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Is it the end of the One-Child Policy?

10 Mar

China’s one-child policy is infamous the world-over. It’s divided the country, created countless social difficulties, and brought into question China’s human rights record once again. And yet it has survived for over 30 years, preventing the birth of an estimated 400 million children. Experts have increasingly made know their concerns with the continuation of the policy, and their hopes that the recent alterations made may be a sign that further reform is in sight, possibly even resulting in the end of the policy altogether.

The policy was established in 1979, following concerns regarding the speed of population growth, and the scarcity of resources it was causing. Previous Chinese governments had encouraged couples to have large families as a means of increasing the labour force, but by 1950 the rate of population change was 1.9% each year, and 1970 saw an average 6 children born to every Chinese woman. Considering that a growth rate of just 3% would’ve caused the population to double in less than 24 years, it was clear that such high rates of fertility and population growth were unsustainable – something needed to be done.

Whether a policy as drastic as that established was necessary has been much discussed, yet it certainly worked. Enforced by the ‘National Population and Family Planning Commission of China’, it became an aggressive effort to improve standards of living and the economy through population control, rewarding those that followed the rules and harshly sanctioning those that didn’t. Current rewards for good behaviour include a “Certificate of Honour for Single-Child Parents”, and benefits such as loans, social assistance, and other assistance depending on the family’s socio-economic status. Those who don’t comply on the other hand are subject to penalties including fines (ranging from half the local average household income to more than 10 times that level), confiscation of belongings, and administrative sanctions for government employees. Even the “excess” children themselves may be sanctioned, with restricted access to health care and education.


The policy has certainly made a visible impact on society. Prior to the policy’s introduction, a typical Chinese home contained a sprawling family of many generations, whereas now the average household contains a husband, wife and only-child. The fertility rate has been falling since 1979, and currently hovers around 1.8 on average, but in areas such as Beijing and Shanghai is as low as 0.7. The rate of population growth has also fallen, now standing at 0.7%. Furthermore, contraceptive rates are now unusually high in China, as high as 89% for married women, much higher than the 59% average for other developing countries.

Although the policy has therefore had the desired effect, there has been constant concern surrounding it, internally and globally. Claims that women have been forced/coerced into abortions and in some cases sterilisation by family planning clinics, has attracted horror from the worldwide community, as well as accusations of human and reproductive right issues. There have also been accusations of female infanticide and discrimination against women, due to family planning policies and the traditional preference of males in society, reinforced by the economic restrictions placed upon women by poor governmental policies affecting the labour force, and the small amount of old-age support from the state, creating a need for a child that can earn enough money to support parents when they are no longer able to work. This has meant large numbers of female babies have ended up homeless or in orphanages, and in some cases, murdered. It was reported in 2000 that 90% of aborted foetuses were female, and in rural parts of the country, infant mortality rates were as much as 27% higher for girls than boys, often due to neglect.

Faced by such disturbing figures, it is unsurprising that alterations to the policy have been made throughout its 30 years of existence, particularly in the past decade. The NPFFPC have launched a campaign named ‘Girl Care’ in rural regions, and have made it illegal to discriminate against women who give birth to baby girls, as well as prohibiting ultrasounds to determine gender and sex-selective abortions after an ultrasound. There are also some new exceptions to the one-child rule, whereby couples are able to apply for a permit to have more children. Couples are allowed up to three children if they are an ethnic minority, and any couple whose child is disabled or killed in an accident may be allowed to have a second child.  Also, couples can now apply to have a second child if their first is a girl, or if one of the parents are only children themselves. This new alteration was introduced only last year, and now means that a 1/3rd of couples can apply for a second-child permit.

But are these changes too little too late? China’s population may be rising more slowly now, but it still has a huge total population of 1.3 billion, and it faces difficult challenges. The birth rate is falling, creating an ageing population who are unsupported due to the limited people of working age. It is estimated that around 194 million Chinese over the age of 60 have no or too few children to care for them. This has been caused by the smaller workforce comprised of singleton children, who are unable to financially support two ageing parents. Such filial support is necessary due to China’s lack of social welfare system. The second big problem in China is the large gender imbalance that has existed for some years, with reports saying that men now outnumber women by more than 60 million, forcing them into a lifetime of bachelorhood.

With these implications considered, what is the future for China’s one-child policy? The alterations made in recent years aim to ease the strain of the gender imbalance and ageing population that have been created. For example, the 2013 policy allowing couples where either parent is an only-child to have two children, is expected to create a minor population boost of about 1 to 2 million additional children born every year. This has been viewed by many as opening the door to further reform, with a senior family planning official saying China may in the future allow every couple to have two children. Experts say it is not a question of if, but when. Currently, the impact of such a change is being researched by the NPFFPC, with Ma Xu, head of research within the organisation, saying that the population would increase by an estimated 10 million every year if such a policy was introduced. For a long time experts and officials have been lobbying for this alteration, with some seeing it as a step towards ending birth control policies entirely, and side-stepping the demographic timebomb that lies ahead if China continues on its path of population control.


