city-journal: Western adoration of China is a chronic and profound sickness, proof of which can be found in the non-reaction to the continued incarceration of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel Prize winner imprisoned for his democratic writings. Not a single renowned European or American intellectual has demanded his freedom, and the same goes for our governments. But more damning proof comes from the positive reaction of many in the West to the Chinese government’s recent decision to authorize families to have two children instead of just one. We should decry any government that presumes to decide how many children a family can have. The Chinese people are just like you and me—they are no less concerned than we are with freedom and the right to decide the size of their own families.
There is nothing liberal about China’s new family policy. It simply recognizes the mistake made by Deng Xiaoping, who imposed the one-child policy in 1979. The consequences of this system are being felt today, as aging parents are left without family support in a country with no pension system outside the cities. In the past, children would share the responsibility of caring for their elderly parents. Another tragic consequence is that families only allowed one child have preferred to have boys, which has led to an enormous imbalance between the sexes. China currently “lacks” some 50 million women—victims either of sex-selective abortion or infanticide—which has made marriage impossible for the equivalent number of men. This disequilibrium has in turn led to aggressive competition between men and widespread prostitution.
Deng instituted the one-child policy because he worried that too many children would hold back China’s development. At least, that’s the official line. The reasoning is ridiculous. Throughout history, parents have spontaneously and voluntarily reacted to economic development by reducing the number of children they have, without any government intervention. This trend was already in full swing in China in the 1970s, and is currently underway in India. Either Deng was a lousy economist, or his policy had a hidden objective: controlling the population, even in their bedrooms.
Deng’s government created an enormous “family police” department, more feared and hated than all other forms of oppression developed by the Communist Party. The officers of this branch of law enforcement kidnap pregnant women and force them to undergo abortions. So far, this new two-child policy hasn’t led to the disbandment of the department, and police powers of intrusion and control have remained the same. Xi is no more liberal than Deng in this respect.
I am also bewildered by Xi’s claims that this new policy will boost sluggish economic growth. Why would parents adhere to this new rule? Sending one child to school is expensive enough in China, where both education and health care have to be paid for. The announcement that these second children will expand the workforce is also unconvincing. It would take 20 years, and China already has huge labor reserves. Some 25 percent of the nation’s population are poor farmers willing to move to cities when given permission to do so. The “domestic visa” (Hukou) still exists and makes migrants second-class citizens.
Westerners have a tendency to think that the economy is the only thing that drives the Communist Party of China. Actually, social control remains its key concern, especially during economic slumps. Just look at the near-absolute state control of the Internet in China: most Chinese citizens aren’t even able to access foreign websites. Arrests of civil rights lawyers have spiked, and the Maoist system of denunciation has been reintroduced. All good citizens are asked to call 12339 if they suspect someone of being a spy. According to published instructions from the Communist Party, those suspected of espionage include “rich people whose activities are unclear, those who make subversive remarks or criticize the Party, missionaries, journalists working for foreign media companies and NGO employees.”
Xi Jinping knows that he can’t reverse the economic slowdown. Scared of both popular and Party uprisings, he is eliminating rivals while claiming to fight corruption; reinforcing the government’s control of society and information; and fanning the flames of aggressive, nationalistic attitudes toward Japan and the United States by expanding the Chinese maritime boundaries. Blind adoration of China has paralyzed the West, always far too ready to appease Chinese leaders instead of questioning their worrying ambitions.