Skeptics estimate that the Chinese may constitute half of the world’s population in 2057. The question is: Where will all the others have to go to if the estimates are correct?
A huge signboard put up in a Beijing street features a happy family flashing phony smiles. A father and a mother embrace each other while holding a plump baby with rosy cheeks. The red hieroglyphs read: “One family – one child! We shall fulfill the orders of the Party!” The comely father’s eye is stained with the mark of an egg that must have been hurled by somebody who is not so ready and willing to fulfill the Party’s orders…
“They pay $10,000 for the birth of a child? Let’s move to Russia!”
It seems that the Chinese authorities have tried everything in an attempt to curb population growth. The measures include a $3,000 tax on the birth of a second child (the amount equals a 2-year total in wages earned by an average Chinese worker); compulsory (though officially banned) sterilizations of thousands of women in rural areas; and free-of-charge abortions with complimentary food stamps for a week. But nothing really works. Despite the steps taken by the government to lower birth rate in the country, China’s population increased by 8 million people last year and totaled 1.3 billion people. The authorities are planning to utilize buses with three decks in the major cities since the existing double-deckers are in short supply. Compared to Shanghai’s underground railway, the Moscow metro in the rush hour looks like a desert. The transport officials in Shanghai already hired several “packers” (just like the Japanese did in Tokyo) whose job is to squeeze passengers tight into the metro cars so that the trains may be filled to capacity. “There’s a horrible future in store for us. In 50 years we’ll find ourselves in dire straits, the people will be crammed into this country like too many rice seeds stuck together in a lunch cup,” says an article published by The Shanghai Times.
“The point is that China has always been a very poor country,” said Jang Zeng, chief doctor at a maternity hospital in Harbin. “The Chinese tradition of having many offspring in a family stems from the matter of economics. The parents would hope to see at least one or two of their children make a career and thus provide a decent standard of living for them in the old age. So the steps taken by the government in order to break down the age-old tradition comes as a state of shock to the people. They’re afraid of living hand-to-mouth when they grow old. They simply brush aside the official explanations that have to do with a negative impact of overpopulation,” added the doctor.
The authorities in China’s rural areas take a much less complex approach. The majority of peasants have no means to pay $3 thousand in taxes for a second child, and therefore the authorities simply refuse to register children born into such families. As a result, the newborn do not exist on paper, they do not got to a kindergarten, school, and have no ID. The “ghost children” flock to the megalopolises after growing up. In most cases they work at construction sites without getting any pay, all they get is meals. Nobody has exact data concerning the number of the “illegal children” in today’s China. According to estimates published by the Japanese newspaper Asahi Simbun, there are about one hundred million unregistered people in China.
“Is it true that your president promised to pay $10,000 for the birth of a child? Then we’d better move to Russia ASAP and get the Russian citizenship!” Lots of Chinese I talked to share the above opinion. Having as many children as you wish while getting money from the state for your procreation activities seem completely improbable to the residents of a country that is heavily overpopulated.
Shady companies offering customers to get a “Russian passport” began to mushroom in Harbin. About 30 million people have left China over the last twenty years. There was a significant increase in the number of children born each year into the families of Chinese immigrants in Western Europe (e.g. Britain). The increase looks particularly noticeable against the backdrop of a sharp decrease in the birth rate in Europe and Russia. It is small wonder that the government officially supports the emigration from China.
“The whole world should pray that the Chinese Communists will stay in power,” said Dr. Jacob Wei at the University of Hong Kong. “The authorities have been able to gain some success in keeping a lid on population growth only by imposing restrictions and large fines on the people. At the moment 20% of the world’s population is the Chinese. The proportion could have been a lot higher. Take a look at India. India is a democracy, and the overall birth rate will be on the increase no matter how hard the government is trying to implement a nationwide “one family-one child” program. It isn’t hard to see the future since jobs are already scarce for today’s population of China. One family is invariably looking at another family’s newborn baby with hostility because the baby is a potential competitor for their own children. The Chinese have no alternative aside from moving to other counties where the birth rate is low,” Dr. Wei said.
Abortion is popular with women pregnant with girls
In the meantime, the Chinese newspapers keep speculating over the gloomy prospects of overpopulation. One of the articles printed by The Hong Kong Times point out that China’s male population began to grow alarmingly high and the government may have to take steps to “import” bribes. The problem springs from the Chinese mentality. In China, offspring of a male sex (always seen as future breadwinners) have been traditionally more valued than girls from time immemorial. That is why women in China’s urban areas often apply for abortion if an ultrasound test of the uterus reveals a female fetus at an early stage of pregnancy. The Party has recently adopted a program aimed at changing the attitude. The state-controlled TV started running propaganda films about the advantages of having a daughter who can grow into a beautiful model or popular actress and make loads of money for her parents. In other words, young families are encouraged to have daughters who would be capable of taking care of their parents as well as sons would.
“Some experts maintain that the world can’t but put up with a situation when half of Earth’s population will be probably Chinese by the year 2057,” said May Sujang, a researcher with the Hong Kong Center for International Relations. “There were five children in an average European family in the 1940s. The numbers were the same for China too. Things have changed 60 years later. The Europeans hardly have children at all. The strict governmental measures for birth rate control can freeze up the problem yet they are useless as a long-term solution. The number of “illegal” children will be growing anyway. The Chinese communities in foreign countries will grow larger as well. For example, the Chinese make up nearly a third of Malaysia’s population. It would be hardly surprising to see the number grow up to 70 percent in the future. Ethnic Chinese have already been elected mayors of the large cities in Australia and United States. They were also elected for parliament and other branches of power. I believe Russia will follow suit,” said May Sujang.
Not unlike the Russians, most Chinese rather dislike the millionaires, by and large. However, the Chinese have different reasons for forming this sort of attitude toward the moneybags. The rich in China pay a high tax that allows them to have as many children as they want to. Having a big family is a matter of prestige to the well-off Chinese. For example, a 30-year-old director of Beijing’s shopping mall Plaza has four children.
He regularly plays golf with a friend who has six offspring. “We expected to see the situation transform in a way it did in Japan and Europe. We hoped that people would be more interested in career-making and consumerism, and so postpone having children until they turn 35. As it turned out, there’s no way we can change the traditions. The more money people make, the more children they have. So far we try not to think about the future but the anticipated two billion people living in China would be a catastrophe,” a Party official sighed.
A 10-year-old schoolgirl starts up a conversation with me on one of the streets in central Beijing. The kids like to practice their spoken English as the country is getting ready to host the 2012 Olympics. “Where are you from? You’re a Russian, that’s great! My mom and dad told me that we will go to Russia where my mom will be able to bear me a brother and get lots of money,” said the girl. Resolving one’s problem at somebody else’s expense could be a cute move, and the Chinese seem to be good at this sort of tactics.
Translated by Guerman Grachev