Acid Rain in China; outlining the causes, distribution and impacts

18 Mar


Now considered a priority concern by Chinese environmental agencies, acid rain poses a threat to the environment, ecological systems, forests, and humans, with cost estimates varying from $1-32 U.S. billion (Larssen et al. 2006). China’s relentless economic growth has resulted in increasing sulfur dioxide (SO2)levels (Fig 1) and acid rain in much of the southern provinces (Fig 2).

Acid rain materialized as an issue in China during the 1970s (Dianwu et al. 1988), (Larssen et al. 2006) and persists as a contemporary environmental problem. The acidity stems from the integration of atmospheric moisture with pollutant elements and gases. In this article sulfur dioxide (SO2) will be focused on as an important anthropogenic pollutant responsible for acid rain production in China (Lu et al. 2010), (Tang and Wu, 2012).

The Cause                                                                                                                       

Increasing coal combustion and pollutants derived from agriculture, industry and transportation accompanied the exponential economic growth witnessed in China over the latter part of the 20th Century (Larssen et al. 2006). It is likely that the production of these pollutants stimulated acid rain in China (Bhargava and Bhargava 2013). Galloway et al. (1987) support the influential nature of extensive Chinese combustion in facilitating acid rain.



Figure 1, Graph showing the historical evolution of SO2 emissions (Larsson et al. 2006)


Combusting coal releases substantial SO2 into the atmosphere. 69% of China’s energy production came from coal in 2004 (Larssen et al 2006) and this continual consumption of coal subsequently produces high levels of SO2 (Fig 1). Research by Lu et al. (2010) found an SO2 growth rate in China of 7.3% from 2000 to 2006. With high coal consumption yielding high SO2 levels, it is likely that acid rain over the last decade has followed this pattern.

The distribution of acid rain                                                                                   



Figure 2, pH distribution in China, 2012 (Tang and Wu, 2012)

The distribution of acid rain is primarily confined to the southern regions of China (Fig 2). The areas prone to the most acidic rainwater are the Chongqing, Sichuan and Guizhou provinces. These areas and the majority of acid rain areas exist south of the Yangtze River (Tang and Wu, 2012), (Dianqu and Jiling 1988).

As SO2 is a primary contributor to acid rain, the spatial distribution of acid rain shares similarities with the spatial distribution of SO2. However Dianqu and Jiling (1988) outline that cities with high levels of SO2 are not always subject to acid rain, stating that the formation of acid rain cannot solely be dependant on SO2 but on further external factors. Continuing, the south coast of China is densely populated, meaning that a considerable amount of people come into contact with the effects of acid rain.

Impacts and effects                                                                                                           

Clearly then, with the increasing nature of both SO2 and acid rain, and the distribution of them, impacts are felt extensively in China.

Numerous environmental impacts have been documented in a paper by Bhargava and Bhargava, (2013), and of note is that acid rain affects every part of an ecosystem. Ecosystems most vulnerable to acid rain are aquatic. Leaching from acid rain creates polluted water, which in turn hinders aquatic flora and fauna in lakes and rivers. Similarly the issue of biomagnification can occur; in which acidic chemicals are passed from organism to organism, multiplying exponentially up through the trophic level system (Bhargava and Bhargava 2013).

Other delicate systems like forests are also sensitive to acid rain. Larssen et al (2006) outline the detrimental effects seen around Chongqing caused by extreme SO2 concentrations in rain and mist (Bian and Yu, 1992). A study of the Chongqing forests by Chuying, (1985), suggested 52-59% biological productivity damage accountable to acid rain.

Limited research makes the effects of soil acidification less certain, however Bhargava and Bhargava (2013) suggest that acid rain disrupts soil chemistry. They theorise that acid rain reacts with soil minerals such as mercury and aluminium creating harmful compounds that plants can absorb; again initiating biomagnification.  

Although acid rain is too weak to affect humans directly, the particles intrinsically linked, (i.e. SO2,), are dangerous if inhaled (EPA 2012). Over time, the effects of biomagnification may be seen in humans as contaminants accumulate.


