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China’s Ageing Population

26 Mar

Declining fertility rates and increasing life expectancies has led to a world in which ageing populations have become ever more prevalent (Wolfgang et al., 2008). The median age of the world’s population is expected to increase from 26.6 years in 2000, to 37.3 in 2050 and shockingly 45.6 in 2100 (Wolfgang et al., 2008). Cai et al. (2012) state that by international standards, a population is ageing when it conforms to these 2 criteria: more than 10% of the population is over 60 years of age and more than 7% of the population is over 65. Importantly, population ageing is not simply about there being more old people within a society, it centres more closely on people living longer lives and the subsequent implications of this increased longevity (Wolfgang et al., 2008). Although ageing is occurring globally, nowhere throughout the World is this phenomenon occurring as rapidly as it is in China. A process which has taken over 100 years in countries such as the UK, has taken a mere 40 years within Chinese society (Cai et al., 2012). This has presented not only the government, but smaller societies alike, with a multitude of social and economic problems that are threatening the prosperous development that China has been experiencing since the reform in 1978 (England, 2005).

                When the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, the life expectancy for men was 42 and for women 45 (England, 2005). Now the WHO (2011) estimates these values to be 74 for men and 77 for women. This rapid ageing of the population has resulted in an upside down population pyramid whereby the increased proportion of people aged over 60 has had a profound effect on the demographic structure of the country (England, 2005). During the 1970s, it was common place for Chinese women to be having as many as 6 children (England, 2005) and since that time there has been a strong focus on implementing population control policies such as the One Child Policy. As a result, population growth in China is very slow. Since 1990, China’s fertility rate is said to have reached that of developed nations (Cai et al., 2012) and if this low fertility rate continues, China will begin to experience negative growth rates and by the end of the 21st Century, its population is estimated to fall to 940 million. Between the years of 2000 and 2010, Chinese population only increased by 73.9 million, an annual rate of 0.57% compared to 1.07% the previous decade (OECD, 2013). However, the growth of the world’s population occurred at more than twice that speed (CDRF, 2012) rendering it is easy to see why an ageing population is occurring so rapidly.

                There are many social implications resulting from this ageing. Firstly, due to the fact that the elderly population over 60 rose from 7.6% to 13.3% between 1982 and 2010 (OECD, 2013), China is getting old before it is getting rich. This population ageing increases the level of family burden, that is to say that the younger generation are having to look after an increasing amount of elderly. This is made worse by the notion of the 4-2-1 effect created by the implementation of the One Child Policy (OECD, 2013). It is now common place for one single child to have to look after 2 parents and 4 grandparents. This creates a shift in intergenerational relations whereby instead of complete family care, there is weakened family support and a reliance on social support, which is less personal (Bloom et al., 2010).

                Cai et al. (2012) highlights the issue of “hollowing” out of villages. This means that the young professional population migrate to the cities in search of employment and leave behind the elderly population. This puts into question the elderly falling into poverty and being unable to escape it. This is especially true of rural areas where households with an elder as the head are more likely to be poor (Long et al., 2012). The income poverty rate for households with a head age of 71-80 was 15% in 2004, compared to that of 8.5% for households with a head of working age (Cai et al., 2012).

                There are also several economic impacts that have manifested as a result of the ageing population. Firstly, the rapid demographic shift has led to a decrease in the number of people within the working age (Cai et al., 2012). The population aged between 18-22 fell from 124 million in 2008 to 108 million in 2011 (OECD,2013) showing that the number of newcomers to the labour market is rapidly decreasing. As a result of this, labour costs will rise, undermining the competitive economic advantage China has spent so long building (England, 2005). This increased burden on the working population (Cai et al., 2012) is shown through the growing value of China’s dependency ratio which is expected to reach 0.8 in 2011, meaning that for every 4 working people they will have to support at least 2 elders and 1 child (OECD, 2013).