Managing Population Change, BBC Bitesize [Last Accessed: 07/03/2014]

Branigan, T. (2013) China’s one-child policy’s human cost fuels calls for reform. Guardian [Last Accessed: 07/03/2014]

Brangian, T. (2014) China may opt for ‘two children’ policy in future, says senior official. Guardian [Last Accessed: 07/03/2014]

Trimarchi, M. (2008) What is China’s One Child Policy?  [Last Accessed: 07/03/2014]


Mainland Mistresses, Hong Kong Children

10 Mar

When Hong Kong’s sovereignty passed to Chinese hands in 1997 it was accompanied by Article 24(3) of the Basic Law (Hong Kong SAR’s constitution) stating that ‘persons of Chinese nationality born outside of Hong Kong of Hong Kong permanent residents would be counted as Hong Kong permanent residents’. This was intended to coax back skilled workers who emigrated to foreign countries before the handover and thus benefit Hong Kong’s economy. However, the article also granted legitimate residency to a less desirable group of people: the children of mainland Chinese ‘concubines’ to Hong Kong businessmen.

The term ‘concubine’ is somewhat vague and archaic. The Cantonese term is ‘baau yih naai’ (or Mandarin er nai, 二奶) which translates as baau, keep (owning a set of services through monetary payment) and yih naai or er nai as second wife. Whilst the practice is not widespread, it is prevalent enough in Southern China to influence the creation of ‘concubine villages’ where many local women are bought apartments by their male Hong Kong benefactors. The practice is partially cultural; some Hong Kong men believed the act of supporting a ‘mainland wife’ was indicative of his superior economic status. Whether casual or formal, short or long-term, these relationships propagated children born of mainland Chinese mothers and Hong Kong nationals. When Hong Kong SAR returned to Chinese hands and Article 24(3) was put in place, these women saw an opportunity to migrate and start a new life within the SAR.

These children and their parents were regarded with animosity by Hong Kong citizens who saw them as a drain on social welfare and detrimental to the SAR’s economy. They were also seen as a threat to social harmony; violence and disunity was seen as a possible outcome of mainland wives meeting with the legal wives of their benefactors. Various NGOs and communities of ‘elites’ (academics, officials etc) spoke out against the inclusion of these children under the Basic Law. The government itself took fast action to prevent emigration to Hong Kong by these children and their mothers after the handover. Their existence was seen as a threat and a problem.

The practice of keeping a ‘second wife’ has been recognised as not just detrimental to Hong Kong but also to China. The practice is not dissimilar to prostitution: money and monetary support is provided to a woman in exchange for willing sexual relations. However, a steadfast solution has yet to be found in order to discourage such couplings. One solution would be to make the practice of taking a ‘second wife’ illegal on the mainland, but this has several implications. Firstly, such a law would increase state intrusion into private affairs. Secondly, laws on the mainland and in Hong Kong SAR are different from one another. The law would have to be synonymous in both the mainland and in the SAR. Thirdly, there is skepticism as to whether making such relationships illegal will truly eradicate them. Another solution is to take a different approach and sever the problem at it’s root. Why do these women willingly enter these arrangements? Many have little schooling and few skills. As a result of their lack of employability they turn to other modes of income. It has been speculated that in tandem with new laws, social reform to better educate and train women from poor circumstances and backgrounds would, in time, reduce the practice of ‘second wives’ and thus improve China-Hong Kong relations.

Lee, E., (2003) Gender and Change in Hong Kong : Globalization, Postcolonialism and Chinese Patriarchy, Vancouver: UBC Press.

China’s missing women

8 Mar

China’s traditional and cultural son preference has been well documented. Infanticide and sex-selective abortion, although illegal in China, became a major problem after the introduction of the one-child policy. Many would-be parents made efforts to ensure they had a son as their only child which has resulted in skewed sex-ratios at birth and a major surplus of young men.

In China there is reportedly 35 million ‘missing’ women, and consequently tens of millions of men who face slim prospects of ever finding a wife (Branigan, 2011a). This problem is even more severe in poor or isolated rural areas where there are few unattached women (Branigan, 2011b). Many men therefore face strong likelihoods of growing old with no wives or children to support and care for them. Young Chinese women have more choice of potential husbands and therefore these women are less likely to choose poor men who are unable to provide for them, leaving this group of men unmarried.

Despite being a major problem for Chinese men, it could help to improve women’s status. Yound unmarried Chinese women are now more desirable which could help raise their status within society. On the other hand it could actually lead to increased gender inequalities as women could become viewed as more of a valuable material good, rather than as human beings.


Branigan, T. (2011a), China’s great gender crisis, [Guardian online] Available from: [Accessed: 08/03/2014]

Branigan, T. (2011b), China’s village of bachelors: no wives in sight in remote settlement, [Guardian online] Available from: [Accessed: 08/03/2014]

China’s Greatest Threat to Development Lies Within.