There are a number of measures outlined in the literature (Dianwu and Jiling 1988), (Wang et al. 2000) (Bhargava and Bhargava, 2013) that could be undertaken in order to reduce the effects and the amount of acid rain.

As discussed, China’s combustion of fossil fuels is underpinning its acid rain. The reduction of anthropogenic fossil fuel combustion, implementation of alternative energy sources, and increasing fuel efficiency (Wang et al. 2000) would lessen SO2 emissions.

The development of a more extensive monitoring network (Dianqu and Jiling, 1988) would aid the recording of acid rain distribution, similar to networks seen in Europe and North America (Larssen et al. 2006).

Further research could be carried out into areas of less certain consequence, such as soil acidification and biomagnification effects in humans.

National policies and regulatory schemes for mitigating SO2 (Wang et al. 2000) could aid the reduction of acid rain.

Localized targets are also needed for areas especially susceptible to acid rain.


Acid rain has been a serious environmental problem in recent times, and with development still growing in China, looks to continue to be a contemporary issue.

To mitigate acid rain, the Chinese government must develop and instigate SO2 reduction policies on both national and local spatial scales, implementing further research and monitoring to ensure targets are attained.

921 words


 Bhargava, S., and Bhargava, S., (2013), Ecological consequences of the Acid rain, Journal of Applied Chemistry, 5:4, pp 19-24

Bian, Y., Yu, S., (1992), Forest Decline in Nanshan, China, Forest ecology management, 51, 53−59.

Chuying. C. ,(1985), Effects of acid rain on Pinus massoniana forests in the region of Chongqing. Presentation to the China-US Workshop on Air Pollution Ecological Effects. Nanjing, China

Dianwu, Z., Jiling., X and Yu, X., (1988), Acid rain in southwestern China, Atmospheric Environment, 22:2, pp349- 358

Dianwu, Z., and Jiling, X., (1988), Chapter 10 Acidification in Southwestern China, In: Acidification in Tropical Countries, Wiley, pp 317- 345.

EPA, (2006). Effects of Acid Rain – Human Health. Retrieved on [17/03/2014].

Galloway, J., Dianwu., Z., Jiling, X., Likens, G., (1987), Acid Rain: China, United States, and a Remote Area, Science, 236:4808, pp1559-1562

Larssen et al. (2006) ‘Acid rain in China’ – Environmental Science and Technology, 40:2, pp418-425

Lu, Z., Streets, D., Zhang Q., Wang, S., Carmichael, R., Cheng Y., Wei, C., Chin., T.,  Diehl, T., Tan, Q., (2010), Sulfur dioxide emissions in China and sulfur trends in East Asia since 2000, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 10, pp 6311–6331,

Tang, J., and Wu, K., (2012), Trend of Acid Rain Over China Since the 1990s, China Meteorological Administration  

Wang, T., Jin, L, Li, Z., Lam, K., (2000), a modelling study on acid rain and recommended emission control strategies in China, Atmospheric Environment, 34:26, pp4467-4477


Baby Hatches

17 Mar

Baby hatches, or baby safety islands as they are known in mandarin, are spaces where parents can safely and anonymously abandon their children, rather than leaving them on the street. They allow the parent to drop the child in a temperature controlled room with a crib and an incubator. When they leave an alarm sounds and a welfare center care worker will come and collect the child. Chinas center for children’s welfare and adoption recognises 23 baby hatches across 10 provinces. Last July the minister of civil affairs announced that the scheme would expand to another 18 provinces and big cities by the end of 2015.

Abandoning children in this way is illegal in china and some critics believe that these centers encourage this activity. However the general consensus is that these facilities are sadly a necessity and that more should be done to protect the welfare of these children. There is no evidence to suggest that the opening of these facilities has increased the number of abandoned children. The purpose of these facilities is not to prevent the law being broken or punish those that do. It’s there to care for the children who should not be left to suffer.

