Western-funded organizations like the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA),the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and others lent China’s one-child policy enthusiastic support. Nevertheless, population control was not imposed on China by the West, as it has been imposed on smaller, weaker countries.
What recent research makes clear is that the intellectual impetus for the policy came from the West. (1) Vaporous Sixties ideas about population growth and resource depletion had explosive real-world consequences years later and half a world away. The core ideas underlying the one-child policy, it turns out, came from Western “science,” and more precisely from the notorious 1974 Club of Rome study which asserted that we were breeding ourselves to extinction.
The Club of Rome sponsored a computer simulation, carried out by a group of MIT-based systems engineers, called The Limits to Growth. Released with great fanfare, the study predicted that, if population growth and resource consumption were allowed to continue unchecked, the world would come to an end by about 2070.(2) The study was soon shown to be a hoax, with even the Club of Rome disowning it. Its primary purpose, said the president of the Club, had been to “jolt” people into taking the overpopulation problem seriously.
But the stage was set for systems control specialist, Song Jian, who worked for China's state-owned defense industry. Visiting Europe in 1978, Song “happened to learn about the application of systems analysis theory by European scientists to the study of population problems with a great success.” According to him, “British scientists contended that Britain's population of 56 million had greatly exceeded the sustaining capacity of ecosystem of the [United] Kingdom. They argued Britain's population should be gradually reduced to 30 million, namely, a reduction by nearly 50 percent . . . I was extremely excited about these documents and determined to try the method of demography.”(3)
When Song Jian returned to China, he regurgitated the simulation's scary scenarios of ecological devastation, applying these specifically to China “The vegetable cover has been progressively removed so that only about 12 per cent is forested . . . the grass-cover, too, has been shrinking each year and the deserts have tended to expand . . . These developments are threatening ultimately to destroy the ecosystem which supports human life.” Song drew a similar conclusion: “The capacity of the land . . . does not permit excessive increases in population. This is quite obvious.”(4) He reinforced his rhetoric with eye-catching charts showing China's population remaining low for 4,000 years, then spiking up terrifyingly to 1 billion by 1980.(5) No mention was made of dramatic declines in the birth rate in the seventies.(6)
Other Chinese experts jumped into the debate, arguing that not only China's ecology but also its economy was collapsing under the weight of its gargantuan population. Nothing less was at stake than the country's drive for wealth and global power, warned Vice Premier Chen Muhua in the pages of the People's Daily: “In order to realize the Four Modernizations, we must control population growth in a planned way.”(7)
Once the Chinese leadership had been, to use Club of Rome terminology, “jolted” into accepting the idea that population growth was sabotaging the nation's modernization, they were ripe for a radical solution. It was Song Jian, armed with a computer simulation right out of the pages of The Limits to Growth, who offered one.
The computer simulation presented by the Song group to Chinese leaders perhaps the first they had ever seen was met with awe. Scientific and technological modernization, named by Paramount Leader Deng Xiaoping the most important of his Four Modernizations, was now paying off. China's communist leadership had few qualms about regulating the fertility of its subjects, and Song's insistence that Western “science” left them “no other choice” made their decision easy. When Song's study was later published in the People's Daily on 7 March 1980, it was edited to read that allowing more than one child per family would be “disadvantageous to our country's four modernizations . . . and to the raising of the people's standard of living.” The one-child-per-couple policy, which would shrink the population over time, was described as “a comparatively ideal scheme for solving our country's population problem.”(8)
Publication in the official party organ, the People's Daily, meant that the policy had received the imprimatur of the Communist Party, and was therefore beyond further discussion. Six months later, in mid-September 1980, the one-child policy was formally ratified by the National People's Congress. Since then it has been set in stone. On this terrible altar hundreds of millions of mothers and children have suffered and died, sacrificed to a scientific fraud.
The Party, for its part, was happy to blame China's “overlarge population” for all of China's problems and backwardness, since this helped distract the people from its own errors of the preceding three decades. Population growth became an all-purpose villain in the official press, blamed for everything from declines in labor productivity to sagging economic growth.
If only you wouldn't have so many children, the Communist Party continues to chide the people even today, we could achieve wealth, power and glory for China in a few years.
The population controllers claim to be proud of what China's one-child policy has “accomplished.” They should be. It is their baby.
1. “Demography in China: From Zero to Now,” Yuan H. Tien, Population Index
47(4):683-710; “China's Strategic Development Initiative,” Tien, Praeger New York, 1991.
2. “The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome's Project on the Predicament of Mankind,” D.H. Meadows et al., Universe Books: New York,
3. “Systems Science and China's Economic Reforms,” Song Jian, in “Control Science and Technology Development,” Yang Jiachi, ed., Pergamon: Oxford,
1986; Pp. 1-8.
4. “Population Development: Goals and Plans,” Song Jian, in “China's Population: Problems and Prospects,” Liu Zhen, Song Jian et al., eds. New World Press: Beijing, 1981; Pp. 25-31.
5. Song, 1981; p.26.
6. Chinese figures of the time showed that the years 1971-79 saw the natural increase rate fall by half, from 23.4 to 11.7, and the crude birth rate decline by almost as much, from 30.7 to 17.9. Tien, p. 683.
7. “In Order to Realize the Four Modernizations, We Must Control Population Growth in a Planned Way,” Chun Muhua, People's Daily (Renmin Ribao), 11 August 1979, p. 2.
“Concerning the Issue of Our Country's Objective in Population Development,” Song Jian, Tain Xueyuan, Li Guangyuan and Yu Jingyuan, People's Daily (Renmin Ribao), 7 March 1980, p. 5.
Steve Mosher is the president of Population Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to debunking the myth that the world is overpopulated.