4 Mar

Despite China’s prosperous growth over the past three decades many onlookers suggest they still have many boundaries to overcome. Some place emphasis on their role in global politics and governance as a key threat to their future success, however I will explore the threats that reside within China’s own borders, and how these could be the most important factors to their continued success. Moving forward Anka Lee suggests that, “the build up of internal pressure, coupled with the inability of developed economies to sustain China’s export-oriented economy, means that efforts to rebalance-internally and, in the process, externally- must take place.” (2013)

As a result of the economic downturn in the west China’s own economy began to suffer because of its export-led foundations. Zheng Xinli explains that what became apparent because of this was that, “fiscal reform (will be) the main force to shift the investment oriented growth pattern into a consumption-driven one.” (Chen, 2014) Reform to the economic system is imperative in China to move away from its outwards dependency and rather utilise its mass population to create a consumer driven economy. These reforms are hugely important to continued success, because its external dependency allows actions throughout the world to destabilise itself, Bijian (2005) outlines why it is even worse for China to face any issues, “(as) China has a population of 1.3 billion. Any small difficulty in its economic or social development, spread over this vast group, could become a huge problem.” The gravity of the situation is felt by China’s leaders and has seen them adopt policies to allow for transition in the economy, Li Keqiang explains how they will, “adjust the economic structure (to) help enhance sustainability of growth, accelerate the shift from a policy driven economy to a domestically oriented one, and prevent wild economic fluctuations.” (2012)

Thus, motivating the large population and modernising the country are implicit to creating the consumer-led economy that is so vital to ensuring long term prosperity. This is already being pursued, “about 10 million Chinese migrate to urban areas each year in an orderly and protected way, they provide Chinese cities with new productivity and new markets and help end the backwardness of rural areas.” (Bijian, 2005) This move is important as related statistics show that urban residents spent 3.6 times more than rural dwellers in 2010 (Keqiang, 2012) displaying why urbanisation is implicit to overcoming future economic threats through the creation of a large consumer base. They still have a long way to go, with such a large population it makes development of this type of economy that much more difficult, in 2010 China’s consumption ratio was 47.4% whilst the US was 87.7%, the EU was 80.7% and Japan was at 78.6%, these are the figures China needs to push for to remove that dependency on foreign consumers.

On top of this need to modernise the population comes the sustainability threat it creates through doing this. As modernisation and development takes place and more move into large cities, environmental issues present themselves which also could hinder the future success of China, “China has paid a heavy environmental price for three decades of economic growth.” (Bloomberg, 2013) Firstly, “the scarcity of natural resources available to support such a huge population, especially energy, raw materials and water-is increasingly an obstacle.” (Bijian, 2005) This over time threatens the ability to continue the level of development they are currently working at, however on top of this is the environmental degradation aspect that is associated with their current development path. “In Beijing, air pollution levels (have) rose to 20 times the recommended limit by the WHO…over a million Chinese citizens die of air pollution per year.” (Klabin, 2013) These extraordinary numbers display the harmful nature that is attached to the unsustainable mechanics of China’s development, more environmentally sound methods need to be pursued alongside rapid development if the country is to not find instability created through its methods of progression.

This potential instability sources with the large population who’re becoming angered over pollution and who will become antagonised should economic prosperity falter, presenting another point of how Chinese success hinges on satisfying the citizens, primarily so they do not become disenchanted with the government; the CCP’s largest fear. What is happening is that the opening up of China’s economy has allowed for other ideas to filter through the censorship and as a consequence more people are outspoken about issues they find with the system and the government. “Between 2006 and 2010 the number of mass incidents doubled to at least 180,000…increased use of mobile phones and the internet has allowed protesters to show their anger more effectively.” (Bloomberg, 2013) This displays how modernisation and development may in fact also be causing negative effects to the durability of the current system despite them having created mass economic growth and wealth uplift. This may present a huge issue to stability with the government in the future potentially having to manage serious governmental reforms in light of further citizen mobilisation and awareness.

The final internal issue i’m going to discuss is with regard to the ageing population of China. “At the end of 2011, when the total Chinese population reached 1.34 billion, 13.7% of the population were 60 or over, that’s 185 million people…the UN considers a population to be ageing when 7% of its population is aged 65 or over.” (BBC, 2012) Although a portrayal of how successful development is allowing people to live longer because of better living standards and access to health care there are economic and social consequences of such age. As a developing country China may not be able to take the burden this brings with it, “a huge fiscal deficit due to soaring pension expenses and increased medical costs.” (BBC,2012) On top of this the labour force is affected, and this is key to continued economic growth thus the ageing population also has the potential to hinder economic sustainability. Professor Cai Fang “estimates that the rapid decrease of labour force will lower China’s annual growth rate by 1.5% points from 2012 to 2015, and decrease a further percentage point during the period from 2016-2020.” (BBC, 2012) This shows the huge ramifications the likes of the one child policy and modernisation, which can trigger families into having less children, may have caused for the country and its future stability and success.