More than 260 children have been left in the Guangzhou baby hatch in South China, since the 28th of January. This has meant that the welfare center has been forced to close its doors to new children but will continue to care for the ones that have already been accepted. The facility has 1,000 bed and currently 1,121 babies and young people. Another 1,274 are in the care of foster families. All infants have diseases which range from cerebral palsy to downs syndrome. It is thought that many poor parents feel they have no choice but to abandon these children as they can’t afford the expensive medical fees. It has been emphasised that just because the service is temporarily closing its doors, does not mean that it’s a failed venture. Those involved urge the public not to be pessimistic and that this baby hatch is still in its experimental stage. This strong influx of children is being treated as an anomaly, as the first baby hatch opened 3 years ago in Shijiazhuang and has received 181 children so far. This case far exceeded the numbers that other cities received during their pilot periods

Developement of Shanty Towns

17 Mar

China plans to spend over 1 trillion yuan (around £162 billion) on the development in shanty towns. The idea is that improvement in housing will help boost the urban population. As a large population is thought to be a ‘strong engine’ for sustainable economic growth. In an attempt to support this, China is now focused much more on encouraging domestic consumption which is more prevalent in the cities then in urban areas. The target is to have 60% of the population in urban areas by 2020.

Development of shanty towns in Liaonging province began early 2005. The communities involved in these projects were all relocated and then resettled in the space of two years. The rebuilding involved 706,000 residents, however it solved housing issues for around 2,110,000 residents. The satisfaction levels on features such as the improved housing conditions, supporting facilities and mental attitudes were very high. The new apartments were often up to four times bigger than the bungalows that had occupied the space previously. A new sense of community feeling was also accredited to the developments. Transport links were improved alongside services such as super markets and schools.

The renewal of the shanty town areas is also said to have boosted resident’s self-confidence and personal relationships. Conversations between shanty town residents were previously quite negative, about leaking roofs and other problems. Whereas now residents are proud of their homes and encourage friends to come round and visit. These new developments can also have an environmental benefit, shanty town residents often burned coal for cooking and heating, but the new housing means they no longer have to do this.

However this has by no means been a completely successful project. There have been problems of residents not wanting to be moved so far away and being dissatisfied with compensation. To try and prevent this dispute, Bejjing Municipal Government stated that a renovation would only be launched with the consent of 90% of the involved residents. Another issue is improper management of shanty rebuilding. 6,623 renovated houses in Lanzhou were illegally sold to buyers rather than the low income wage earners for which they were intended for. There has also been issues of embezzlement of funds.

Hukou in the Reform Period

17 Mar

Hukou (China’s household registration system) is in part a census and in part a tool for the control of social mobility. Its roots are far-reaching; China has almost always employed a system of registration for one’s family. In 1958 the Ministry of Public Security established a set of regulations that built upon the old priorities of keeping a census, maintaining social stability, managing and restricting urbanisation and also included the allocation of state resources, managing the economy and maintaining strict social control. During Mao’s period most migration was ‘state-planned’; citizens who legally changed their hukou status did so through the proper legal channels and made an ‘official’ migration. ‘Unplanned’ migrations were rare as only those who possess the correct hukou status could expect state employment and benefits. 

To change one’s hukou status has become a little easier since the beginning of the reform period but still remained a difficult process. Someone wishing to transfer from a rural town to Shanghai or Beijing, for example, would have to undergo a long process during which certain criteria must be fulfilled in order to successfully migrate to the city. These criteria vary from location to location and are notoriously strict for affluent towns and cities. The criteria are set by local government authorities and reflect local desires for economic development and social stability. For example, if a developing town wishes for more skilled workers to boost its economy it may tighten the criteria for non-skilled workers and relax it for skilled ones.

For some the criteria for migration symbolised a bar too high to leap over. in 1985 a new solution arose in the form of ‘temporary residency permits’ which allowed rural workers to legally work and reside in urban areas whilst retaining a rural hukou status. Whilst this still did not solve the problem which rural-hukou faced with local authorities (in that they were still not eligible for local welfare such as health insurance or education) it meant better regulation for the employment of these workers and therefore better employment conditions. Some of these temporary workers found, as the market opened, that they did not have to rely upon the local authority for various social welfare and could live comfortably without changing their hukou status.

Unfortunately not all citizens who live and work on a temporary permit can afford privatised education or healthcare. The complications of hukou on urban migration are still a major issue for contemporary China.

