MCDB 150: Global Problems of Population Growth

Lecture 17

 - Population in Modern China


Families lived together in traditional China and sons remained on the land; division of family land led to tiny plots and rural poverty. Because labor was so cheap, the country did not urbanize or mechanize. The Communist government started out with a pro-natal stance, but after experiencing the famine of the Great Leap Forward, moved strongly to fertility control. Fertility declined rapidly in the 1970s, but to counter momentum, the One-Child Policy was introduced in 1979-80. Nevertheless, population has now risen to over 1.3 billion.

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Global Problems of Population Growth

MCDB 150 - Lecture 17 - Population in Modern China

Chapter 1. Population and Family Culture in China [00:00:00]

Professor Robert Wyman: Now in the last lecture we talked about how China has had this very dense population of very poor peasants, for a very long time, and we started discussing some of the possibilities for why that would be. We talked about the possibility that China just had a higher fertility rate and roughly that was not true. We found that that the Europeans and the Chinese both had methods of controlling their population. It doesn’t mean the methods were exactly equal, but they were rather opposite. The European method, as you know was late marriage, incomplete marriage that half or so, 40% or 50% of people never got married, or were unmarried at any given time, a great deal of lack of marriage and late marriage meaning–but once they got married they did not seem to have any limitation on their fertility and so half the people going at full tilt is sort of one aliquot.

The Chinese situation, 10% to 25% of the girls were done away with basically at birth, the rest all got married, but within marriage they had a very low rate of reproduction. At the end, I don’t think we’ll have time, but if we do I’ll show you some of the evidence that this low rate of reproduction was not a conscious effort to control fertility but was a result of the culture. I discussed–I gave you that conclusion last time but I didn’t give you any data, there’s plenty of data for that. We’re back to what the difference is between China and Europe, why are they so different?

Student: I just have a question; I’m wondering what extent do you believe that cultural programming was designed at some early stage?

Professor Robert Wyman: When you say designed do you mean designed consciously? No, that I think the people had no idea. People obey various cultural rules, cultural rules happen randomly. You can watch– anthropologists watch cultures and culture is a very flexible thing and it changes fairly frequently. If that change works people retain it and the whole culture works. If that doesn’t work, either people change it again or the culture disappears. Most cultures over time have disappeared.

Cultural evolution seems to follow pretty much the same rules as biological evolution. Almost random change–in biology you have random changes in the genome, the cosmic ray hits you or you smoke a cigarette, or something like that, and base pair changes or a piece of chromosome jumps out and goes back in, inserts itself, a lot of different things. These are mostly bad changes but very rarely there’s a good change. If it’s a good change presumably that individual will have more children and so there’s more copies of that genome in the next generation and so on. You know the basic story of evolution.

Culture evolution ca be the same; people change culture on the basis of fads and who knows what. We’ve had a lot of evidence that even the great reduction in fertility that we’ve seen all over the world, has a lot of aspects of a fad. That once a small group adopts it everybody looks around and likes the idea and fertility drops like a stone, way before and rather independently of economic changes, and educational changes, and urbanization changes and a lot of the lectures have shown that. That something is adopted, for maybe unclear reasons, by a small group, people like it, it’s like the kind of clothes that you wear or something, there’s no rationality to it, but if it works it gets embedded in the culture.

No, I don’t think there’s any evidence that any of these practices were put into place for the purpose that we now impute to them, but they’re practices that worked for that culture within the rest of their ecological and cultural context, and so it persisted. That’s a very important–it’s a good question, it’s a very important way of thinking about culture. That it evolves very much in the same way that biological things evolve, and it’s a decent introduction to what I want to say today.

One of the strong aspects of culture is family. In Chinese cultures, as in many others, it’s really the very center of Chinese culture; the family and their responsibilities to each other. We talked, and I’ll go back over it a little bit, about how loosely bound the families in Europe were. I’ll refer to this later. In China, families are much more tightly bound. It’s a much more functional unit. This binding was ordered by Confucian doctrine for a long time in China. That is, women had to give absolute deference to men; children had to give absolute deference to parents and elders, for instance.

The relationship between parents and children are extremely important and in China children did not leave the home. In Europe, remember I described to you that at age seven, Charles Dickens goes out and works and people are sent out to do service in different places or would be apprentices. Of course everything happened in China, but the most usual thing was that the children were kept at home and worked on the family land. The parents chose a spouse for the child, again in Europe, people went out and had what they called morganatic marriages, marriages presumably for love, but the parents were not involved in the marriage. In China, after marriage, the son remained living in his parent’s compound and the daughter-in-law moved in with them; very, very standard kind of situation.

There was no separate economic unit for the married children. As long as the father lived he controlled the assets of all the family, the children did not have independent stuff and money that they owned, it was all under the control of the father, and in old age it was the children and not the community who were responsible for support of the parents. That was part of the tit-for-tat; again in the culture this is very closely arranged. The parents have responsibilities toward the children; the children have responsibilities toward the parents. The parents support the children when they’re young, provide land for them, when they inherit the land, but in return the children must support the parents in old age.

Living in the family of your parents is a very conservative effect because the older generation gets to dictate the customs and mores and the behavior of the younger generation, and older generations are by definition conservative because they were brought up in an older version of things, and there may be modern things going on but they don’t generally accept them. With respect to fertility, with respect to son preference, a boy who may be 17 marries a girl who may be 13, 14, 15–and the boy is under the thumb of his mother and the girl moves into the house and she’s only 13 and she’s under the thumb of everybody, and the mother insists that she get pregnant right away and have a boy.