                Moreover, it has been suggested by the OECD (2013) that China simply isn’t prepared financially for this rapidly ageing population. Public spending on old age is limited, yet the demands of the Chinese elderly for social support and medical care is forever increasing (OECD, 2013). In addition, finances that would otherwise be spent on expanding the economy now have to fund lifestyles of the elderly. This could include home helps, bus passes and other day to day activities (Bloom et al., 2010).

                To conclude, this brief analysis into the background to China’s ageing population has highlighted its major social and economic implications. Evidently, there is a need for the implementation of policies geared towards the elderly, for example pension schemes such as the New Rural Social Pension Scheme (Help Age International, 2013) and a focus on the development of the new “silver industries and white economies”. China must deal with this problem appropriately, and not simply sweep it under the carpet.



Bloom, D. E., Canning, D., Günther, F. (2010) Implications of population ageing for

economic growth. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 26(4): 583-612


England, R. S. (2005) Aging China. The Demographic Challenge to China’s Economic

Prospects. Westport: Praeger.


Cai, F., Giles, J., O’Keefe, P., Wang, D. (eds) (2012), The elderly and old-age support in rural China. Washington DC: World Bank


Help Age International (2013) Pension Coverage in China and the expansion of the

New Rural Pension Scheme. Briefing no. 11


OECD (2013) The Silver and White Economy: The Chinese Demographic Challenge. Available: [Last accessed 24th March 2014]


WHO. (2011). China Country Profile. Available: [Last accessed 25th March 2014]


Wolfgang, L., Sanderson, W. and Scherbov, S. (2008) The coming acceleration of global population ageing. Nature: 451, 716-719


Masking China

9 Mar

Over the last couple of weeks, and indeed months, the northern region of China (Beijing in particular) have been experiencing dangerously high levels of smog. The air quality has become so bad that living in the area has been made comparable to living near a forest fire and visibility is so poor that you cannot even see Beijing’s tallest sky scraper in the distance. It was recorded that Beijing’s concentration of PM 2.5 particles had reached a level of 505 micrograms/m3, 20 times the guideline value of 25 micrograms set out by the World Health Organisation. These particles are of particular interest because they are the ones able to enter the blood stream and affect the health of China’s population.

The causes to such a highly documented problem lie mainly within the realms of China’s increasing economic growth and its historical reliance on coal. With a growing economy comes a growing demand for energy and therefore a greater release of harmful substances into the atmosphere. Increased wealth of the population has also meant that the level of car ownership has increased, thus increasing the production of dangerous gases.

This problem brings with it some undeniably detrimental consequences. With regard to the environmental impact of the increased levels of smog, a link has been highlighted between the level of smog and available light. The amount of natural light is said to have been cut by half, impeding the process of plant photosynthesis.

It has also caused many economic problems. The smog has grounded flights, forced the closing of main roads and tourists as well as locals have been advised to stay in their homes, meaning that they are unable to spend money and boost the local economy. On Monday 24th February 2014, only 11,200 people visited Beijing’s Forbidden City, a number which is a quarter of its normal level. The effect on crops not only brings environmental problems, but economic ones too. If the smog persists, Chinese agricultural will be subjected to conditions said to be “somewhat similar to nuclear winter”.

With regard to social impacts, it has been reported that the life expectancy in the north, compared to the south of China is 5 years less. A study carried out in The Lancet estimates that the poor air quality can be attributed to the premature deaths of around 1.2 million people a year. This is a society that is becoming increasingly concerned with health over wealth, so what does this mean for the Chinese government?

In October of last year, Beijing introduced a system of emergency measures and smog alerts should the level of smog remain at a hazardous level for more than 3 days. If this is the case, measures will be put in place to protect the Chinese population, for example schools will be shut as well as factories. The Chinese government in 2013 promised to spend £165 billion to help tackle the problem within the next 5 years but without the sacrifice of some economic growth in favour of improved quality of life, it seems China’s pollution problem will for ever remain. For a solution to be put into practice, a complete overhaul of the economic model of growth will need to occur.

