Controlling Population Helps to Build a Moderately Prosperous Society

From: English Edition of Qiushi Journal Updated: 2011-09-20 00:08
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    Work on Population and Family Planning in China

    China has been one of the most populous countries in the world since ancient times, for a long time accounting for over 20% of the world’s population. From ancient times up to the foundation of New China, population reproduction in China followed a traditional pattern of high birth rate, high death rate and low growth rate. The traditional attitude of having large families as a way to prosperity and valuing sons over daughters is deeply ingrained through millennia of agricultural culture. Work on population and family planning in China has faced formidable pressures and challenges from the very beginning.

    Improvements in working and living conditions and the availability of medical care since the founding of New China have sent population levels spiraling. The first census, taken in 1953, showed the country had a total population of 590 million and a natural population growth rate of 23‰. The Chinese population then grew to 600 million, 700 million and 800 million, growing by an average of 100 million people every eight years. Population reproduction exhibited a pattern of high birth rate, low death rate and high growth rate. The rapid population growth became a matter of concern for the CPC, the Chinese government and Chinese society at large. The first generation of central collective leadership with Comrade Mao Zedong as the core diligently worked to develop an approach to population issues suitable to conditions in China and laid the foundation for population control work. In October 1957 the CPC Central Committee issued the Outline for National Agricultural Development for 1956-1967, which called for “advocating and popularizing limiting the number of births and promoting planned parenthood in all localities with high population density.”

    Chinese population and family planning work entered a new historical period of development following the institution of the reform and opening up policy. This period can be roughly divided into three stages.   

    In the first stage (late 1970s to 1995) there was a shift in the pattern of population growth. Family planning work was first launched in both urban and rural areas in the late 1970s. The second generation of central collective leadership with Comrade Deng Xiaoping as the core made family planning work a basic state policy, took into consideration population issues in the overall planning for national economic and social development, and worked to build a theoretical framework for an overall approach with Chinese characteristics to the population issue. In 1982 the issue of family planning was incorporated into the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China. The third generation of central collective leadership with Comrade Jiang Zemin as the core raised the issue of family planning to the highest priority in the sustainable development strategy and called for balancing population, resource and environmental concerns, thus enriching and improving the theoretical system for an overall approach with Chinese characteristics to population issues. In 1991 the Central Committee and the State Council issued the Decision to Strengthen Family Planning Efforts to Strictly Control Population Growth. In this stage, the pattern of population reproduction made a historical shift from one of high birth rate, low death rate and high growth rate to one of low birth rate, low death rate and low growth rate. The total fertility rate in China dropped from the 5.8 births per woman of 1970 to about 1.8 in 1995 and the natural population growth rate dropped from 25.83‰ to 10.55‰. The third “baby boom” was fairly well controlled, holding the population down to about 1.21 billion. At the same time, family planning work was put on a more regular basis, made more scientific and given a stronger legal footing.

    In the second stage (1996-2005), the birth rate remained steady at a low level. The total fertility rate in the second stage has remained steady at the low level of about 1.8 since 1996. In 2000 the Central Committee and the State Council issued the Decision to Improve Work on Population and Family Planning to Keep the Birth Rate Low, clearly shifting the main task to ensuring that the birth rate remains steady at a low level and improving the health of newborns. The 25th session of the Standing Committee of the Ninth National People’s Congress in 2001 passed the Population and Family Planning Law of the People’s Republic of China. In 2004 China began research on a demographic development strategy to provide important data on which to base major government strategic plans and policies. In 2005, the national population growth rate dropped to 5.89‰ and the total population was held to 1.31 billion. At this rate it will take ten years for the population to increase by another 100 million. In this stage, efforts were focused on putting in place a permanent working mechanism for the work on population and family planning that puts the spread of information and education first, is administered in accordance with the law, is independently carried out at the village or community level, provides quality services, is promoted by government policy and is subject to overall government regulation.