She describes it as: ‘for my son’s benefit.’ The cultural thing is, she’s doing it so that my son will pass on the family name. It’s good for my son. But, the son probably doesn’t want it as times modernize. He wants to enjoy his life and enjoy his wife and so forth, but they have little power, the son and the daughter-in-law have little power. It’s the grandparents that have the cultural power in the family so it’s a very conservative factor in cultures and especially in matters of reproduction.

In return, as I mentioned, for children giving up autonomy which they give up, the children are very much under control of their parents, and for living in this absolute deference. Fathers, in a lot of China, at different times in history had the right to kill a child if the child was disobedient. That was not against the law. In return for this, they had to support the children of all ages, find spouses, and ensure resources for the next generation and the essence, in a sense, is really the only resource that peasants generally have is some land, that meant giving the children land for the next generation.

In England especially, and in a lot of the rest of Europe, they practiced primogeniture, that only the oldest son got the land, and so the holdings, whatever amount of land the parents had was kept together. The Chinese did not practice primogeniture. We’re talking about a lot of places over a long time so I’m sure there were some places where it happened, but in general, they did not practice primogeniture. On the death of the father, the family land would be divided up among however many sons that there were. This had the good benefit that no one was forced, and one of the cultural reasons for it, that with land you could start a family, you could have children, you could have sons, so no one would be forced into the situation which was unbearable in traditional Chinese culture of not having a son. You had to have son, in order to have a son you had to have a wife. In order to have a wife you had to have means of supporting her a little bit, so the family had to give you land.

Chapter 2. Land Scarcity and Family Culture in China [00:09:47]

This factor, the lack of–the division of family land in China had tremendous impact on the whole economic situation of China; of course, as population grew, that guaranteed that the plots of land would get smaller and smaller, and smaller right down to the subsistence level. And the Chinese were very well aware of this. A common Chinese saying, which summarized this phenomenon says, “fortunes seldom continue considerable in the same family beyond the third generation.” If you’re Chinese and say that, we have similar sayings in the western world, but they’re very different meanings. In China what it means, if you have a fortune, if you’re rich, you’ll be able to keep more of your children alive including the sons. If you have more sons you have to divide your land into more small pieces and you go right back to the poverty level.

When we say things like that in the West, it means the first generation works very hard, is honorable in a sense, makes money. The second generation have seen their parents work, retains some of that work ethic, but the children, the grandchildren grow up rich and they’re rotters and they don’t work very hard. The same cultural impression works in both cultures that riches don’t last very long in generations, but one is due to the scarcity of the division of land and one is due to the personality of the individual. Malthus knew about this saying, the saying is so popular in China, Malthus knew about this saying and wrote about it 200 years ago and it’s still common–that I read it as a Chinese saying in The New York Times a few years ago.

Again, this is in contrast to the European situation where children left home early to work in a succession of other households. They chose their own spouses, very interestingly, as evidence of this kind of dissolution that in most of the world we have these tight families when someone gets married there’s some record of it, there’s some registry, a personal family record kept as a family treasure or some governmental or village, or religious record, and in all these countries with tight marriages there’s a long list of relatives that have witnessed the weddings and say yes this is true. Not in England, the list–it’s–the two people go to church, or a priest, or a minister marries them and that’s it. The family can be involved but need to have nothing to do with it and legally doesn’t have anything to do with it.

After marriage, unless they are the primogeniture son that is inheriting the father’s household, they go and set up their own household somewhere else and live separately. As soon as they get married they’re economically independent of their parents. In one data set, in 75% of cases in northwest Europe, children didn’t even live in the same village where their parents lived, so it wasn’t like they were really close but they moved away.

Now again, in cultures all these–a lot of things have to fit together so the system of independence, the European system, could only occur if some provision is made for support of the elderly. In China the young–the children have the responsibility to take care of the elderly and this has to happen, all elderly need to be taken care of, and the culture would never evolve successfully if there wasn’t some way of European oldsters getting some sort of support.

Interestingly, in Europe it was not the children who were responsible for support of the elderly, but the community had that responsibility. From 1598, Parliament–and that’s a long time ago 1598, Parliament required overseers of the poor to be appointed every year in every parish in the country; every parish was responsible for its own poor, which was mostly elderly. They not only had the duty to support anybody that came and asked for it who was indeed poor, they had to go out and identify the poor. They had to–the poor that were too helpless, or too ignorant, or didn’t know, they had the responsibility to go out and identify the poor. We have a lot of argumentation in America, especially about our current welfare state, how much effort should the welfare agencies do to pull in clients for their services, to advertise their services.

Well, 1598 England faced of course the same issue and the Parliament then decided that no, the responsibility of the community was to go out and identify and find people who needed help. These overseers were empowered to levy taxes sufficient to pay for this. The law was very clear that the primary responsibility for providing relief lay with the parish; that was what happened.

There was no direct obligation recognized between the child and the parent. A parent could not go and sue his children for support. There was a back door, a little loophole that once the parish discharged its responsibility in supporting the poor, than the parish could go and sue the child to reimburse the parish for its expenses, so it wasn’t totally that the children got off the hook. That was when the children lived in a different village and this was all very localized, it was a very hard thing to enforce, and basically it was the community that had this responsibility.