China and its government have a long task ahead of them to achieve developed country status and many hurdles stand in its way of getting there. It will take long term policy making and a sustainability focus to all policies that will allow them to hopefully continue their success however it will be a tumultuous journey that is far from ease.


BBC News. (2012) Ageing China: Changes and Challenges. BBC. Available at: <>

Bijian, Zheng. (2005) China’s “Peaceful Rise” to Great-Power Status. Foreign Affairs. Available at: <> [Accessed 24th February 2014]

Bloomberg News. (2013) Chinese Anger Over Pollution Becomes Main Cause of Social Unrest. Bloomberg. Available at: <> [Accessed 24th February 2014]

Haass, Richard N. (2011) China’s Greatest Threat Is Internal. Council on Foreign Relations. Available at: <> [Accessed 24th February 2014]

Keqiang, Li. (2012) China Deepens Strategy of Domestic Demand Expansion in the Course of Reform and Opening Up. Available at: <> [Accessed 24th February 2014]

Klabin, Roy. (2013) The Biggest Risk to the Environment? China’s Population. PolicyMic. Available at: <> [Accessed 24th February 2014]

Lee, Anka. (2013) Taking a Different View on China’s Rise. Truman National Security Project. Available at: <> [Accessed 24th February 2014]

Chinese Education

3 Mar


The latest Programme for International Assessment (Pisa) results were released at the end of 2013. Pisa compares maths reading and science scores across the world. China topped the list across the board whilst the UK languished in 26th place below France, Ireland and many other European countries. The results for China however are misleading as the results actually relate to Shanghai rather than the country as a whole and therefore exclude rural schools and children (Sedghi et al, 2013). Despite this, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has found that even the poorest Chinese children are, on average, ahead of the best students in the UK (Paton, 2014). This shocking finding asks major questions of the UK educational system, but is there anything that can be copied from China to improve education here?


Jenkins (2014) describes Chinese schools as “communist drill halls, factories of pressure, discipline and childhood misery”. Whilst good at getting high scores, this form of education with long hours and strict rules is unlikely to be used by the UK government. In contrast many Chinese parents are actually looking to the West to see how the education their children receive can be improved (Kaiman, 2014). In China education is built up towards the gaokao, a nine-hour college admission test. The pressure of this test has led to a significant number of youth suicides (Kaiman, 2014). Some parents want to see the pressures of this test reduced and a new more creative educational experience put in place where the children are no longer fed the answers, but instead are encouraged to find things out themselves (Kaiman, 2014). Whether or not changes are made will depend on the Chinese Government but as China tops the tables (albeit unreliably) this change is unlikely to occur.


Jenkins, S. (2014), For Britain’s pupils, maths is even more pointless than Latin, [The Guardian online] Available from: [Accessed: 03/03/2014]


Kaiman, J. (2014), Nine-hour tests and lots of pressure: welcome to the Chinese school system, [The Guardian online] Available from: [Accessed: 03/03/2014]


Paton, G. (2014), China’s poorest beat our best pupils, [The Telegraph online] Available from: [Accessed: 03/03/2014]


Sedghi, A. Arnett, G. and Chalabi, M.  (2013), Pisa 2012 results: which country does best at reading, maths and science?, [The Guardian online] Available from: [Accessed: 03/03/2014]

Have You Heard the Good News?: The Evolution of Religious Freedom in China

28 Feb


China’s stance on religious freedom is notoriously regarded as unjust. However, the Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA) implemented in 2005 has seen the rise of a remarkably open and empowering attitude in regard to religious activities. Though once regarded as a threat to the Communist regime in China, religion has slowly become an acceptable form of civil society and state control over religious autonomy has been weakened (Tong, 2010).

During Mao’s era religious freedom was curtailed. In a time of reform and modernisation for China, religion was seen as both ‘foreign cultural imperialism’ in the case of Christianity. A line was drawn between religious ‘organisations’ and ‘religion’ itself wherein the CCP sought to increase control over the ‘organisational’ aspect of religious activity. Native religions were also placed under scrutiny; the Mao regime accused Buddhism and Taoism of ‘feudalism’ which contradicted China’s goal of modernisation (Leung, 2005). During the 50’s ‘religious freedom’ was given a party-wide definition. In 1958 Li Weihan interpreted ‘religious freedom’ as a right to belief or not to believe in religion and to be a part of any sect of your choosing. However, he explained that this definition of religious freedom was implemented to encourage people to cast aside religion (Li, 1958l, cited in Leung, 2005). This definition was not revised until 1982, under Deng’s era.

During the Cultural Revolution religious communities suffered heavily. Religious property rights were essentially nullified as churches, temples and other religious sites were occupied and in many cases destroyed. An estimated 8000 Buddhist temples were lost during these years and many religious practitioners and leaders were persecuted (Leung, 2005).