    There was constant improvement in the national economy following the establishment of New China in 1949, accompanied by rapid population growth. In response to explosive population growth, the government in the 1970s resolutely decided to institute family planning as a basic state policy. This resulted in 400 million less births over the past 30 years and pushed back by 4 years the day when China’s population reached 1.3 billion and world population reached 6 billion. Photo shows a physician giving a check-up to a baby at the People’s Hospital in the Tibet Autonomous Region (file photo). / Photo supplied by Xinhua

    The third stage (2006 and beyond) is one of general planning to address population issues. In 2006 the Central Committee and the State Council issued the Decision to Improve All Aspects of Population and Family Planning Work to Comprehensively Address Population Issues, which defined new and higher requirements for the work. The CPC Central Committee with Comrade Hu Jintao as General Secretary, starting from the strategic apex of the comprehensive application of the Scientific Outlook on Development that puts people first and development of a harmonious socialist society , further clarified the central task of the work on population and family planning at the current stage as “maintaining a stable and low birth rate, comprehensively addressing population issues and promoting comprehensive development of individuals.” The objective was defined as “transforming China from a country with a large population to a country with a strong workforce and keeping population levels in line with economic, social, resource and environmental concerns to ensure sustainable development.” The Central Committee also confirmed that the work should adhere to the theoretical system for an overall approach with Chinese characteristics to population issues. In this stage, the sound development of population and family planning work has continued, the permanent working mechanism has seen steady improvement, the system of interest orientation policy has been improved, the low birth rate has remained steady and the overall level of reproductive health and satisfaction among the people has risen. In 2008, the birth rate in China was 12.14‰, the natural population growth rate was 5.08‰, the total fertility rate remained at about 1.8 and the population of China grew to 1.328 billion.

    History of Population and Family Planning Work in China

    China has been through some rough times and carried out a lot of painstaking work since the establishment of New China, particularly since the institution of the reform and opening up policy. During this process, great achievements have been made in population and family planning work that have caught the attention of the world, effectively easing pressure on resources and the environment and strongly promoting Chinese economic development, social progress and improvement in people’s lives. 

    First of all, the size of the population has been brought under control, creating an important condition for rapid economic development. If the birth rate had continued at the level of the early 1970s, China’s population would now exceed 1.7 billion. Family planning work has put China’s demographic development on the correct track. The total dependency ratio has dropped by about 1/3 and the contribution of this reduction to sustained and rapid economic growth is at least 1/4. In addition to bringing the size of the population under control, the overall quality of the population has been improved and significant progress has been made in improving the total-factor productivity. 

    Second, population pressure on resources and the environment has been eased. Calculations show that if the birth rate had continued at the level of the early 1970s, the amount of arable land, grain, forest, water and energy per capita would be 20% lower than it is today. Assuming a carbon footprint of 3.8 tons per person per year, today’s actual level represents a reduction of 1.5 billion tons. 

    Third, the survival and development prospects of the people have significantly improved and smooth progress is being made toward the Millennium Development Goals. The average life expectancy has increased from the 35 years of age before the establishment of New China to the present 73 years of age and risen to the level of a moderately developed country. The average level of education among people 15 years of age and older was only 4.5 years when the reform and opening up policy was first introduced, but has now risen to 8.5 years, which is above average for developing countries. The percentage of people living in urban areas has risen from 10.6% in 1949 to 45.7% at present and the number of people living in poverty has fallen from the 250 million before the reform and opening up policy was introduced to approximately 40 million at present. The human development index has risen from 0.53 in the early days of reform and opening up to 0.78 in 2005 and China’s global ranking rose from 105 in 1990 to 81 in 2007. It is commonly recognized in the international community that China has done a better job and been more successful in meeting the Millennium Development Goals than any other country.

    Fourth, China has made an important contribution to the development of the people of the world and established an image of a responsible country with a large population. The population of China accounts for 19.5% of the world’s population and is therefore a major factor affecting the population and development of the world. China’s government faithfully complies with the Action Program of the International Conference on Population and Development and the promise to meet the Millennium Development Goals and is making a positive contribution to stabilization of the world’s population through its ceaseless efforts.