Arsenic, Cancer Villages and Contaminated Water in China

16 Mar

The revolutionary changes in China, over the past three decades, have transformed China from a poor, subsistence farming country to the leading export country of the world. However, this comes with high environmental and human costs. Up to 40% of China’s river’s are polluted, including China’s two main rivers, the Yangtze River and the Yellow River (Elizabeth C, 2013). The main causes of pollution are sewage, fertilizers and pesticides in agricultural wastewater, chemicals and dyes in industrial factory wastewater, petrochemical wastewater and domestic waste (Iberlekamp, 2013). Roughly 18% of water usage in China comes from groundwater, with more than 400 of about 655 cities in China having no alternative drinking water sources (Li, 2013). All of these factors have partly contributed to the average of 60,000 premature deaths in China each year (Elizabeth C, 2013).

Clean and safe drinking water is especially important for children as it impacts their physical development and mental abilities (Unicef, 2014). Arsenic is a chemical that occurs naturally in groundwater in various different countries, however, it is a highly toxic chemical which can cause serious harm to people if found in drinking water, water used in cooking and irrigation of food products (WHO, 2014). People are at risk from developing skin lesions, cancer or other harmful medical conditions if they are repeatedly exposed to arsenic within water. Arsenic is also used in factories as an alloying agent for producing a wide range of different products from textiles to glass. Almost 20 million Chinese residents live in areas that are at high risk of their water supply becoming contaminated by arsenic (Mohamed, 2013). Arsenic contamination is becoming so common and widespread that the Chinese government have flagged it as being one of the country’s “most important endemic diseases” (Mohamed, 2013). A recent study in China has shown that 14.7 million people are at risk from arsenic contamination with levels higher than those considered safe by the World Health organisation, 6 million of these people are thought to be at risk of water being contaminated by levels which are 5 times higher than World Health Organisation’s recommended safe level (Mogamed, 2013). The Ministry of Health reports that increased pollution in water has made cancer China’s leading cause of death.

The term ‘Cancer Villages’ emerged a few years ago after Chinese journalists came across reports and other forms of evidence of peculiarly high rates of cancer in industry dominated villages in China (McKenzie, 2013). Scientists are convinced that the high cancer rates in these cities are caused by factories dumping their wastewater into the rivers which many people rely on for different purposes including drinking and farming.  New cases of cancer villages seem to emerge monthly linked with the fact that cancer rates has sharply risen by 80% in China in the last 30 years. In 2007, one in five people were killed from cancer in China (Watts, 2010). The carcinogenic pollution has become so bad that Chinese farmers are now twice as likely to die from stomach cancer and four times more likely to die from liver cancer when compared to the global average (Watts, 2010). In 2010, journalist Deng Fei created a Google map image of over 100 cancer cities in China, illustrating how the cities are all concentrated on the East of China, all fairly near to the coast (as pictured below). However, since then the number of cancer cities has drastically increased. Non-Governmental Organisations and Chinese academics estimate that there are now approximately 459 cancer cities in china (Kaiman, 2013). Residents of cancer villages are certain that before factories were built there was no cancer. However, it is very difficult to find an actual link between a certain chemical being released from certain factories that is entering the water system and is causing a certain type of cancer. Therefore, it may take years before pure evidence is found that a certain chemical from industrial wastewater is causing cancer. Officials say that it is hard to tell whether it is chemicals from factories that are causing cancer because the workers do not have an unusually high rate of disease. Lee Liu of the university of Central Missouri says “China appears to have produced more cancer clusters in a few decades than the rest of the world ever had” (Watts, 2010).

On the other hand, some experts insist that Chinese farms cause more pollution than factories. China has become the world’s largest consumer of pesticides following increasing industrialisation. It now uses approximately 1.67 million tonnes of pesticides annually (Sun, 2012). The long-term application of pesticides has caused a contamination of ground water, surface water, farm products and soil (Sun, 2012). The contaminated water is often used to irrigate crops. Therefore the crops can also become contaminated, and some farmers themselves admit that they would not eat the crops they are selling because of how contaminated they could be. For this reason, many farms are becoming withdrawn to stop contaminated food from being sold. This could further increase the food insecurity which is already a huge problem in China.

