I’ve been watching for almost a year now as China has radically changed its child control policies from the infamous one-child policy to an almost-three child policy.
Thirty-five years of forced abortions, sterilizations, hysterectomies and outright murders of any children who managed to survive these procedures have drastically affected the Chinese family and kin structures on which Chinese culture rested. The South China Morning Post said the psychological trauma to Chinese society surpasses the impacts of other calamities, such as the Great Famine of the late 1950s and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and ‘70s.
So … now three children?
Last fall, the Wall Street Journal laid out some hints the government was throwing around. And there is a religion connection to this, so please stay with me.
BEIJING—A government-issued postage stamp of a happy pig family—with three piglets—has raised expectations that China may loosen its family-planning policy yet again.
China Post, the national postal service, on Tuesday unveiled its Year of the Pig stamp for 2019, prompting commentators on social media to speculate that the two-child policy is on its way out.
There is precedent: The ditching of the one-child policy in 2016 was foreshadowed by a Year of the Monkey stamp showing two baby monkeys.
Yi Fuxian, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—and longtime critic of China’s birth policy—said the government is likely to go further this time. “It’s a clear sign that they are going to abandon all birth restrictions,” Mr. Yi said.
China’s fertility rate is one of the world’s lowest and nowhere near the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman. The country disbanded its family planning commission last year.
Many economists believe that China is facing a demographic crisis that will leave it with fast-rising elder-care costs and too few working-age people to sustain growth. They blame the one-child policy implemented in 1980, a time when fears of overpopulation prevailed.
Quartz or qz.com noted there’s a whole new generation out there having babies and that 35 years of one-child propaganda has had an effect.
The truth is, it isn’t that easy to shift a society’s psychological feelings about how many children to have, whether you’re trying to get people to make fewer babies or more of them. Earlier this year, of the 120,000 people or so who responded to a Chinese social media survey (link in Chinese) conducted by a research group affiliated with a private real estate firm, 43% said they either wanted no children or just one child, and around 34% said they’d like to have two children. Though the two surveys aren’t directly comparable, Gallup research in the US found only 5% of respondents said no or one child was the ideal family size, while nearly half said two children was ideal.
So what has this to do with religion? In other parts of the world, the groups that have the most kids will, in a few generations, will have more influence. Foreign Policy ran a piece last month on this exact issue with the headline: “The Ultra-Orthodox will determine Israel’s Political Future.” The birthrate of these Orthodox women is 6.9 kids.
Demographics is destiny, as this Wall Street Journal piece on worldwide Catholic population growth and recession demonstrates. Where people are having more kids is where religion flourishes. When they’re not (ie in Europe), atheism grows.
Last fall, LifeSite News ran an interesting piece about India wanting to adopt a two-child policy. Everyone knows what a demographic mess China has become, so why would India even go in this direction?
With the fertility of Indian Hindus at or close to replacement fertility, some right-wing Hindu-nationalist politicians have clamored for Hindu couples to boost their fertility in order to increase the number of Hindu followers compared to other religious groups in the country. In 2015, Sakshi Maharaj, a BJP MP particularly well-known for making controversial remarks – including once advocating for the death penalty for people who engage in missionary activity or cow slaughter – urged that "every Hindu woman must produce at least four children to protect the Hindu religion."
Now we see where this is going.
Population control policies in India have long served as a flashpoint between Hindu-nationalists that have advocated for them and Indian Muslims and the poor who have viewed such policies with suspicion. Population control initiatives are widely viewed in India as indirect attempts to lower the population of Indian Muslims and of poor and rural Indians as both groups tend to have larger families on average. Meanwhile, most Hindus families already average at two children or less.
CNN and other media have since talked about such a policy, albeit without connecting it to religion, with the conclusion it wouldn’t fly in India.
But in China, the government has long been worried about high birth rates among its Muslim Uighur population. Foreign Policy said five years ago that Uighur birth rates were the highest in the country.
This piece that ran in the Guardian this past March wonders if China, facing a demographic cliff in another generation, will do a 180-degree turn and start compelling women to have more children.
So it’s important to watch the stamps and other hints the Chinese government throws out. And if the government goes all out in encouraging population growth, will they spread that message among the Uighurs? Among Christians, who are enduring record rates of persecution this year? Among other minority religious groups?
One wonders why the Chinese government doesn’t connect the dots and realize that the folks most likely to have more babies would be the religious ones, including Catholics, possibly evangelical Protestants and of course Muslims. If they would stop hounding these groups, the religious folks might actually start procreating.
And that would be a start to helping China’s demographic problem. Keep an eye out on what happens next. I never count on the Chinese to do the right thing, but I’m sure they’ll do something.