Colonial America picked up that same pattern, and there are really quite horrible stories of pregnant women, who either got pregnant out of wedlock or whose husband had died, or had gone off to a war or something, sort of being chased from village to village while they were pregnant and ready to give birth because the village knew that if that child was born in that village they would ever after have to do poor relief for the mother and the child. There’s some really unpleasant stories from Colonial America.

Well so you have two different patterns, a Chinese, and of course it’s not limited to China, where the children are under the thumb of the grandparents, especially the grandmother in reproductive matters and so behavior is not terribly flexible. It’s whatever the older generation believed. Whereas in Europe, children go out and form their own households and they can respond more easily to changes in cultural norms.

The younger boys, it’s quite interesting, while one of the results of primogeniture is that you keep the plots together so that, in the peasantry, you don’t have this enormous class of terribly poor peasants, the peasants retain a reasonable amount of land. But all the rest of the sons go off to the cities and they get forced off the land. Demographically they usually don’t require the resources to get married because in the cities it’s very hard to accumulate the resources. They never get married, they never have children, as I mentioned before the death rates in the cities were so incredibly high that about every generation about a third of the city people died and had to be replaced by new immigrants from the countryside.

Still, there was quite a large population of unemployed or barely employed people in the cities. What did they do? They joined armies, that’s one of the big employers–especially of men, big armies–require manpower. Some historians believe that the aggressiveness of Europe, all the constant wars that Europe was in during this period and the colonial expansion, were due to all these young men in the army and they had to do something with them. Or reverse, they were available; all these young men were available for the army and so they were employed to do whatever the rulers believed they should do. They also tried to make a living in the city and did a lot of apprenticeship, and they would start a small trade, or some hand manufacturing operation, and again some historians believe that this excess of males in the city trying to cope on their own–formed one of the basis for the industrial revolution.

The two systems were really–the European and Chinese were sort of diametrically opposite and the Chinese system was in a sense much kinder because no one would–in Europe children were sort of basically sacrificed, goodbye, have a good time in life, we’ll see you. Whereas, in China, they were kept at home in the security of the family and its land, which is both emotionally more secure and economically more secure, but very poor. It looks like this very practice, which is the center of Chinese culture, the tightness of the family, with respect for elders, lack of adolescent rebellion, etc., all the good characteristic things that go along with that, may also be one of the reasons why China suffered the Malthusian misery situation for so long. The land parcels on which people tried to survive were just so tiny that they were up against an absolute limit.

Chapter 3. Poverty and Imperialism in China [00:19:50]

All right, we can see in the statistics, the result of this keeping people on the land. China, basically as observed by Chinese and by everyone else, became what was called a vast sea of impoverished rural peasants. As late as 1900, 94% of Chinese lived in villages, meaning they were agricultural. In contrast, in England 100 years earlier in 1800, the agricultural population was down to 37%. So, China was way more than 100 years behind England, at least in urbanizing and industrializing and so forth. Without enough land, nonetheless, when the plots got so small that people really could not survive on them, of course even in China they had to leave the land, and you got a class of landless laborers, as there really was everywhere. But the conditions which they left in Europe–The poverty on the farms was so much worse than, say in Europe, that when they moved to the cities it was even a step further down.

This is really disastrous. In the 1930s both Americans and Mao, Mao did some of his earliest scholarly work investigating conditions of the rural poor in China, and so there’s a fair amount of data that in the 1930s wages that to be paid for a laborer, what you paid a man to work for a day, was the same as it cost you to provide fodder for a donkey. The cost per day of a donkey and a human were the same, it was such absolute misery. Which did people prefer to hire? Buy a donkey or hire a human? Same cost per day–what?

Student: Depends on what you have to do.

Professor Robert Wyman: Okay, all the things that donkeys or humans can do, but donkeys especially, what can a donkey do? It carries things. It turns out that they preferred to hire the human. Why? Because if you have a donkey, you have to feed him every day, even when the donkey is not working. If you have a human, you pay him for that day, essentially subsistence wages, just enough food to keep going which is more or less the same as the donkey. And when you don’t need them, when the harvest is gone, or you don’t have anything to carry, bye. That’s what you see in the Chinese cities of all this time that there was very little mechanized transport, everything was carried by rickshaw; rickshaw is a seat but human laborers were carrying all the goods around the cities and between cities.

On the farms also, labor was so cheap and there were so many humans per land, that there was no economic incentive to get animals to do your heavy labor. So, there was an absence of draft animals in China, an amazing difference between Europe and China is the absence of draft animals. It’s very interesting, draft animals not only provide you pulling labor, but they provide manure, and Europe had plenty of manure from all the–they had a lot of animals. The Chinese then had to go to human manure. The whole industry of spreading the human manure, night soil as they call it, on the fields is due to a lack of draft animals. This continued as late as the 1970s, some parts of China were still too poor to have farm animals. You didn’t get mechanized farming, you didn’t get any of the–labor was so cheap they didn’t get any of the mechanization of either motorized transport in cities or agricultural machinery in the countryside.

