The humanitarian and technical dilemmas of population control in China.

Author:Su Xiaokang
Position:Contemporary China: The Consequences of Change

An important experiment for mankind this century is the control of population growth by state-administered means. The necessity for some controls is beyond dispute from the point of view of global interests as a whole. But the outcome of their implementation and the resulting ethical dilemma in any one particular country is an issue which ultimately concerns values reaching beyond mere economic benefits. It becomes an issue we mankind cannot ignore.

Population controls have created two basic dilemmas. First, the ethics of life is being challenged. This differs from those ethical dilemmas, such as genetic manipulation, facing Western developed countries; instead, it is the conflict between unnatural interference in human reproduction, on the one hand, and traditional values and basic human rights, on the other. Second, the malady that results from applying artificial economic planning to population control shows that the role of the state in population control is suspicious.

An important implication of these two dilemmas is that the assumption of international organizations, such as the United Nations and the World Bank, for instance, and of governments of the Western countries may be turned into a mere illusion. Namely, this is the assumption that by trusting or supporting the population policy of the Chinese government, due to the unavailability of alternatives, the explosion of the Chinese population -- the hidden danger of the world -- can be solved.

Let us address the first point. China does not have population theories like those in the West, but only a more traditional concept of child bearing that has become a custom for a thousand years or so. This custom regards carrying on the ancestral line as being the first priority of life, thus it is said, "of the three kinds of unfilial acts, having no descendants is the worst." Although it has been seriously challenged since China entered the modern period when traditional families began to disintegrate this concept still remains today a basic value widely among the people. The natural economy in the Chinese countryside sustains the basic value; that is, underdevelopment has been maintained mainly by the increase of labor. Therefore, both the rural economy and the concepts of the patriarchal family system stress to a great extent traditional customs such as having extended family, valuing only the male child and raising children for old-age security. thorough change of ethical practices...

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