The Chinese government are considering various different rules and alternatives to help improve the water quality and provide more safe water for its large population. The government of Beijing has promised to improve sewage disposal which will minimise the amount of sewage that is being dumped in fresh water systems. One of the alternatives being considered is the desalination of salt water. However, there are a few set backs of this idea including the fact that desalination requires a large amount of energy and is a costly process. It is also argued that desalination will not encourage people to conserve water but will do the opposite as people will assume that there is more water available than there was before. Furthermore, farmers will be educated and trained on how to use fertilisers properly in order to reduce the amount of contaminated agricultural runoff.


Word Count: 987


C, Elizabeth. (2013) ‘China’s Water Pollution Crisis‘. The Diplomat [Online] 22/01. Available at [Accessed 16/03/14].

Iberlekamp. (2013) ‘China to Act on Massive Contamination of Water Supply‘. EcoNews [Online] 08/07. Available at [Accessed 16/03/14].

Li, J. (2013) ‘China gears up to tackle tainted water’ Nature [Online] 499, (1) 14-15. Available at [Accessed 16/03/14]

World Health Organisation (2014) Arsenic [Online] Available at [Accessed 16/03/14]

Mohamed, H. (2013) ‘Millions face arsenic contamination risk in China, study finds‘. The Guardian [Online] 22/08. Available at [Accessed 16/03/14].

McKenzie, D. (2013) ‘In China, ‘cancer villages’ a reality of life‘. CNN [Online] 29/05. Available at [Accessed 16/03/14].

Expectations for China’s Middle classes

16 Mar

Global companies are beginning to focus on the tremendous volume of China’s middle classes, those of which have expendable income for commodity driven markets. It is expected during the next 20 years that China’s wealthy urban coast will possess large spending power as spending will generally evolve from conservative saving habits to relaxed spending and consumption. This anticipated growth within the middle classes juxtaposes against former strategies that catered for upper middle classes and elites (Farrell et al. 2006). Many scholars have researched China’s obsession with foreign designer goods, a facet that allows global brands to enter the Chinese market swiftly and successfully.


The spending power is emphasised in exhibit 1 (Farrell et al. 2006), as millions of Chinese leave poverty and climb the income ladder in urban metropolises. It is expected that the middle classes will account for the largest consumer market in the world, spending 20 trillion renminbi by 2025 (Farrell et al. 2006).

Some examples of China’s large rise in expendable growth are evident in car sales of 13 million in 2009 (Kharas, 2010) and its 700 million cell phone subscriptions  (Lau and Menn, 2009). However, the Chinese middle class although big, still only accounts for 12 percent of the population.  Meaning China has become reliant on investments for its growth rather than home grown consumption.






-Farrell, D., Gersch, U. A., & Stephenson, E. (2006). The value of China’s emerging middle class. McKinsey Quarterly2(I), 60.

-Kharas, H. (2010). the emerging middle class in developing countries (pp. 7-8). paris: oecd development centre.

– Lau, J. and J. Menn (2009), “Apple to launch iPhone in China”. Financial Times, 31 August 2009

China: The victor in the Crimean crisis

14 Mar


China have taken the stance to support their allies Russia in the crisis that has hit the Ukraine in recent weeks. Following the Russian takeover of the Crimea, the Chinese have taken a firm position and continue to assert that “there is a good reason for why events in Ukraine have progressed to where they are today” (Reuters, 2014). China are therefore maintaining their non-interventionist policy, and it would appear that the Chinese could benefit from this conflict.

One reason being that this could end “up pushing Russia and China much closer together” (Dyer, 2014). This has been in the pipeline for a while and relations are ever improving. However, the two are “also getting close to an agreement on a major gas pipeline” (Dyer, 2014). Russia will like to see this deal happening as soon as possible, and this is something that Putin is pushing for. The Financial Times stated that “Putin wants to send a message to the EU, which continues to challenge Gazprom’s business model, and to the US regarding the strength of strategic cooperation between Russia and China” (Palti-Guzman, 2014).

A further way in which China will benefit is because of the crisis in the Ukraine, Obama’s Asian focus is now going to have to shift back to Europe. This will mean that China’s influence can once again grow in the region, and for the meantime, it means that the eyes of the White House will shift to the troubles in Europe.