This kind of–people coming down to a very, very–because the land got so crowded, people coming down to a very, very poor state of existence was really a great weakness of China. While, at the top, the Emperor and the court were fabulously wealthy, that was based on the backs of a mass of really, really poor peasants. When Europe developed good shipping and modern arms–was starting to develop modern armaments they were able to thrust their power all the way from Europe around most of the world. It’s not very easy to get by sailing ship from Europe to China, but by the early 1800s Europe could project enough military power into China to defeat the Chinese armies.

As I mentioned last time, the British were, by that time, having a terrible trade deficit with China. The British were addicted to tea, and they were losing all their money and the tea addiction would have choked–the ledgers are very clear how–England was just basically losing all its money and if they didn’t restore the balance of trade, Europe would be bankrupt and that would have cut off the industrial revolution. The money that could have fueled the industrial revolution was in fact going to China to feed a caffeine addiction. It was really a massive, massive effect and so the British started importing opium into China, from India, in an attempt to reverse the balance of trade, which it did. I mentioned this, the Chinese put down their foot and said ‘no you can’t addict my people,’ the British cried free trade, invaded China in the first and the second opium war.

By about 1840 it was clear that China was a paper tiger militarily. Though they really had a vast number of people in a very strong autocratic state, they could not respond to Western military power. Once kicked out–for a short interim there, before the opium war, the Chinese were able to kick the opium smugglers out. Where did they go? To a little rocky island off the coast of South China, and now that’s called Hong Kong. It started as a smuggler’s den, and basically the big Jardine Matheson, all the big British fortunes that stemmed from the China trade were really opium trade, drug trade. The British started controlling parts of China, then the Germans moved in, the French moved in, and the Americans when–in the periods when China’s government had some power were very happy to intermediate in the drug trade, and help avoid certain restrictions on the Brits and so forth.

Then the Japanese got modernized in the early 1900s and they invaded China, and the end result of this, is that from the first opium war for 115 years China was basically at the mercy of the European imperial powers and the Japanese newly imperial state. The final chapter on that, of course, is World War II where the Japanese invaded and were incredibly brutal to the Chinese, and I read you sometime back, a story about the Rape of Nanking, and then after that there was the battle between the communists and the nationalists, won by the communists; a very, very vicious civil war. Basically China was devastated by this 115 years of dissolution of the government and being taken advantage of by foreign powers.

The scarcity of land, just as a sort of footnote to that history, the scarcity of land remains a major problem for China. Especially the dry and hilly land, you may remember last time I told you that as American foods came in and farming increased, that people learned that they could grow food on hilly land and dry land, and so the population expanded into this marginal land.

February, the end of February this year, just a month ago, there was a story in The Times. China’s now going through the worst drought in half a century, which also means that they go through this every half century, so it’s not really an incredibly unusual thing. In the wheat band, a farmer’s land is 1/3 of an acre, and remember I told you the average plot farm size was only 1/10th of an acre, so this guy is rich. He’s got 1/3 of an acre, three times as much. Why does he have so much? Because it’s carved out of a rocky hillside in a dry region. You can’t survive on a 1/10th of an acre there, you need 3/10ths of an acre.

The aquifers have been so depleted that, in some farming regions, wells have to go down a half mile before striking water; all the water that’s less further down has already been used up. They’re going through this drought. These people, in good times, live on a 1/3 of an acre. On a hilly, rocky, dry hillside, you’re not going to make a lot. And now, with the economic collapse in the world, there’s millions of migrant workers coming back onto the farms–the countryside and they’re going to have to now, somehow, be supported on this very, very poor agriculture.

Chapter 4. 1950s Population Explosion in China [00:29:31]

Finally, after the Korean War, I may have forgotten to mention the Korean War, where the–some elements of the United States said they were going to invade China. This was the time when they were threatening to bomb China back to the Stone Age. Do you know that expression? It was Senator William Knoland from California who was the main advocate of bombing China back to the Stone Age. The U.S. did not invade China and China fought them in North Korea; very, very nasty, bloody situation. They finally got this peace. The data seems to show that in 1952, which is at the end of the Korean War, Chinese had a significantly lower per capita income than they had at the end of the Sung Dynasty in the thirteenth century. That there had been 700 years with–600 or 700 years with no progress–real progress for the people. It was a real Malthusian situation where the population had grown up tremendously, production had increased tremendously, but the two equaled out and no net progress.

There’s the new communist government which was very powerful and not hesitant about using its power and being very autocratic. Right away they did a number of very good things, they invested very heavily in public health, and introduced the very basic measures of hygiene, disease control and pest control. It’s a big thing. Loudspeakers–this period loudspeakers everywhere in China were blaring to the people, you didn’t have any time to think because there were loudspeakers everywhere at you. “Honorable elders please do not spit on the ground.” Any of–you Chinese have heard this or stories of this? You have. There was a big campaign to swat flies; the flies were spreading disease from the feces which was not in–not flushed away in toilets. So flies would step into the feces and then step onto you. So the same thing, swat a fly and they killed zillions of flies. The flies eventually did get controlled in China and whether it was due to the swat–a-fly campaign or not, I don’t know.

Due to these things, by 1957, which, remember, we have a devastated country where the government takes control in 1949, in eight years the death rate went to half what it had been. That’s an amazing, amazing achievement. When you cut the death rate in half, what happens? Population explosion; so China had its most extreme population explosion after the communists came to power. Now these are not ignorant people. Were they worried about the population explosion? The answer is: absolutely not. Marxist theory is very pronatalist. Marx hated Malthus, there’s a long literature of communist, socialist invective against Malthus, and they’re really opposite poles. Now it’s sort of the right wing and the extreme left thing that it opposes Malthus, and liberals and moderates are more predisposed toward him.

