In case you missed it, the WSJ had an interesting item recently on China’s continuing enforcement of their one-child policy. It seems that many Chinese elite have been flouting it and the government has cracked down, revoking the scofflaws’ Communist Party membership. Don’t be dazzled by the pre-Olympic hoopla; this is modern China:

“More party members, celebrities and well-off people are violating the policies in recent years, which has undermined social equality,” Yang Youwang, director of the Hubei family-planning commission, told the official Xinhua news agency, which reported the penalty yesterday.

Officials in Hubei province found that 93,084 people, including 1,678 officials or party members, had additional children, in violation of the policy, according to the Xinhua report. As China’s economy booms and incomes surge, especially in urban areas, the Communist leadership has become concerned that special treatment of the rich and powerful could aggravate mounting social tensions and shake its grip on power . . . .

“There is a concern on the part of [the government] that things are out of control, that rich people and powerful people are violating this: The rich people, they just pay the fines [for breaking the rule] and get away with it,” says Kate Zhou, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii who has studied the policy.

Prof. Zhou found through her research that for those who can’t afford the fines, the government may still force women to undergo sterilization surgery in addition to confiscating whatever assets they can. “They take your pigs, your water buffalo. They take everything so you have nothing,” she says.

Reports still surface of family-planning officials, who are often under intense government pressure to ensure that births in their districts don’t exceed certain quotas, forcing women to have abortions.

Without discussing the morality of the one-child rule, it’s worth reflecting on the enormity of its consequences. Nothing on this scale has been attempted in human history and the societal effects of eliminating the extended family—overnight—are likely to be bigger and more far-reaching than we can imagine.

Consider: A relatively traditional society that, in the course of 40 years, completely atomizes the individual by fiat. There are, literally, no brothers or sisters, no aunts or uncles. People will forget what those relationships even mean. The population, after expanding for hundreds of years, will collapse in size. Each worker will be forced to support two pensioners. The one-child policy is the great under-reported story of our time.

For those interested in getting their arms around the subject, Nick Eberstadt’s 2004 essay “Power and Population in Asia” is an excellent start.

Articles by Jonathan V. Last

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