Monday, January 31, 2005

Am I a crackpot?

The following line of thinking started off as a casual bar-room conversation with a cluey pom, and now the more I think it through (and add my own twist on things) the more it seems to ring true.

China has a massive demographic problem, one that it is only slowly realising. Since the introduction of the one-child policy in 1980, there has been a growing imbalance to the number of males to females who make it through infancy. Due to the partiarchal nature of Chinese society, families would generally rather their one child be a boy rather than a girl, in order to continue the family name, be more likely to find education and work etc. There are various ways to tip the balance in favour of a boy - diet around the time of conception, ultrasound followed by selective abortion, infanticide... The recorded male:female ratio is getting close to 120:100 in some cities. It is worth noting, though, that the one child policy has led to a high level of 'unreporting' of births (presumably more of females then of males) to avoid punishment of the parents from breaking the one-child law. Regardless, there is a ticking demographic timebomb, and something's gotta be done.

The one child policy started in 1980, which means that those born early in it's period are approaching the age of marriage and parenthood. Over the next couple of years, the problem will get worse and worse as more one-child-policy era babies grow up and are ready for kids of their own. Some quick arithmetic shows that even if every female was to marry (unlikely, of course, but let's presume) there would still be 1 in 6 males (that's males 101-120 over and above the 100 females) who were without a wife. In a country where the government has the answer to everything, just what is the answer to this connundrum.

Various options...
- Encourage 1 in 6 Chinese males to become gay. At 120,000,000, that's one hell of a Mardi Gras down Nanjing East Road in Shanghai. Next.
- Import a large number of single, marriagable women. Not really a practical option given that both China is not alone with the gender dilemma, and also the incredible overpopulation that led to the one-child policy in the first place. Keep trying.
- A massive population 'cull', targetting primarily males in their late-20s and below. Bingo?

As cruel and painful as it sounds, this is the most realistic option for the Chinese government to prevent having hundreds of millions of angry, militant, and possibly revolutionary young men on their hands. Of course, it would be unfathomable to have an overt, culling of the population. But what if it could be done covertly, passively, through inaction rather than action? Surely the world would have nothing to latch it's opposition on to?

Here's where the theory turns conspiratorial. Two significant causes of male death in this country are through mining accidents and smoking. In both cases, the deaths are frequent, the result of private rather than public actions, and easily preventable. Occupational health and safety standards in the coal mines of this country and appallingly bad, and surely even in povertry-stricken, bureaucracy-riddled China, if the will power was there to improve working standards, then there would be action on the mines. Alas, there is not and accident after accident continues. Ditto smoking, which is met with minimal public health campaigns, and is largely supported by the government who has an effective tobacco monopoly. Added bonus through all this is that males, and young males in the case of the mines, are almost exclusively the victims.

So with male population out of control and a socially and politically acceptable way to dispose of surplus population, is this yet another chapter in the social engineering that the Chinese seem to be so fond of?


Anonymous said...

sounds an interesting theory what facts can support it

Anonymous said...

Yes, you are a crackpot. Next thing you'll be saying is that what the Chinese Government REALLY wants is a bloody good war! That'll reduce the numbers of eligible males quick smart. N.

Anonymous said...

Hey, A...

Not sure if I agree with the premise. At least not yet... assuming you're right about the stats, I wouldn't have thought 1:6 would lead to a revolution just yet. Obviously not every male scores a root in countries with a 50:50 balance, so there has to be a LOT more too it.

But as to a method, the previous poster stole my thunder. A war would be the perfect way to redress the balance!

Actually, only joking... in fact it would probably exacerbate it. Truth is there hasn't been a war since WW1 where more military have died than civilians. Every war since then has seen dramatically more killed on the home front than on the front line... go figure!

Pete B

Anonymous said...

How about a "Logan's Run" type reality TV show with on-line betting as to who is last to fall.
The war sounds good too - how about one with the Middle East. Kill two(?!) birds with one stoning.
Peter S.

Wes Ulm said...

I agree that China's one child policy is stupid, counterproductive, and needlessly intrusive, but people tend to vastly overestimate its impact:

As you yourself astutely perceived, there is vast underreporting of births in China, especially of girls (who are often sent to relatives and neighbors when the bean counters pay a visit). Vaccine manufacturers routinely produce 25% more inoculum for a given village than would be the industry standard based on official figures, since they know that the published stats represent a massive undercount. (China's true current population is est. at 1.4-1.5 billion.)

In fact, the OCP has pretty much been a bust since it was introduced in 1979. Almost all of China's fertility drop since the 1960s occurred in the following decade, when voluntary family planning was introduced. There's actually been a slight *increase* in Chinese TFR since the OCP, as it distracted officials from more sensible social safety net provisions that are better at reducing birth rates. Also, remember that the OCP does not really apply at all to the vast rural regions where the majority of China's population resides; the fines are only worked in for city-dwellers who tend toward small families anyway, and even then, wealthy couples tend to have more children (and defray the fines) as a way to flaunt affluence. There are many other exceptions, e.g. for military members, top industrialists, and so on.

Returning to the gender imbalance issue-- there are more marriageable males than females, though not quite at the levels that official stats would suggest. As for "solving" that problem, although China has posted those appalling coal-mining accident numbers, the total number of deaths (in the thousands) is far too low to make a dent in the broader demographics, and in fact China's coal mines are in a similar state to those of the US in the late 1960s, when we ourselves were hit by all those nasty cave-ins and gas explosions heralded by the canaries. China has, in fact, been cracking down furiously on mine operators who screw up and endanger worker safety (throwing them into China's gulags in Inner Mongolia), and many mines have been shuttered altogether if shown to be unsafe. China's also been mounting a pretty massive anti-smoking campaign of late; they don't want to bear those health-care costs. So there's no real effort, conscious or not, to "cull" the numbers here.

The solution for the 9-10 million or so extra young men seems to be pretty old-fashioned: Importation. Millions of North Korean refugees have poured over the border, among them millions of women who've married otherwise single Chinese men on the plains. Many Chinese have also married Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, and Malaysian women, or found wives among the tens of millions of Chinese diaspora abroad. The gender imbalance issue is also sorting itself out as education spreads to the rural heartland and manual labor becomes less essential to people's livelihood, with both girls and boys being valued. So the problem is gradually solving itself. Although, in general, China would benefit from ditching the misbegotten OCP, ineffectual to begin with.

kristy said...

I know i'm a bit late to comment but better late than never right. The men also seem to be taking actions into their own hands by kidnapping women or rather girls.

see here:
and here: