From Too Many People to Too Few
Soon there will be more Chinese bachelors than Saudi Arabians, more Chinese retirees than Europeans.By Mara Hvistendahl, WSJ
Jan. 8, 2016 3:39 p.m. ET
Chinese culture is centered on the family. The parent-child relationship is the first of the five Confucian relationships that govern society and among the most important. Families in China were traditionally large, in part because children—particularly sons—are needed to perform ancestor rites. Even language reflects the importance of family: Chinese contains distinctive words for paternal and maternal uncles, aunts and grandparents, as well as for older and younger brothers and sisters. And so the Chinese Communist Party’s 1980 introduction of the one child policy reshaped a society once steeped in filial piety.
The grand experiment also proved grossly inhumane, yielding, to start with, countless forced abortions. Provincial officials were given birth quotas—at times absurd ones like “no births within the next hundred days”—and were demoted or dismissed if they didn’t meet them. In “One Child,” Mei Fong talks to one cigarette-puffing rural family-planning worker who recalls escorting a woman on the back of a bicycle to abort her third child. A family-planning official now in exile claims to the author that, to meet abortion quotas, some women were forced to undergo operations when they weren’t in fact pregnant.
Today the one-child policy has left in its wake a ballooning population of pensioners with few workers to support them and, thanks to sex-selective abortions by couples intent on getting a son, millions of men who are likely doomed to bachelorhood. In less than a decade, Ms. Fong writes, “there will be more Chinese bachelors than Saudi Arabians, more Chinese retirees than all Europeans.”