At any rate, the Marxist theory is–basically says this. Look, in the capitalist economy, the capitalist take workers, they employ them in factories, and they make a surplus, so the capitalist lives very well on the surplus. The socialist economy can do just as well. It can employ the workers, and they can make a surplus over them, but instead of having big fat mansions and cigars, the socialist government will reinvest the money for the good of the people, so the more people the merrier. Marx–original Marxist doctrine was very, very clear that since the capitalist can exploit labor, so can the state and that will move down to the benefit of the people. The way this was translated from Marx into China, they call Malthusian’s theory something like ‘ren kou lun, which means ‘man mouth theory,’ which means that every man is born with a mouth, i.e., he’s a consumer and that splits up the pie. The Marxist translate their theory as ‘man hand theory,’ that a man is born not only with a mouth to consume but a hand to do work, and the question is if the–that the socialist state can employ the hands to produce more than the mouth require, so they didn’t buy, they were very in favor of high population.

In 1949, Mao, becoming in charge of a very devastated country says, “Revolution plus production will enable China to feed and employ the large and growing population.” No worry; until they got some facts. In 1953 the country was stable enough that they took their first national census. At that time, they thought they had something like 426 million people and that the number had not been growing in the century because of all the civil and foreign wars, and natural calamities in China. It was a disaster, so they thought, well, population can’t grow under those situations. Then they took a census and they counted 600 million people, which was 50% more, a third larger than they had expected that were there.

The error, what they expected to find and what they did find, was equal to the whole U.S. population at that time, so it was a big shock. They finally responded rationally, and immediately China passed the contraceptives and induced abortion act, legalizing the importation and sale of contraceptives and legalizing sterilization and abortion. There was one small problem, they didn’t have any contraceptives, they didn’t have the manufacturing facilities, so they legalized the importation of them and imported–But, the Chinese had no foreign currency at that time, it was way, way before any kind of economic progress, and so they just didn’t have it.

The cities got–there was always some money in the cities, so the cities got some of the foreign contraceptives and–but in the countryside where the vast, vast majority of the people lived at the time and basically had no access, and if they did have access they wouldn’t have been able to afford them, so the government policy was basically meaningless.

What was the government to do? In 1956 they realized that just proclaiming something doesn’t help, so they said, well let’s use traditional medicine. They asked all the traditional Chinese doctors what to do. You must have traditional ways of contraception, of keeping women from having children. One of these became very well popularized–popularized in the press. On the third day following her period, a woman should ingest 14 live tadpoles, than ten the next day, and then the woman would be assured sterility for five years. If the woman did this twice, then traditional medicine said that the woman would be permanently sterile.

It’s not totally clear whether this was the policy that the government was really behind. This was the procedure that the government was doing, but the press picked up and it was a very big press thing in China, and it was very much followed by the people. The very small ecological movement in China really got worried that in China–that frogs would go extinct because people are eating all the tadpoles. Finally the Chinese Academy of Science took it up, got the statistics, did some experiments, I don’t know exactly what they did but they said, no this doesn’t work.

Go back to drawing board, what are we going to do. So, the next round 1957/1958 was to use acupuncture as a contraceptive. Remember acupuncture in China has never been used for the kinds of things that it is used for here, and there’s no evidence of any effect from this for anything except the spread of hepatitis because the needles weren’t sterilized. You can see that throughout Asia. I may have mentioned this in a previous lecture, so they said OK let’s try it for contraception, and of course that didn’t work any better whatsoever.

Politically, the government, again it was a very new thing and the traditional Marxists were still opposed to family planning that other, more modern aspects of the government were in favor of, so the government was uncertain and divided on this. But, in 1956 the Premier, Zhou En-lai, at the time a very powerful guy, urged limitations on childbirth and he was supported by influential economists who were very much influenced by Western ideas from Malthus onward, Western ideas on population. The very next year–so in 1956 was when they started all this, really trying to push birth control, the very next year there was one of the Chinese purges.

In 1957 they had the campaign–what they called the anti-rightist campaign – and people who were too influenced by Western ideas, and Western economic ideas, remember Malthus was considered the father of Western economics, were purged and with them went the family planning campaign. In the end, the early back and forthing on family planning came to no effect; there were no methods, no trained family planning personnel, and no facilities in rural areas, and no tradition of anything.

In 1958, the Party started organizing communes, and you probably know a fair amount about them. These were giant agricultural enterprises with something like 5,000 families in a single commune. Commune meaning all the production from all the farmland owned by 5,000 families was pooled, and they produced together and they consumed together. That particular summer, for climatic reasons, the harvest turned out to be excellent, and, as the data came in, the leaders of communist China at the time decided that the communes were the answer. “Look at how well we’ve done under this commune system.” And the cadres, the lower down cadres who were going to be rewarded or punished depending on their production, they of course inflated figures wildly and they claimed that rural production had doubled, had increased tenfold, or even scores of times. It was really–there was indeed a good harvest, but then that got inflated enormously due to the–shall we say, the weak political process.