The Dragon and the Elephant: Comparing the rise of two emerging superpowers based on their modern histories, and their political systems

14 Mar


India, following years of British colonial rule, gained independence in 1947 and in turn ‘became the world’s largest democracy’ (Calvocoressi, 1982, p. 274). However, India did not open its economy fully until after the macro-economic crisis in 1991. Although India always had a large private sector, this wasn’t fully taken advantage of until after these reforms. Since the 1991 economic reforms, although successful in part, India has had ‘relatively modest growth, and is falling behind on many fronts relative to the Chinese performance indicators’ (Basu, 2009, p. 58). World Bank data shows that India’s annual average GDP growth between 2004-2012 was 7.63%, whereas China’s was 10.51%, further supporting this point.

China’s, on the other hand, is the exact reverse. Following the victory of Mao Zedong, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1949, China is a ‘large but stable, centrally run state, and has been through its history’ (Desai, 2003, p. 3). China, to this day, continues to be ruled under this system, and the economy has flourished under it. China was a closed, centrally planned, non-market economy until 1978 when, under the reforms of Deng Xiaoping, it opened its economy and its economic rise began. ‘China reformed earlier and much more aggressively’ than India (Bloom et al., 2006, p. 5) and its economic performance has been extraordinary. China’s growth miracle has been achieved by the relaxation of some of the party’s controls, and statistics support this. ‘In 2010, its economy was 47 times larger than it was in 1980’ (Ford, 2011, p. 2).

Linking in with the two countries’ emergence is the comparison between their political systems. As noted previously, governance in India is undertaken democratically. However, China is still ruled under a single-party system, of which Communism is at the helm. Although democracy has been widely promoted in the West in the 20th century, it is evident that this is a contributing factor to India’s slower growth rate compared to China because decision-making is so difficult whereas in China, leadership diktat sets a direction brooking no opposition. Many scholars agree with this notion. Bardhan (2006, p. 14) is one who has said that often reforms can put India ‘two steps forward and one step backward’ simply because of the struggle it is to get reforms passed. Smith (2007, p. 172) is another who describes India’s system of rule as ‘a bustling, messy, sometimes near-anarchic democracy’. The advantages given to China are that ‘they are a fast-acting government implementing new policies’ where bureaucratic constraints are not an issue, therefore speeding up the capability to grow (Soil, 2011, p. 3).

This consequently means that ‘when the leadership … wants something done it gets done, from grandiose infrastructure projects downwards’ (Smith, 2007, p. 172). Contrastingly, India struggles to implement policy reforms, and the ability to speedily build up infrastructure is a real constraint. A number of scholars have been critical of India’s processes. Comments include that ‘India’s political system appears sluggish’ (Soil, 2011, p. 3). Other suggestions include ‘when India’s political leaders want something done they hope and pray it will happen’ (Smith, 2007, p. 172). Supporting this idea, the benefit of having an authoritarian, single-party government like China, means that plans can be made long in to the future without the worry of getting voted out of power. This is key in India, given it faces a regular electoral cycle, the next elections being May 2014 Hence there is a potentially a new direction for the country after each poll, whereas China is better aware of what its future aspirations are, and working to achieve them with a greater sense of purpose. Desai (2003, p. 17) states that ‘for India, any hope of growing faster depends on less government rather than more’. So the contrast shows that sometimes democracy is less effective than authoritarianism, because achieving an agreed strategy and general consensus can be problematic, which is not to say that China’ approach is intellectually better. However, it is economically more effective, at present anyway.


Bardhan, P., (2006) ‘Awakening Giants, Feet of Clay: A Comparative Assessment of the Rise of China and India’, Journal of South Asian Development, 1(1), pp. 1-17.

Basu, S., (2009) ‘Comparing China and India: Is the dividend of economic reforms polarised?’, The European Journal of Comparative Economics, 6(1), pp. 57-99.

Bloom D., Canning D., Hu L., Liu Y., Mahal A., Yip W., (2006) ‘Why Has China’s Economy Taken Off Faster than India’s?’, Harvard School of Public Health, (), pp. 1-39.