Before the reform period, the state’s policies regarding religion were constrictive and emphasised state control and state-given legitimacy. Religious communities were required to have state permission to practice and were required to perform religious activities in specially assigned areas, thus outlawing home-based activities. This also outlawed wearing religious garments in public, such as that worn by the clergy. Religious communities were also required to be supportive of the CCP. Often the CCP assigned religious leaders who were party cadres in order to quell any anti-party sentiment (Leung, 2005).

In 1982 ‘Document 19’ was issued under Deng’s reform period. It was born of the recognition that by increasing religious rights China could improve its international image and attract more foreign trade. Deng also wanted to break with the legacy of the Cultural Revolution and gain more co-operation for modernisation from non-communist intellectuals and religious leaders. However, the Document was not without its failings. It was not widely obeyed and, although it stated that religious property would be returned to the religious communities to which it belonged, this was not always followed through. The Document also stated that religious communities would be self-sufficient and yet government ministries encouraged Christian churches to seek foreign aid thus undermining this requirement. Religious communities also lacked the ability to communicate well with branches of government as the Document did not rectify the appointment of party cadres as religious leaders. The cadres were patriotic to the CCP (which was within the government’s interests) but they often lacked the skills and training required for good leadership and communication (Leung, 2005). In short, Document 19 was a step in the direction of religious freedom but it was still far from a mirror of how liberal society would define ‘freedom’.

The 90’s saw a reduction of trust in religious communities. Concern arose that the ‘underground’ movement of ‘illegal’ (that is, not state-approved) religious communities threatened state stability. This notion is not a new one; religious uprisings are significant in China’s ancient history (the yellow and red turban rebellions) and more recent history (White Lotus and Taiping rebellions) (Chung et all, 2006). The Party was also concerned with foreign support for these ‘illegal’ movements, particularly Catholicism and the Dalai Lama in Tibet. Document 19 was acknowledged as insufficient in managing religious activity – yet despite feelings of hostility, Jiang knew that if the CCP cracked down on religious freedom it would be detrimental to international support and finance. The terms ‘Rule by Law’ and ‘Accommodation’ entered the fight for religious freedom. ‘Rule by Law’ required religious activities to be regulated and to ‘accommodate’ socialist ideology, not oppose it. This decision was justified by defining religious activity within the realm of ‘public affairs’ and therefore subject to state regulation (Leung, 2005).

However, in 2001 the Politburo and State Council met together for the National Religious Work Meeting and came to the conclusion that religion could be a ‘stabilising force’ in Chinese society. Waning socialist ideology and disillusionment are partially responsible for this decision; by approving of specific religions and granting more autonomy, the CCP hoped to curtail the attraction of ‘new religions’ and cults which could harbour anti-party sentiment. China was also trying to address its international image regarding human rights violations. Another influence is the Sino-centric religious scholarship which had been emerging since the beginning of the reform period (Leung, 2005).

As aforementioned, native religion also suffered under Mao’s regime and had to be resurrected during the reform period. One such success story is Nanputuo temple in Fujian province. Though now a thriving religious hub and tourist site, the temple had to be rebuilt almost from scratch after the Cultural Revolution. New clergy had to be trained to replace those who were persecuted and the temple, abiding by state rules, had to become entirely self-sufficient. More than three decades on it has been completely rebuilt, is entirely self-sufficient and has around 600 clergymen. It is one of many success stories that show how religious communities have recovered and grown despite tough state regulations (Ashiwa and Wank, 2006).

In 2005 the RRA was implemented to grant more autonomy to religious communities and reduce state control of religious activities. This is part of a wider goal to increase CCP transparency, improve communication between government and society, promote civil society and improve China’s image in the international community. The RRA grants better legal and administrative rights to religious communities and grants permission to practice religious activities outside of the designated areas. It also encourages religious philanthropy and has helped to establish the role of religious communities in civil society. The RRA also readdresses the accusation of religion as a ‘threat’ by allowing the print and circulation of religious literature, including recruitment pamphlets. It has been greeted with mixed feelings in the wider international community as rather than religious ‘freedom’ it awards ‘management’, but compared to China’s history of restrictive religious regulation there is no denying that it will help China on the road to modernisation and cohesion within the international community (Tong, 2010).


Ashiwa, Y., Wank, D., 2006. The Politics of a Reviving Buddhist Temple: State, Association, and Religion in Southeast China. The Journal of Asian Studies, [e-journal], 65 (2), pp. 337-359. Available through: J-Stor website <> [Accessed 27th February 2014].

Chung, J., Lai, H., Xia, M., 2006. Mounting Challenges to Governance in China: Surveying Collective Protesters, Religious Sects and Criminal Organisations. The China Journal, [e-journal], 56, pp. 1-31. Available through: J-Stor website <> [Accessed 27th February 2014].