In 1958 after a couple of years of trying this–officially pushing family planning but without any real policy that worked, and with getting rid of the rightists who were in favor of it, in 1958 they reversed again. They went away from family planning and they said the central–the communist party’s central committee said in 1958 that the communes were so successful that ‘China no longer had to worry about overpopulation’.

To the contrary, the forthcoming problem would be “not so much overpopulation as the shortage of manpower.” Basically what they got carried away with, Jonathan Spence, in his history of China, talks about this, and says, “the vision of utopia was altogether intoxicating”. Whenever your view of the world gets out of kilter with the reality, disaster is right behind and the disaster is indeed not far behind and that was the Great Leap Forward.

Chapter 5. The Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution [00:41:38]

The context of the Great Leap Forward is that the U.S., in particular, had threatened China and been threatening China with nuclear, basically annihilation, and Mao had answered with this: ‘I have so many people if you kill a couple of hundred million who cares’; very brutal response and counter response. The answer, Mao and everybody in China knew, was to industrialize as fast as they possibly can to catch up to America in military might. He decided that China was not industrializing fast enough and had to catch up to the Western level right away. He told–he ordered–the orders went out from the central bureaucracy to put all of their efforts into industrialization.

Forget about farming, we have plenty of food, the communes are producing plenty of food, we don’t have to worry about that. In fact, in your backyard, put iron smelters in, build little furnaces and smelt your iron in your backyard. People didn’t have any iron ore, so what they did, they took their pots and pans, put them into a smelter, then they took their farm implements and put them into the smelter. If you’re from China, do you remember your parents or somebody talking about these days? Again you do; we don’t have too many native-borns here, but it was very, very big, the backyard iron and it resulted in two things. One, when you destroy agricultural implements your agriculture really does go to hell and the iron that you can smelt in the backyard is not very good iron, so it’s not very–actually very useful. The side result is that agriculture production crashed, absolutely crashed.

At the same time, as part of the communes, the communal kitchens were established where everyone could eat together. The purpose of–the original purpose was twofold. One they wanted–Chinese work very hard to modernize the country, to build up the country, and each family going home for lunch and dinner is a huge amount of labor involved in preparing meals, especially with a fairly primitive food cooking and gathering, preparing technology.

If you have a staff dedicated for food and you make food for thousands of people, it can be done very efficiently in terms of time, it’s economically a very efficient sort of thing. It also was a pro-feminist measure that who had to do the work at home was the women. The women were working in the fields, then the men could come home and relax, but the women had to then take care of the children and the food. It was both an economic rationalization measure and it was a pro-feminist measure. The result was that consumption soared.

Traditionally, like all poor people around the world, the Chinese were very abstemious, every grain of rice counts. In a poor family, if there’s food available, you eat just exactly what you need to stay alive, and you store away the rest for the future, because the future is always very uncertain. When you have a communal kitchen, it doesn’t do any good to not eat your fill because, if you don’t eat your fill, someone else will. There’s no individual accounting, no individual responsibility, so everyone ate a lot and consumption soared at just the time that production is going down. The concatenation of those two things was the disaster.

As the disaster unfolded, China was sufficiently authoritarian at the time that the cadres had to pass up good news to the higher levels, so news of the disaster that was unfolding before the local people’s eyes was not passed up to higher levels. Apparently the higher levels really believed that the–that agriculture was keeping up with all this consumption. The higher levels only received, and especially Mao, received only glowing reports of production–agricultural production in the countryside.

What happened was the great famine of the great leap forward. Several hundred million people became undernourished during this period, and then people starved; source of undernourishment and then people starved. Massive famines from 1959 to 1961; we don’t know how many people died in these famines. The estimates are 20, 30, 40, 50 million people dying of starvation, but what it was we don’t know.

This is–let me show you the other one first. This is an old–this is world population and you can go back further, except for the black–there’s no other–you see that blip there? That’s the Great Leap Forward in China as part of world population. There is–if you carry world population back further you don’t see any blip like that except the Black Death. All the other disasters are not comparable to this. This shows sort of a Western estimate going from something like loss of 30 or 40 million people.

The official Chinese statistics show the death rate going from 10 million to 25 million, and you have to look at the area because there’s one, two, three years of it so they’re estimating more like maybe 25 million deaths, that’s the official Chinese statistics. Of course in that extreme poverty, the birthrate just crashes and then recovers when food becomes available again.

So the moral of the story is that the Chinese seem to have–in the early stages of the commune system, the Chinese seem to have eradicated famine. They had had 115 years of miserable history, the Communists come in, things get better very quickly, very fast. They decide they have the answer, they decide they don’t have to pay attention to basic realities like population and so they get a very unreal view of reality. Meanwhile, the country is actually still walking on the edge of disaster, before they were under the edge and falling off to disaster before the revolution, after the revolution they were still on the edge, but that wasn’t realized. So it was stupidity, a political mistake pushes them over the edge and you have this huge amount of death.

You should be aware that when people talk about environmental limits what happens with population and the world, that there are all kinds of physical limits to the number of people. The most delicate thing that humans make are their social and political arrangements. When things get very tight it’s almost always not an underlying fundamental resource problem or something, it’s peoples political response to it, their interpersonal response to it that goes out of whack and they start making massive mistakes like this and then the world falls apart. It’s the political and social arrangements that people make with each other that are the most delicate and population stress will usually have its disaster effects through–acting through the political and social arrangements.