Calvocoressi P., (1982) World politics since 1945, 4th edn., London and New York: Longman.

Desai M., (2003) India and China: An Essay In Comparative Political Economy, Delhi: IMF.

Ford B., (2011) China vs. India: Differences, similarities and prospects, Singapore: Australian Government.

School of Inspired Leadership (2011) India and China: An Economy Comparison, : School of Inspired Leadership.

Smith D., (2007) The Dragon and the Elephant: China, India and the New World Order, London: Profile Books Ltd.

The impacts of China’s One Child Policy

14 Mar

The One Child Policy is seen as being one of the most significant social policies ever implemented in China. The policy, put into place in 1979, limited couples to only having one child and was in response to China’s extremely rapid population growth, which was perceived as a threat to the country’s future economic growth and living standards of the people (Festini & de Martino, 2004). At the time of being implemented, China’s population was around 970 million (United Nations, 2013), and due to the fact that this figure was nearing one billion, it was the Chinese government’s goal to limit natural population growth as well as to keep the total population targeted at around 1.2 billion for the year 2000 (Hao, 1988). China’s total population was around 1.26 billion in 2000 (World Bank, 2014), so the goal was achieved, but perhaps was slightly higher than what the government was aiming for.

The One Child Policy consisted of a set of regulations including restrictions on family size, late marriage and childbearing, however the policy was not standardized across the whole country. It was more strictly enforced in urban rather than rural areas due to the fact that those living in urban areas have more economic and social stability, but those living in rural areas tend to rely on their children for support. If a couple had a girl as their first child, after five years it may be possible for the couple to have another child in the hope of having a boy (Hesketh & Xing, 2005). There were other exceptions made, for example if the first child has a disability, or if both parents work in high-risk occupations such as mining (Hesketh & Xing, 2005).

In order for the policy to be successfully implemented, the government introduced incentives so that the population would comply with the regulations. These incentives have mainly been economic, including taxes and fines for those who do not comply, but there have also been social incentives for those who do comply, for example having preferred access to housing, healthcare and education (Festini & de Martino, 2004).


There have been both positive and negative impacts associated with the introduction of the One Child Policy. It has been successful in preventing between 250 million and 300 million births (Festini & de Martino, 2004), as well as reducing the total fertility rate (TFR) from 2.7 children per woman in 1980 to 1.7 in 2011 (World Bank, 2014). This reduction in TFR has led to the reduction of the total population of China therefore avoiding a population explosion, maintaining economic growth and improving living standards. However, there are now concerns that the current TFR, which is below the replacement level of 2.1, may result in a very different demographic situation in the future. This low TFR may reduce to an even lower level, possibly leading to a population decline if it reaches ‘lowest low’ fertility (TFR of 1.3 or below). If this happens there will be a lack of people in the working age population and the prospect of an ageing population. This would affect the dependency ratio of the country and put immense pressure on the government to provide economic and social support to the elderly population.

One of the most significant effects of the One Child Policy has been regarding China’s sex ratio and the “missing girls” phenomenon. China has experienced a skewed sex ratio for a long time, before the One Child Policy was introduced, however this problem has been exacerbated since the introduction of the policy. Traditionally in China, having sons is preferred over having daughters. This son preference is especially present in rural areas due to the fact that sons are responsible for supporting family members once they have reached old age, because usually once a daughter is married she leaves the family home to join her husband’s home, therefore families rely on their sons to give them personal and financial support (Riley, 2004). This son preference has led to an increased skew in the sex ratio at birth. Before the policy was introduced in 1979, the sex ratio was 106 males per 100 females, slightly higher than the world sex ratio of 105 males per 100 females. However, by 1988 the sex ratio had increased to 111 males per 100 females and by 2001 it was 117 males per 100 females (Kang & Wang, 2003). The extremely skewed sex ratio in China has led to the “missing girls” phenomenon, meaning millions of girls are ‘missing’ from China’s population registers. There are four main explanations for this: female infanticide, neglect or abandonment; underreporting of female births; adoption of female children; and sex-selective abortions (Riley, 2004). The main cause of the skewed sex ratio is most likely to be sex-selective abortions, which became more common as a result of the One Child Policy. Through the introduction of ultrasound B machines in the early 1980s (Riley, 2004), Chinese couples were able to illegally find out the sex of their child and then could carry out an abortion if their first child was a female, making it possible for them to try to have a son.