The Ghost Mall

6 Mar

In Southern China’s Guangdong province lays Dongguan, a prefecture level city known as the location of one of the largest yet most deserted mall in the World. The New South China Mall was opened in 2005 and was expected to serve around 70,000 consumers per day. Within the mall there are seven zones each modelled on international cities and regions. These include Amsterdam, Egypt and Paris, where an 82ft Arc de Triomphe was constructed at one of the mall’s entrances. It covers a retail floor area of 659,612m2 and when compared to 133,200m2 attributed to Lakeside shopping centre in Essex, one can establish the sheer scale of this mall.

Often labelled a “Ghost Mall”, New South China mall has sufficient space for 2,350 shops but there are currently 2,303 unoccupied stores, resulting in a 99% vacancy rate. The only occupied areas are located near the entrance of the mall where several Western fast food restaurants reside.

The failing of this mall can somewhat be blamed on its poor location within China. It is located in the suburbs of Dongguan so it is only accessible by automobile rendering a large majority of the population, who do not own cars, unable to shop there. It can take hours to get there using public transport alone.

The mall is now owned by the Founders Group, a division of Beijing University, but any plans they have for its future are unknown.

Human Rights in Tibet

26 Feb

A remote and predominantly Buddhist autonomous region in China, Tibet has had a long and tumultuous past with regard to human rights and their suppression by the Chinese.  During the 1950s, China sent in thousands of troops to enforce its claim on the region. Some areas became the Tibetan Autonomous Region and others were incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces. In 1959, Tibet was again under attack by Chinese authorities and its spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama along with 100,000 other followers, were forced into exile to neighbouring India.

Religious Suppression

Since 1949, as an act of authority exertion, the Chinese have limited Tibetans freedom to practise Buddhism.  The Chinese have destroyed over 6000 monasteries and shrines and by 1978 only 8 monasteries remained as well as only 970 practising monks and nuns.  According to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, educational, legal and propaganda channels are used to pressure Tibetans to renounce their Buddhist faith and convert to one that complies with the political regime they promote.

Political Oppression

Chinese have responded to attempted Tibetan uprisings by using extreme violence and it is reported that they have continually violated UN conventions through the extensive use of torture against Tibet’s political prisoners. In addition, Tibet is governed by the Chinese Communist Party, and to date, no Tibetan has ever been elected as Party Secretary which is the most senior government post in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The politics of Tibet has long been a contentious issue because the Dalai Lama is not only seen as a religious leader for the Buddhist population, but also a political one therefore he threatens the dynamics of the Chinese leadership.

Africa’s Elephants being pushed to extinction?

20 Feb

Illegal ivory trading in China is proving to have detrimental consequences to wildlife, 5000 miles away in Africa. It is estimated that within the next few years, elephants could be wiped out from certain areas of Africa due to this barbaric business. China’s desire to consume and grow its economy has led to the creation of an illegal, almost underground ivory trading operation. Although ivory is sold openly and legally, behind this legal trade lays a much more illegitimate one. This poaching and smuggling cycle is what is making this trading so profitable, and it is animals such as elephants and rhinos that are suffering the most.

In China, it is legal to sell ivory provided that the retailer displays the carving with a credit card sized photo ID, proving its source is from government stock piles and not from smuggling. However, some reports show that the ID and the carvings do not match.

It is suggested that these Chinese consumers desire the possession of ivory as a symbol of wealth and good luck, and more crudely as a source of investment. As the number of elephants and rhinos diminishes, the price of ivory increases tremendously, forcing this already illegal practise to become even more favourable for smugglers.

China is however taking small steps to try and cease this practice. In Hong Kong, a leading trade location for ivory, conservation groups have urged the incineration of 28 tonnes of confiscated ivory, a process estimated to take over two years. Such a procedure is thought to discourage further the smuggling and trading of ivory. Moreover, in January 2014, Chinese customs officers seized and publicly crushed six tonnes of illegal ivory in order to raise public awareness that such a practise still exists.

