Non-prolific sex please, we’re Chinese
Greetings, my friends,
It has recently been reported that China has now surpassed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy – and yet it is still ranked below one hundredth for its per capita income , placing it upon a par with such impoverished nations as Albania and Angola. Were money to be adopted as the measure of happiness, China might be the world’s second happiest country; but this characterisation of ’world’s second happiest’ demonstrably does not find its reflection in the lives of most individual Chinese citizens. One reason for so stark a contrast is that China has the world’s largest population, burdened with one fifth of global inhabitants. Even this population, prodigiously immense though it be, exists, it may be observed, notwithstanding over thirty years’ practice of family planning policy, of which the end in view has been to decelerate population growth, by the advocacy of the postponement of marriage and childbearing, and by rendering rewards to couples who have no more than one child. It is highly probable that, without family planning, China’s per capita income would have been much lower. The policy, in a nutshell, has helped avert pains which otherwise would have been the lot of many Chinese.
The greatest happiness principle has ever been my lodestar. By happiness, I mean the pleasure of sentient beings. What concerns me is the living being who experiences pleasure and pain. A growth in population is desirable only if the amount of happiness is encreased, while any such encrease will be the concomitant of economic development. A quantum of capital being given, population and wealth are inversely related to one another: the more people there are, the poorer they will be; the fewer, the richer. Scientific and technological revolutions may moderate, but can never eliminate, this tension. Insofar as the earth should prove incapable of sustaining its population, the policy of arresting, instead of encreasing, population would not simply be practically necessary but in compleat accord with the dictates of both prudence and benevolence.
The German philosopher Hegel once said, ‘China is an exception to each and every exception. Logic does not apply to it’; and yet thirty years ago exceptional and illogical China embraced a perfectly rational policy of family planning (though some have thought this an inexpressive appellative), when the rulers recognized the tremendous pressure arising from the rapid expansion of population within their domain. Owing to the opposition of my fellow auto-icon, Chairman Mao, family planning policy had a vicissitudinous history, from its inchoate beginnings in the 1950s to its formal introduction as an institution at the end of 1970s. Finally, however, in the Constitution in 1982, it was stipulated that ‘the state promotes family planning, so that population growth may be harmonized with the plans for economic and social development’ (Article 25); and that ‘Both husband and wife have the duty to practise family planning’ (Article 49). The Population and Family Planning Act, adopted in 2001, provides that ‘the state encourages late marriage and childbearing, and advocates that one couple should have only one child’ (Article 18). The fertility rate in China has fallen from over 5 births per woman in the early 1970s to approximately 1.8 births in 2008: had it not been for this fall, there would have been 300 million more Chinese in the world today.
It may be maintained beyond peradventure that family planning has obviated the deep misery that Chinese labourers would otherwise have suffered. Today, every body in the world is able to enjoy cheap products ‘made in China’ by low-wage Chinese workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the Anglo-American United States, the average manufacturing labour cost in China in 2002 was 64 cents per hour, whereas in America it was $21.11. Thousands of Chinese still work in the brick kilns or coal pits, in miserable conditions. No one can deny that the low wages and rebarbative working environments are, in part, the result of the multitude of hands, compared with the quantity of employment calling for them. If the quantity of capital remains the same, or if capital grows more slowly than population, the more children you produce, the greater the number of job-seeking hands you produce; the more hands, the greater the competition, and the lower the wages; because the work for each is less, and because, in order to supplant one another, they are willing to take less. There are, however, grounds for anticipating significant improvements. At present, the number of young adults in China is dwindling. More and more employers are complaining of difficulties in finding and keeping young workers. Agitation for encreases in pay and for the amelioration of working conditions occurs with increasing frequency. Young people in factories are becoming harder and harder to please. The BLS shows that hourly manufacturing costs rose from 64 cents in 2002 to $1.36 in 2008. This upward trend will surely continue in the future. If the additional 300 million people had not been prevented, by family planning, from coming into existence, this improvement would never have eventuated, or, at the very least, would have been postponed by decades.
Perplexingly and astonishingly, this expedient, just, and pioneering policy is demonized by some politicians as ‘an ongoing genocide’. They think that family planning ‘denies Chinese women their most basic of human rights: the right to decide their reproductive futures’, and even declare that ‘the freedom to give birth is the most fundamental of human rights’. I concede without demur that, in the process of administering the policy, much mischief has been caused by the crude and illegal measures of certain local officials. I freely admit that, after thirty years’ practice, the policy badly needs comprehensive reform. Salvo these infelicities, I enthusiastically endorse the principle of family planning. The rhetorical wrapping of the argument in the discourse of human rights is to put sound above sense. It is signally to ignore the real encrease in happiness that family planning has brought to Chinese workers. Such discourse – consisting in the bare assertion of non-existent human rights – is the mystical and nonsensical effusion of self-aggrandizing ipse-dixitists. It is, in a word, nonsense upon stilts. If there were such rights, they could be rights only to famine.
Finally, I might hazard a word of advice. I learn that the number of homosexuals in mainland China is estimated to be around 60 million. Homosexuality between consenting adults is a harmless practice, which produces no children. And so, I say to the rulers of China, why not stipulate in your Constitution that, just as with family planning, ‘the state advocates, encourages, and promotes homosexuality and other forms of non-prolific sex’?
Your ever laborious and devoted servant,