Recently, there have been plans by the Chinese government to relax the One Child Policy – if one member of a couple is an only child, the couple will be allowed to have two children (Kaiman, 2013). However, there is debate whether this will create a population boom within China. The economic burden of having a child has deterred many couples from having a second child, therefore this relaxation of the policy may not have an effect on the population growth of China. On the other hand, many couples from rural areas will be more likely to have a second child if they are eligible to do this, as they rely more on their children to support the family. There could even be a possibility of the One Child Policy being discontinued by 2020 (Kaiman, 2014), but this will depend on future demographic trends and if the government is willing to give up one of the biggest policies ever introduced in China.


Word count – 1020




Festini, F. and de Martino, M. (2004) Twenty five years of the one child family policy in China. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 58: 358-360.


Hao, Y. (1988) China’s 1.2 billion target for the year 2000: ‘Within’ or ‘Beyond’? The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, 19/20: 165-183.


Hesketh, T. and Xing, Z.W. (2005) The effect of China’s one-child family policy after 25 years. The New England Journal of Medicine, 353 (11): 1171-1176.


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China Focuses on Jobs and Quality of Life

14 Mar

China’s growth engine continued to show signs of weakness on Thursday, underlining the tricky balancing act that Beijing faces as it tries to reform its economy.

Retail, manufacturing and investment all slowed in the beginning of the year, a situation that raises questions about China’s ability to achieve its growth targets. But China’s premier reiterated that the goals were flexible, as the government focuses on a host of economic issues.

Speaking at a news conference in Beijing on Thursday, Premier Li Keqiang said that job growth and quality-of-life issues like the battle to reduce air pollution took precedence over the headline growth figure. China needs to create 10 million jobs, he added. He also said that further bond defaults were inevitable, as China remakes its financial system and rules. But he added that the government would do its best to ensure that bad debt did not roil the broader system.

“We are not preoccupied” with the gross domestic product growth, said Mr. Li, whose comments came at the end of the annual meeting of the Chinese legislature, the National People’s Congress. “The G.D.P. growth we want is one that brings real benefits to our people, helps raise the quality and efficiency of economic development and contributes to energy conservation and environmental protection.”

Last week, Beijing set its goal for economic growth this year at 7.5 percent, a slight slowdown from the 7.7 percent achieved in 2013 and a big deceleration from the frequent double-digit growth rates of the last three decades. But it would generate the job growth needed to secure social stability, which is crucial for Chinese policy makers.

The data released Thursday suggested that the target might be hard to achieve. Industrial output, retail sales and investment in January and February all grew far less energetically than analysts had expected, according to figures released by the national statistics office.

For industrial output, the expansion of 8.6 percent for the two months, compared with the same period last year, was the weakest since April 2009. Retail sales growth, at 11.8 percent, was the weakest since early 2011. Investment in fixed assets rose 17.9 percent, the weakest pace in more than a decade. The January and February figures were grouped together to reduce distortions from the Lunar New Year holiday, which moves from year to year and can fall in either month.

To some extent, the slowdown in China’s growth is the result of deliberate engineering by policy makers. Beijing realizes that the economy must shift away from exports and heavy manufacturing, and toward consumption-led growth,.

At the same time, it is trying to rein in the sometimes-inefficient lending that has taken place during the last few years. Analysts widely welcome this approach, but it has also weighed on business activity by making it harder or more expensive for companies to obtain credit.

Many analysts now say they believe that the government may once again increase its efforts to prop up the economy — for example by removing some constraints on bank lending — if growth slows too much.

“If pressures on growth persist, we expect the government to look for ways to support growth, which would likely include easing up on the monetary stance,” Louis Kuijs, chief China economist at the Royal Bank of Scotland in Hong Kong, wrote in a research note.

Although Mr. Kuijs does not see risks of systemic problems or instability anytime soon, he said, “Financial markets would continue to remain anxious and nervous about financial risks in China, thus keeping financial asset prices subdued and sentiment bearish.”