This has however opened up new ways of buying and selling. Although supposedly illegal, the online selling of ivory is not hard to come by but with it becoming harder to smuggle, the price is being driven up with a disproportionate amount of collectors to the amount of available ivory. This does beg the question of whether such a practise will ever be eradicated as it seems that however one polices it, certain individuals will find a way to cheat the system.



Prostitution and China’s Sex Trade

11 Feb

Prostitution throughout mainland China has long since been a contentious issue and campaigns and legislations have endeavoured to cease its practice since the Communist Party’s rise to power in 1949. During that period, a strong emphasis was put upon eradicating prostitution from mainland China by the 1960s. The abolition of prostitution in 1955 (Vincent et al., 1996) was recognized as one of the great achievements of the new leadership. However, these efforts and legislative progression were short lived. Since the 1980s, loosening of government control over society has seen a revival of wide-scale female prostitution, affecting both urban and rural environments. Due to this re-emergence, prostitution (which remains illegal) and the sex trade more specifically, now play a significant role in China’s economy and is a recognised industry with a steady economic output. Zhong (2000) estimates that there are between 4 and 6 million people employed in this sector, equating to an approximated annual level of consumption of 1 trillion RMB.

As one can assume, partaking in such an illicit practice brings with it some substantial social, psychological and physiological consequences. This style of economy is heavily linked with organized crime, government corruption and the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) to name but a few. The police have been known to be associated with running high grade hotels and accepting monetary bribes, or more crudely, sexual favours in return for silence. It had also been widely reported that a Communist Party Official was removed from his post as a campaigner against corruption, due to being caught with a prostitute.

China has also seen a rise in the level of HIV/AIDS victims, as a result of prostitution and the sex trade. China is by no means heading towards a HIV/AIDS epidemic, but it has been estimated that the number of people in China living with HIV is between 500,000 and 1.5 million people. An official report published in February 2009 stated that for the first time, HIV/AIDS was China’s leading cause of death among infectious diseases.

The process of human trafficking also presents huge ethical and legal problems within China. As the third largest country in the World, China has 14 border countries allowing for the movement of young women from regions such as Vietnam, Russia, Korea and Burma. The Ministry of Public Security has stated that the percentage of people trafficked for sexual exploitation has risen to between 50 and 60% (of total trafficking incidences). The misguided promise of a steady job, housing and a monthly salary, often by people victims know and trust, entices the most vulnerable women who are sold for large profits as wives, or for the sex trade.

Will there ever be an end to prostitution and the sex trade in China? Throughout the early 1990s, more recognition was given to the growing problem at hand. In early 1991 several prostitution laws were introduced, including the Decision on Strictly Forbidding the Selling and Buying of Sex and the Decision on the Severe Punishment of Criminals Who Abduct and Traffic in or Kidnap Women and Children. These were put in place in order to protect the human rights of those involved in these illicit activities.

Chinese police regularly conduct patrols of public spaces in order to deter against the practice of prostitution. There has also been a reliance on police led campaigns, creating long periods of heavy police presence in areas most renowned for the sex trade industry. This is used as a form of social disciple.

Recently reported, a crackdown was launched in Dongguan following a state TV report on prostitution in the Southern City. As a result of the report’s broadcast on a local channel, CCTV, police arrested 67 people, shut down 12 “entertainment” venues and suspended 2 police chiefs. Dongguan, the “capital of sex” or “sin city”, was specifically targeted due to its sex trade reputation. Covert reporting showed female sex workers and managers discussing fees for sexual services. After this TV report was released, 6000 officers sieged a number of entertainment establishments. This exemplifies some of what the Chinese government is doing to try to combat this growing problem.

It does seem however that policing this activity is near impossible, especially at higher level prostitution practices. So much money is being made through the buying, selling and exploitation of women that the cessation of such a degrading and immoral practice seems a long way away.

Jess Mowat