Leung, B., 2005. China’s Religious Freedom Policy: The Art of Managing Religious Activity. The China Quarterly, [e-journal], 184, pp.894-913. Available through: J-Stor website <> [Accessed 27th February 2014].

Tong, J., 2010. The New Religious Policy in China: Catching Up With Systemic Reforms. Asian Survey, [e-journal], 50 (5), pp. 859-887. Available through: J-Stor website <> [Accessed 27th February 2014].

Population ageing in China – who will take up the slack?

22 Feb

Population ageing is occurring across the world, and especially in the world’s most developed countries. This demographic trend is also taking place in China, which is categorised as an upper-middle income country by the World Bank (World Bank, 2014). Population ageing comes about from a combination of declining fertility and increasing longevity and life expectancy (Lutz et al, 2008). The pace of population ageing in China is far greater than experienced in Western developed countries and Eastern developed countries such as Japan (Joseph and Phillips, 1999). Not only are the numbers of elderly people increasing but also the age people are living to is increasing. With a population of approximately 1.4 billion, the number of elderly people (over 65 years) is exceedingly large at over 113 million (UNPD, 2014). This number is projected to increase to 195 million in 2025 and 330 million in 2050 (UNPD, 2014). The number of very old (over 80 years) is also increasing significantly and is projected to rise from 20 million in 2010 to 90 million in 2050 (UNPD, 2014). China’s population policies have, inevitably, had a role to play in this demographic trend. The dramatic drop in Total Fertility Rates (TRF) from almost 6.0 in the late 1950s to 1.8 today was largely a result of China’s population and fertility policies such as the one-child policy (Yi and Vaupel, 1989). Falling birth rates, and consequently smaller young cohorts, combined with increasing longevity result in dramatic increases in the proportions of elderly within the population.

With an increasingly elderly population the question of who is going to support and care for them arises. Since the 1980s China has experienced a demographic dividend with falling dependency ratios and a large working age population to support the young and elderly. This demographic dividend fuelled China’s industrialisation and development but has now ended as China’s dependency ratio has stopped falling and started increasing (Fang, 2010). In order to sustain its economic growth, China must respond correctly to this new challenge.  One way in which this can be done is by increasing the retirement age in order to increase the working population. This however is problematic for China as the working elderly are less educated and less skilled than the younger workforce and therefore less employable (Fang, 2010).  The ability of elderly people to work beyond retirement age is also largely dependent on their health and therefore those who are unable to work, and who have no savings or pensions to fall back on, will require care and support.

The Chinese state expects families to be self-provisioning and to provide care and support for each other (Joseph and Phillips, 1999). Within the family it is the women who are expected to take on the burden of care.  There are a number of problems with this expectation however. Women, and especially younger women, are increasingly likely to be employed and often migrate to cities in order to find work. This makes them less able to provide the support and care for their elderly parents on a regular basis. Whilst greater income as a result of women earning may allow them to provide hired care, it is often not sufficient (Joseph and Phillips, 1999). The number of women available to provide care is therefore reduced by their increasing participation in the labour force. China’s one child policy may also be a factor in the apparent lack of women.  Son preference is strong in China, partially as traditionally it is the males who look after their own parents and the females are expected to move into their husbands home and care for his parents. As a result of the restrictions in the one-child policy many female foetuses have been selectively aborted so that the would-be parents can have a son. In rural areas however the policy allowed a second birth if the first child was a girl (Joseph and Phillips, 1999). These occurrences have dramatically skewed the sex ratios at birth within China. In the 1990s there were roughly 1.14 males per female and this increased further to roughly 1.23 in 2000, compared to the natural ratio of between 1.03 and 1.07 (Joseph and Phillips, 1999: Ding and Hesketh, 2006). Skewed sex ratios alongside increases in working women have led to a deficit in the supply of carers in China.

Elderly care itself is changing in China. Increasing longevity in the population does not directly imply added years of healthy living. Often these extra years added to life expectancy are spent in poor health or disability as chronic and degenerative diseases are more common at older ages. Physical impairment and psycho-geriatric disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease make care in the home particularly difficult (Phillips et al 1994 cited in Joseph and Phillips, 1999). Consequently, the type of care and along with the type of carer has changed over the last 20 or so years (Joseph and Phillips, 1999).

It seems that China has been propelled by its demographic dividend and large workforce over the last few decades but as this is coming to, or has come to, an end China’s future is less certain. In addition to an ageing population China’s population is set to begin declining in 2030 and is projected to fall to 1.1 billion in 2100 and by 2050 India is expected to take China’s place as the most populous nation (UNPD 2014: Dyson, 2010). With dependency ratios rising again in China, as a result of the growing elderly dependent population, the time has come for policy makers to act in order to fill the vacuum of elderly care which can no longer be dependent on women.  With a decreasing proportion of its population in the workforce China needs to promote female labour force participation and therefore must find alternatives to family, or rather female-led, elderly care.​

Reference List:


  • Ding, Q.J. and Hasketh, T. (2006), Family size, fertility preferences, and sex ratio in China in the era of the one child family policy: results from national family planning and reproductive health survey, BMJ, 333, pp. 371-373.
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  • Yi, Z. And Vaupel, J. (1989), The Impact of Urbanisation and Delayed Childbearing on Population Growth and Aging in China, Population and Development Review, 15.3, pp. 425-445.