Then the Chinese did not have any rest after this. From the Great Leap Forward to the 1960s – in the early 1960s got transformed into the Cultural Revolution of the mid-60s and there was more chaos. After the great famine the government learned its lesson and again tried to institute birth control flip flop, flip flop, and again the method was largely propaganda.

The kind of propaganda this time was aimed a lot at men and the kind of things that the Chinese press were touting were men before the age of 25–remember again it’s a restriction on the young men from sex–were described as if you have sex “excessive dissipation of bodily fluids, sexual neurasthenia, low spirits, headaches, discomfort all over the body, emaciation, dizziness, tension, memory loss, premature old age, mental and physical pain, and impotence.” Now I’ve heard this from students as their problems but they usually now attribute to lack of sex, but the Chinese at that time were attributing it to sex, so you take your chances.

Nevertheless, the situation in the cities was such that the conditions, the housing scarcity, the poverty were such that people, indeed in the cities, did reduce their fertility and by 19–somewhere in 1964 or 1966 window, the urban fertility dropped to a low of three births per woman. By 1974, urban non-agricultural women, their fertility was reduced to replacement level, so, rather rapidly, urban fertility came down and it’s continued to come down, and in 1980 it was 1.1; very low urban fertility.

During the Cultural Revolution it had remained very high because it was chaos and nobody was watching the store. In 1970 it was 6.4 among rural women, 6.4 children which is basically the traditional number from way, way back and so there was basically no conscious fertility control among the rural women. By 1969 the population passed 800 million and in 1970, 21% of births, one out of five were first births, 17% almost the same were second births, but 62% were third or higher order births in 1970, so almost everyone was having three or more children.

Chapter 6. Family Planning Programs in China [00:51:48]

When political stability was finally restored after the disruption of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, the government really introduced a serious, vigorous family planning program. Starting in 1971 they introduced the Wan, Xhi Shao; later, longer, fewer. What they proposed was later marriage, longer birth intervals, leading to fewer children overall. This was propagandized very heavily but this is debatable, but there was generally considered to be not an awful lot of coercion involved. It was more or less a voluntary campaign.

I want to show you one graph if I can–okay here’s a graph of the total fertility rate in China and I have taken out the years. I’ll show you the years in a minute. When do you think–so you had the Wan, Xi, Shao, the voluntary policy, and then that lasted for about ten years and then you had the one-child policy which was, at least in the beginning, not very voluntary and you’ve heard about that? Where do you think the one-child policy starts? Where in this graph? To show you the effectiveness of political programs. No idea. Well it was–do you think the one child policy was effective?

Student: Yes.

Professor Robert Wyman: Yes, therefore you put it–

Student: I don’t know where I’d put it.

Professor Robert Wyman: Make a guess. I know you don’t have–right about there maybe. That’s the Great Leap Forward decline. The one-child policy starts here, levels off, this decline, taking about ten years was during the Wan Xi Shao period during the more or less voluntary period. That the big drop in Chinese fertility happens here and then they introduce the one-child policy actually right about here, well I’ll just show you the actual dates. Here’s 1980, the one child policy is introduced here, and immediately the fertility rises and then stabilizes and I’ll show you later eventually it does slow down for all kinds of reasons.

Let me go back, the important thing to know is that it was the 19–that the drop is 1970 to 1980, in this ten years, the ten years before the one-child policy, is when Chinese fertility really took this enormous drop. What happened was until the 1970s, as I’ve described, there were really no family planning services in the vast rural areas and only limited facilities in a few of the large cities. Starting in the 1970s, as part of this policy, contraceptives were made available; a huge amount of propaganda was made to counteract any taboos. Peasant people have a lot of taboos, and established late marriage and the small family as the desirable norm.

This drop–we’ve seen drops something like this fast since then, but this drop was, at the time, just incredible to foreign observers. That, in one decade, to go down from six to half your–more than half your fertility this is about 2.5 in one decade, in a place so vast and so traditional as China was at that time, just unbelievable. I mean it turned out to be true; the Chinese statistics were indeed quite good on this. It shows what a family planning program, in this case, introduced with the full effort of the government, can really accomplish. Scholars said it’s the most extraordinary reduction in fertility in a large population ever recorded in human history.

In 1979 the results of the second national census were released and it was clear that the population was approaching one billion people. Now to us nowadays, we’re used to hearing China as having more than a billion people, but back then, the idea of a single country having a billion people was absolutely mind boggling, and remember 1979 was way before the Chinese economic miracle, so these were a billion very poor people that were going to be on earth. As the Chinese saw it, very explicitly saw it, the population they had–they had had very good economic gains, nothing like the boom that happened later, but they really had made good progress but they perceived that population growth had eaten up all of their gains.

For instance, grain production increased an annual rate of 2.3% between 1957 and 1978, the year before the census, but per capita consumption which had started extremely low increased only 0.2% during this time, so it’s a very small–huge increase in production 2.3% per year over a ten year–20 year period, 21 year period is very, very good but when your population grows at nearly the same rate you end up with a very tiny improvement in standard of living.

Housing space increased by half a billion square meters, on the home building, a poor, small home, but something, a half a billion square meters; a meter is like a square yard. Because–but the per capita because the population grew, the per capita housing was down from 4.5 square meters to 3.6 meters per capita. Three meters is like 9 x 9 and that was what the per capita housing; down in this period of an improving economy.

