Yes, there's a religion story behind those statistics about China's shrinking population

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China made the news again last week for an odd reason — its demographics.

Only 12 million babies were born last year in China, the lowest number since 1961. You can think of 35 years of forced abortions and mandatory IUD devices for that. Oh, and going after the offspring of Uyghur Muslims, house-church Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners figure into that number, as well.

But the details of that important religion angle didn’t make it into the stories I read. In the New York Times:

Figures from a census released on Tuesday show that China faces a demographic crisis that could stunt growth in the country, the world’s second-largest economy. China has long relied on an expanding and ambitious work force to run its factories and achieve Beijing’s dreams of building a global superpower and industrial giant. An aging, slow-growing population — one that could even begin to shrink in the coming years — threatens that dynamic.

Now listen to how the next paragraph explains how this happened.

While most developed countries in the West and Asia are also getting older, China’s demographic problems are largely self-inflicted. China imposed a one-child policy in 1980 to tamp down population growth. Local officials enforced that policy with sometimes draconian measures. It may have prevented 400 million births, according to the government, but it also shrank the number of women of childbearing age.

“Sometimes draconian” measures? Forcibly aborting a woman’s second child is, by definition, draconian.

Beijing is now under greater pressure to abandon its family planning policies, which are among the world’s most intrusive; overhaul an economic model that has long relied on a huge population and a growing pool of workers; and plug yawning gaps in health care and pensions.

Well, yes, when local cadres monitor the exact timing of women’s periods to make sure they’re not pregnant, that’s pretty intrusive. Forced sterilizations or cramming IUDs into women is pretty intrusive too. And this was done for 35 years. The one-child policy wasn’t lifted until 2016 and even now, families are only allowed two children.

Meanwhile, the one-child policy is alive and well in Xinjiang, the far-western majority Muslim Chinese province that is practicing genocide (the U.S. government officially accused China of this earlier this year). Birth rates are way down there, according to this piece.

It’s odd how I see the most liberal of media go unhinged on certain culture wars topics, yet show so little outrage when it comes to explaining the “why” of such demographics. It is also telling how, in both articles, the word “abortion” is studiously avoided.

Closer to the scene is the South China Morning Post. I pulled out two interesting paragraphs:

James Liang, a research professor of applied economics at Peking University’s Guanghua School of Management, predicted that in the next 10 years the number of Chinese women in the peak childbearing age group of 22 to 35 will drop by more than 30 per cent compared to today.

“If we reduce the cost of childbearing and introduce more supportive policies for women, especially in large cities where the costs of housing and childcare are higher, I think it will also help lift fertility rate,” said Liang.

The article didn’t note why the number of women will fall so drastically, but anyone familiar with international adoption knows that families that were forced to have only one child used to dump their daughters if they later had sons. The presence of so many abandoned Chinese girls in the markets, streets, fields, you-name-it starting for three decades led to childless families from around the world converging on China to pick up little girls. That trend continued until about a decade ago.

Sixth Tone, a site owned by a state media company overseen by the Chinese Communist Party, said the situation is not going to get better but maybe having less people isn’t so bad after all.

It is increasingly clear that China must face its shrinking population problem head-on. Even then, however, it may be too late. Once a country’s population begins to decline, that process is extremely difficult to reverse. Over the past few decades, there have been virtually no cases of countries reversing population decline after birth rates started to fall. In Japan, South Korea, and Singapore — the countries with fertility patterns most similar to China’s — births have been falling for years, despite their governments’ best efforts to incentivize childbearing.

One does reap what one sows.

The Guardian had an interesting tidbit in its piece about the demographic trends.

The registration figures – which do not necessarily reflect all births as some may be missed, hidden or delayed – also highlighted a continuing gender imbalance. Almost 53% of births were boys, with about 545,000 more born than girls.

This is a skewed ratio, showing that something is happening to these girls. Are Chinese women still aborting female fetuses? That’s a fascinating question that no one is addressing. There’s one more:

McDonald said the one-child policy had instilled a negative feeling about children and created a situation where a low value was placed on being a parent.

“Secondly, there is a floating population of 200 million people who have to leave their villages and work in cities, leaving their children behind in the villages. That doesn’t place a strong value on the parent-child relationship.”

So here’s a society that’s done everything it can to destroy family ties and, lo and behold, results happen. All over China, people are deciding not to have any children at all. And marriage rates are down as well (too many men; too few women plus the latter tend to live in cities whereas a lot of men are still out in the country).

It’s a well known fact that religious people tend to have more children. Atheist China is not the most religion-friendly place. Do you think that might have an influence on fertility? Why not ask that question?

Here is a look at how the rural/urban split has affected Chinese Christian women, who, according to this report in, cannot find mates. And this Open Doors report mentions how Chinese Christians, who are already being persecuted by their government, are seeing their children attacked. None of this is making people (who we assume would normally be having large families) want to have many kids.

It’s the responsibility of a reporter that, when reporting the news, to not only say what is going on, but why. Again, not one of mainstream media pieces mentioned I perused abortion or forced birth control; both major methods used to prevent births for decades. To read these pieces, you’d think that Chinese couples just kind of decided maybe one child was best for them.

In reality, people were fined within an inch of their lives for having more than one child. Then their second child was not allowed to go to school, have a bank account, travel, get married and more because official, that child did not exist. Read this Reuters story on the miserable existence these children had.

Academic papers like this one from the East-West Center that the Chinese government isn’t going to take major action (ie lifting all family size restrictions) any time soon because that might suggest the government was wrong to have them in the first place.

There is always a story behind the story. In the case of religious groups it doesn’t like (Muslims, Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists and Christians), the government is happy to do what it can to keep those family sizes down.

The Jubiliee Campaign produced this 2020 report on the non-ending persecution these religious groups endure, starting with their children being forbidden to have any sort of religious education whatsoever. That, plus being left alone while their parents are thrown into prison has called massive mental problems among the offspring of Uyghur Muslims.

Do you wonder why people are afraid to have children in this country?

FIRST IMAGE: “Chinese Baby” by Mahdi Ayat. is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 in Creative Commons.

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