China: Strategic Softening?

17 Feb

A clear sight over the past two decades has been Chinese economic growth and the threat it poses to existing world order, especially US global dominance. However, what we see emerging is China taking on new approaches to increase its global presence; in the form of soft power. ‘Though debates mainly revolve around economic and military aspects of China’s increasing power, its soft power components are considered to be an integral part of its influence.’ (RT, 04/02/14)

On January 1st 2014, ‘President Xi Jinping vowed to promote China’s cultural soft power by disseminating modern Chinese values and showing the charm of Chinese culture to world.’ (China Daily) However, we see this promotion of the Chinese brand even prior to Xi’s quest which begun earlier this year. The Beijing Olympic Games were ‘considered to be very important in the sense of public diplomacy, with the intention of creating the image of a “nice country”.’ (RT, 04/02/14) The government spent 42 million on the games more than London and almost double that of Athens, showing despite wishing to promote peaceful global relations and harmonious Chinese values there seems to be a sense of strategy behind these soft power moves. What a development in soft power enables is a new frontier of competition with the United States and the hold it is has throughout the world, despite its declining economic position, due to its cultural hegemony.

Just a couple of days ago a Chinese film won the best picture award at the Berlin film festival, cinema a traditionally US and European stronghold, now an avenue China wishes to use to develop a cultural presence throughout the world. This aim was also reflected in Xi’s earlier speech in which he ‘called for efforts to promote advanced socialist culture, deepen reform in the cultural system, and enhance peoples cultural creativity.’ (China Daily, 01/01/14) We see further challenge to US worldwide cultural dominance through the reforms the Chinese government has taken with education, and the their expansion worldwide, particularly with the promotion of foreign students studying in China. In 1992 China had only 13,000 foreign students in its universities, as of 2006 it had 162,700, although still far off the United States large amount of foreign intake it displays a determination to bring in individuals and display the Chinese character, as well as expanding Chinese beliefs and values beyond their own borders. The influx has mainly come from surrounding countries and ‘what is important (to take on) is the fact that previously the US was the most favourite direction for southeastern Asian youth, but now there is a remarkable shift towards Chinese education.’ (RT, 04/02/14) Much like most areas of Chinese development and challenge, the US still pulls rank. However the fast paced nature of growth China has taken makes us pose the question, ‘for how much longer?’

The expansion of Chinese soft power lies right on our doorsteps as well, the Chinese New Year celebrations in Trafalgar square are some of the biggest in Europe, attracting almost half a million international visitors. This endorsement of a holiday whose principles vary so much from our own western values and the magnitude the festival has taken outside of China ‘are a reminder of how growing popularity and expanding international recognition of Chinese culture and traditions demonstrate the progress of China’s soft power.’ (RT,04/02/14)

Read more:

China and the Rule of Law: Following in the Footsteps of the UK?

15 May

Alongside parliamentary supremacy and the separation of powers, the ‘rule of law’ is a cornerstone of the UK constitutional structure. Defining the concept is a task that could, and has formed the subject of entire books – for the purpose of this article, the ‘rule of law’ can be thought of as the principle that no one person is above the law – the law governs all, and all are subject to it. Lord Bingham, one of the minds at the forefront of British judicial development, described the rule of law as ‘equality before the law… insulated from the personal discretion of those in power’ (3).

Historically this is not a concept that China has embraced. Most of history has seen China utilise a Confucian philosophy of ‘social control through moral education’. This position was briefly altered after the 1911 Revolution, when the Republic of China adopted a German-influenced, Western style civil code. However, in 1946, the People’s Republic of China removed this constitution and returned to a more Socialist system of law. The principle of the rule of law guarantees legal supremacy over all beings, which is not something typically Chinese – the culture places more emphasis on personal relationships. Indeed, Riley has noted that the ‘good old days’ in China gave officials what was effectively an ‘option’ of law rather than a ‘rule’ – the laws are there if it is convenient to use them, but the State is not compelled to give action as ‘rule of law’ States, such as the UK are (2). This is made clearer by the fact that the Chinese word fǎzhì (法治), originally intended to mean ‘rule of law’ is now taken to actually mean ‘rule by law’.

Amidst constant allegations of corruption of public officials (as recent as Bo Xilai), surely it would make sense for China to continue marching towards the rule of law? Chinese society deserves a uniform standard through which all are governed equally – rather than a system where bribery and personal discretion of higher placed officials can reign supreme.