The arable land fell from a quarter of an acre in 1949–from half an acre in 1949 to a quarter of an acre in 1983 and it’s gone down since then. Also, the government, from the census, realized how young the population was and a young population means, what’s going to happen?

Student: Speed.

Professor Robert Wyman: Momentum. There’s so many more young people coming into reproductive age than ones leaving it, that you’re going to have a lot more child bearers and they realized this. From the 1982 census, another census they took, the population period was 45 million women in their 40s leaving reproductive age, 60 million, 1/3 bigger in their 30s, 80 million in their 20s, and 125 million women in their teens. If the teens are coming–just starting to come into reproductive ages that means basically a tripling of the number of child bearing women coming into–three times as many child bearing women were coming into reproductive age as were leaving reproductive age.

Even though they had achieved this rather incredible fertility decline, they realized that, because of the momentum, their population would keep growing for decades yet and they were really worried about it. At that time the TFR was something 2.5 when they were deciding what to do with it. If you have–at this age distribution at this time 2.5 children per women and if three times as many women are going to enter reproductive age, what do you have to do to keep this down?

You have to go–it’s mathematical–you have to have 1/3.– When you have three times as many women you have to have 1/3 the number of births they were having here. Three times as many women to keep the number of children the same, and you don’t reduce the number of babies, you have to reduce fertility by 1/3. So 2.5 divided by 3 is 0.8. So, the demographics of their current fertility, a low fertility, rate–2.5, their current low fertility rate but the tripling of women coming into reproductive ages, the mathematics tells you, you have to set–you have to somehow get your fertility rate down to 0.8.

They decided that was going to be very difficult and they instituted the one-child policy at that time. At the lowest their birth rate had ever been in, probably forever, in Chinese history was exactly the time that they introduced the one-child policy. Years after implementation there were–in 1986 which was six years, seven years after implementation, there’s still a million more births than there were the year earlier, the number of births kept rising.

The policy was not a success in the extreme sense that the Chinese government wanted it to be. They wanted to keep the year–in the year 2000 they wanted to keep their population under 1.2 billion. When they started this they were approaching–they were like 800 billion and they were desperately hoping to keep it under 1.2 billion and they didn’t do it, it was 1.3 billion.

On paper the policy was quite Draconian. In the 1982/1983 regulations included each village would get a quota for the number of births that year and the village leaders would have to ration this out on the basis of a waiting list. Of course only couples with no prior children could get on the list. They had a mandatory IUD insertion for women who already had one child and if a woman had an unauthorized pregnancy an abortion was supposed to be mandatory, and you heard the story about that.

Although, you should note, that again, it wasn’t the government–the abortion that Qing told you about had nothing to do–in one sense had nothing immediately to do with the government. She did the abortion way before anybody knew about it, her co-workers didn’t know about it, her workplace didn’t know about it, government officials didn’t know about it, it was the suasion, it was the effect from other people, it was these village–these committees that would keep visiting you and keep bugging you that caused her to say, ‘okay I’m going to avoid all this pain and just have the abortion right away,’ so in a sense the government didn’t have to do anything about it. With respect to abortion, the statistics are very interesting in China.

Sometime, a little after this, unmarried sexuality started happening; in traditional China that–at least officially – just plain didn’t happen. But, as the country modernizes, one of the things you get into is unmarried sexuality. Girls were getting pregnant in an unmarried state and this was an unthinkable sort of thing. What happened to those girls that were pregnant and unmarried? Their parents forced them to have an abortion. Some statistics show that the number of abortions, which parents required of their daughters, their unmarried pregnant daughters to have, exceeded the number of abortions forced under the one-child policy, because the one-child policy also pushed contraceptives, so actually–and contraceptives were decent, so the number of abortions while high, was not off the map.

The one-child policy proceeded and there were–there’s absolutely no doubt about it, major human rights violations. You heard about one story, forced sterilizations, forced abortions, these absolutely happened and this was, as you heard especially true of people who had government jobs or worked in government owned factories and that was a big fraction of the economy. Remember this was a socialist state, and abortion was supposed to be mandatory, and sterilization even, for any couple that had two or more children.

Student: Did they have orphanages at the time?

Professor Robert Wyman: Did they have?

Student: Orphanages or was everything increasing the number of children dropped off at these orphanages or–

Professor Robert Wyman: To adopted out children.

Student: Right. I mean just because–I mean a lot of people weren’t supposed to have more than one child, so did people who didn’t go through with an abortion, and they were able to manage to have another child did they drop their kid off at an orphanage?

Professor Robert Wyman: Yes I haven’t–yes I haven’t seen good statistics about that and I don’t know if the Chinese government lets out good statistics on that. A huge number of girls, almost all girls, were sent to orphanages and because of the poverty of the orphanages, I mean it was lot of rural orphanages that didn’t have much money to begin with, they basically couldn’t take care of the babies, huge death rate, huge maltreatment rate.

This is when Americans started adopting Chinese babies kind of en mass and many Americans went over to pick up the baby and the stories that came back about children just tied into the cribs, emaciated, sores over the body and really in very, very bad situations. Yes, indeed, as far as we can tell but I don’t have good statistics, yes a big surge in daughters given–girl babies given up to orphanages. Okay so in this–I guess it’s time to finish. We’ll just have to continue this next time, cutting into our next lecture.

[end of transcript]

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