    China’s large population is a fundamental condition of the country. In carrying out reform, planning for development and charting the course for building socialism with Chinese characteristics, this fundamental condition must be a primary consideration. There is no ready-made path for China to follow in addressing its population issues so we must unswervingly follow a path taking an overall approach with Chinese characteristics to population issues, starting from actual conditions in the country. We must continue to follow the basic state policy on family planning and strive for long-term balanced development of the population. We must continue to put people first in addressing issues such as the size, quality, structure and distribution of the population so that solutions to these issues are  well coordinated and also kept in line with economic, social, resource and environmental concerns. We must continue to approach population issues keeping in mind development issues and vice versa, make good use of the leading role of the Party and government, ensure that all government departments work in concert and take an overall approach. We must continue to ensure that the government guides efforts while the general public willingly cooperates and respect the crucial role of the public. We must continue to use reform and development to address issues and problems in demographic development as they arise and continuously work to make innovations in institutions, administration and techniques.

    The Overall Approach to Population Issues in China

    China must take an overall approach to population issues for the foreseeable future. The general guidelines for this approach are: We must unswervingly take the path of an overall approach with Chinese characteristics to population issues. We must take a balanced approach to issues such as the size, quality, structure and distribution of the population, strive for long-term balanced development of the population, properly balance population issues and economic, social, resource and environmental concerns, and strive for comprehensive, balanced and sustainable development. We should pay more attention to interest orientation, attach greater importance to providing good service and showing concern, and put more effort into publicity and education work. Population and family planning work should actively promote improvement in the pattern of development, promote the transformation from a country with a large population to one with a strong workforce, shift from merely focusing on controlling the size of the population to taking an overall approach and promote improvement in the working mechanism and methods.  

    First, we must maintain a stable and low birth rate and strive for long-term balanced development of the population. The overall size of the population will continue to grow, the tight restraints of resources and the environment on population growth will continue for a long time to come and the crucial task for the current stage of population and family planning work is still maintaining a stable and low birth rate. For some time into the future, China must “draw a line in the sand” at 1.8 billion mu of farmland [1 mu = 1/15 hectares] and at about 1.8 for the total fertility rate. 

    Second, we must raise the overall quality of the population to promote the transformation from a country with a large population to one with a strong workforce. Efforts to raise the overall quality of the population should start by improving the health of newborns. To this end, we need to strengthen cooperation among departments and carry out all aspects of the project to prevent birth defects, while at the same time working to improve the general knowledge, skills and moral standards of the population to take advantage of China’s human resource strengths. We must constantly raise the average education level of the population. We must strongly promote development of high school and vocational education to develop a workforce that meets the demands created by changes in the industrial structure. We need to increase the demographic dividend by improving the quality of the population to improve the total-factor productivity.

    Third, we need to concentrate on resolving the issue of the demographic structure and promote social harmony. We must take a multifaceted approach to resolving the gender imbalance in newborns and actively respond to the challenge of an aging population. Although the proportion of older citizens in China’s huge population is growing, it has not had a significant impact on the country’s labor resources. The size of the working-age population of China remains ample and in 2050 should still exceed 800 million. The aging of the population presents opportunities as well as challenges. We need to take “active, sound and harmonious” measures to respond to the challenge of the aging population, accelerate efforts to develop a sound social safety net, make retirement insurance available to both urban and rural residents and ensure that everyone is covered by medical insurance. We need to actively work to develop a retirement system based on home care that relies on community services complemented by institutional care. 

    Fourth, we need to improve distribution of the population and improve administration of family planning services for the floating population. The size of the floating population in China reached 200 million in 2008. There will be an overall increase in the pace of the urbanization of the population over the next 2 or 3 decades with a peak in the scale and activity of population shift in which around 300 million rural residents will be moving into the urban areas. We must further improve the population distribution and improve the system for administration of services for the floating population. The recently revised Regulations on Family Planning Work for the Floating Population, an important measure in China’s overall approach to population issues, has now been promulgated by the State Council and will officially go into force as of October 1, 2009.

(From Qiushi in Chinese No.20 2009)


Note: Author: Head of the National Commission on Population and Family Planning of the PRC

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