The question now becomes: what is stopping China from introducing a functioning ‘rule of law’? There are several potential pitfalls hampering Chinese progress in this regard. Firstly, the National People’s Congress (the body given charge by Deng Xiaoping in 1982 of drafting a new State constitution) are ineffective – they are unable to enforce the laws they establish. This article has already commented on the corruption of public officials – no rule of law can survive practically in a system whose integrity is so often questioned. Perhaps the most crucial reason why there is no rule of law, however, is that the political and judicial arms in China are not independent. While the judiciary is subject to political influence, no single decision made by the courts can be taken to have any real value – any form of ‘justice’ served must conform to the relevant political ideal, and therefore decisions made may not be the right ones. As the Chinese saying goes, ‘it is easy to catch fish in muddied waters’ – if only the Confucian principle that one cannot rule the State without first exercising discipline over oneself was upheld, this might not be a problem.

It has also been argued that China suffers from a lack of qualified legal professionals (2), meaning that even when laws are enacted, they are not interpreted or implemented as intended. Business lawyers are needed to understand this, but this is not the way lawyers are trained in Chinese universities. It is my suggestion that this problem might be solved by Chinese lawyers training in other jurisdictions, such as the USA or the UK, where the relevant training is available. Chinese lawyers trained in this way are proving to be very successful in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) framework – it might be that transferring this knowledge back into internal Chinese legal affairs will help China reach the ‘rule of law’ goal.

So, can the ‘rule of law’ expect an introduction into Chinese society in the future? The Washington Post (4) has argued that even where educated legal rights activists call for such an introduction, Chinese government quashes their calls. The horrifying tale of Gao Zhisheng is poignant here – he, and his family were beaten, tortured incommunicado and finally imprisoned for what seems to be the simple ‘crime’ of speaking out in protection of people’s rights. Gao famously said that in China, ‘you cannot take on a legal rights case without becoming a legal rights case yourself’. No matter how many young lawyers or forward-thinking activists take up the mantle of the ‘rule of law’, they are destined to meet an impassable obstacle where the Chinese authorities continue to act with such brazen impunity and a complete disregard for the rule of law and all its positive implications.

Now, though, China has a new President in Xi Jinping. Will things change? Regrettably for the ‘rule of law’ activists, it would seem not – just yesterday the New York Times reported how Chinese officials warned that China should steer clear of ‘dangerous’ Western values (6).  Chen Ziming, a prominent political commentator in Beijing who supports democratic change, has commented that there are ‘no notions of political reform’ in the current government. Why might those in power be so opposed? Ira Belkin claims that the ‘Maoist attitude to dissent is blocking… the road to the rule of law’ (5) – the way that ‘contradictions’ were dealt with by Mao involved forced labour to change the attitude of the contradictor or alternatively, elimination.

In my view, the actions of the Chinese authorities imply that they are of the opinion that introducing the ‘rule of law’ serves to undermine social stability – when, in actual fact, it can only serve to strengthen such stability. Why are critics that do no more than post their academic opinion on the internet receive such strong governmental punishment? Why does the government detain citizens without any apparent legal basis and without due process? Are such actions actually actionable violations of Chinese law – or is there something about the Chinese legal order that an outsider simply cannot understand? It seems to me that these questions are unanswerable – in my view, the Chinese should unequivocally adopt the rule of law as fully as possible – it might just be that it provides the social stability the nation is crying out for, free from corruption and discretionary punitive punishment.



Books and journal articles:

1. Peerenboom, R., China’s Long March toward Rule of Law, (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

2. Riley, M., ‘On the rule of law and the role of courts in China’ I.C.C.L.R. 2005, 16(4), 151-156

Websites and newspaper publications:




SimCity China: The Creation of Ghost Cities

10 May

A new phenomenon is occurring across China as a result of attempts by central government to maintain high economic growth. This has involved the building of numerous new cities at a rate of 12 to 24 annually. As China is a command economy the government simply dictates where resources are spent and will set GDP targets for provinces to meet with the easiest way to do this through building. This has however led to the creation of an astronomical property bubble in which 64 million apartments as well as hundreds of shopping centres have been built and then left deserted. This is because most of the apartments built are overpriced and too expensive for those who actually need them and are instead purchased by middle class investors who then fail to find tenants. An example is Daya bay in Guangdong which has the capacity to hold 12 million people however 70% of new apartments in the city remain unoccupied. In pre-established cities like Beijing a worrying irony is also developing in which areas of cheap and overpopulated housing are being destroyed to make room for more upmarket apartments which will remain uninhabited as no one can actually afford them.

Fig. 1: Nova Cidade de Kilamba just outside of Luanda, Angola

This is not only happening in China however. In Angola where China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) has large economic interests and investments, a vast complex of 750 eight-story apartment buildings, a dozen schools, and more than 100 retail units have been created just outside of Angola’s capital city of Luanda. Similar to the new cities built in China this area has remained unoccupied, yet further satellite cities are being constructed around Angola.