,
would she like to try?"
Now some of us would find intrusive the idea that agents of the state
would visit you in the privacy of your home and insist - ever so gently,
of course - that you contracept. But not Ms. Chang, who describes this as
a "remarkable experiment . . . replac[ing] coercion with choice, in
matters such as when to give birth and what type of contraceptives to
use." But not, mind you, whether to contracept at all.
Ms. Chang's eye-opening tour continues in the villages of Yicheng county,
where "something surprising emerges: Almost everyone has two children. .
.. families in Yicheng have been permitted since 1985 to have two children
as long as they space them five years apart."
But what Ms. Chang presents as a "pioneering project" is anything but
unique. The Chinese government relaxed the one-child policy throughout
rural China in 1985 in order to staunch the rising tide of female
infanticide. The new rules originally allowed rural couples a second
child only if their firstborn had been a girl. But local officials found
this two-children-for-some, one-child-for-others policy difficult to
enforce, and over time it degenerated in most places into a de facto
two-child policy. The four-to-six year waiting period that had been
mandated at the same time, however, survived.
Ms. Chang also suggests that the Beijing regime has abandoned its earlier
practice of setting birth quotas for provinces and counties. Yet all
indications are that Beijing continues to rely upon national and
provincial population targets and goals. In fact, the State Family
Planning Commission, in its December 19 White Paper on Population,
announced a new population cap of 1.6 billion people by the year 2050. It
also asserted that the one-child policy, which limits urban couples to one
child and farmers to two if the first is a girl, would remain in place.
To be sure, the White Paper was at pains to emphasize that these targets
and quotas will be achieved by "education" and "persuasion," but this has
been the constant refrain of the Chinese government for the past twenty
The conclusion of Ms. Chang's article is almost amusing, in a grim sort of
way. She quotes "a group of Chinese social scientists" as saying "This
[Yicheng county] policy of widely allowing two children, with proper
spacing, can be extended to all of China's large farm villages."
As these scholars well know, but Ms. Chang apparently does not, they are
merely suggesting that official policy be brought into conformity with
what has, for over a decade now, been the actual practice of population
control workers in China's villages.
In the judgment of these scholars (one hobbled, perhaps, by fear of
political persecution), "a perfect family planning policy" would restrict
everyone to two children.
I, for one, would not celebrate this change. A two-child policy, no less
than a one-child policy, would violate the rights of parents to decide for
themselves the number and spacing of their children.
Steve Mosher is President of Population Research Institute, a non-profit
organization dedicated to debunking the myths of overpopulation.
 Leslie Chang, "China Tries Easing once-Brutal Approach to Family
Planning," The Wall Street Journal, February 2, 2001, A1.