birth control and contraception

birth control and contraception
Birth control, or ‘birth planning’ (jihuashengyu), is one of the more controversial issues in contemporary China, entangling state policy and cultural mobilization. From the establishment of the PRC, a large-population policy was favoured by the CCP leader Mao Zedong; birth control was thus unnecessary. Although this idea was challenged by some intellectuals in the late 1950s, including the economist Ma Yingchu, their arrests turned birth control into a taboo subject for almost a decade. Thus, in contrast to other Asian countries that paid serious attention and took action towards their over-populations, PRC, then about 900 million people in population, hesitated to deal with its overgrowth until the removal of its iron curtain. Population studies resumed secretly, and presentations to the UN were made in 1973 and 1974. Birth control was now incorporated into China’s economic programme, and a policy of ‘marrying late, waiting longer between births, and having fewer children’ (wan xi shao) was adopted.
However, this suggestion soon became a compulsive one-child policy (yitaihua jence) that has been in practice since 1979. This state policy, which asks couples to have at most only one child, became notorious in the UN’s international population conference in 1984 where reports of the inhumane murders of unwanted children and abortions were released and were followed by harsh criticisms. The birth rate declined as expected, from 2.23 per cent in 1981 to 1.71 per cent in 1994. Although the PRC later loosened its regulations so that under certain situations (e.g. the first child is handicapped) a couple may have a second, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), the big supporter for China’s birth control, held back its aid until 1993 under some religious, cultural and political controversies in the name of women’s human rights. The other related issue is a Malthusian debate on the balance between population growth and economic development.
While hosting about 22 per cent of the world’s population, China only has 7 per cent of the world’s farms to support them. Whether it can survive this burden until its population reaches the peak of 1.6 billion, as claimed, in the 2030s, will be a question for demographers and policy researchers.
As state policy and a token to connecting with the world, from the beginning China’s birth control was never claimed to be purely for women’s health. However, it should be noted that China is a large country comprised of various racial and religious populations, rendering policy making on a national level painful for the government. Second, population distribution and economic development are severely unequal in China. The attitude towards birth control thus differs in accordance with each couple’s socio-economic status and education. While well-educated people in major cities have voluntarily restricted their births, in rural areas very few are aware of the need. Third, emphasis on the ‘quality’ of the family appeared in the official policy after 1995: the sanjiehe (‘three combinations’: birth control combines with the state’s economic development, the family’s economic sufficiency and cultural happiness) and sanweiju (‘three focuses’ of population control: public education, contraception and routine work). Although achievements are made in selected villages, researchers are not optimistic, as with the breakdown of farming structures an increased number of heihu (people without proper registration) were found in big cities.
After imposing birth control on its people for over twenty years, China finally enacted the Law for Population and Birth Control in the fall of 2002. Yet whether birth control can be a tool for improving not only China’s economy but also the quality of life for its citizens will remain a tough task in the coming decades.
Peng, Peiyun (ed.) (1997). Zhongguo juhua shengyu chuangshu [A Sourcebook on Birth Control in China], Beijing: Zhongguo renkou chubanshe. [There are also almanacs published by the Institute of Population Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Science, available since 1985, providing up-to-date data and information on this topic.]

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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