An Unnatural Disaster

The May earthquake in the Sichuan province has left parents and the elderly childless, forcing the world to take a new look at China’s sinister population control regime.

The earthquake in May that rocked the Sichuan province of China and caused an enormous humanitarian disaster there prompted some in the mainstream media to notice a massive human rights violation in that Communist country, one that they usually ignore: the Chinese government’s authoritarian population control policy.

This policy restricts many Chinese families to one child, with huge fines, loss of employment, and other punishments imposed on those who dare to have more. As noted by the Los Angeles Times and CNN, among others, a large proportion of the young who perished in shoddily constructed school buildings were only children, and their deaths leave their families with no other offspring to comfort them and consign many to indigence in old age, in a country where most of the rural elderly rely upon their children to support them.

This is just one of the latest and most localized disasters created or aggravated by the 40-year history of the global population control regime. Two recent books, each with its own emphases, trace the sinister record and cruel effects of this regime.

One of these books, which coincidentally came out shortly before the May 12 quake, is by Population Research Institute president Steven W. Mosher. He uses his 30 years of expertise in the population field to examine what population control has actually done to the world. [See Michael J. Miller’s interview with Mosher on page 32.] Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits is a guide to the enormous penalties that population control has imposed, causing devastation that has stretched from the black population of the United States to the lower caste poor of India.

Forced abortions and the sterilization of poor women, punishment for families with more than one or two children, and funding for contraception at the expense of antibiotics and other life saving measures have all been standard weapons in the arsenal of population controllers—especially in China, where most families are allowed only one child.

In the wake of public protests, local government officials in some areas of Sichuan, such as in the capital of Chengdu, have been forced to issue permits allowing couples whose only child died in the quake to have another child, assuming they are still young enough. For older couples, many of whom need children to support them in old age since China is still a poor country lacking social security programs, the government is promising $85 a year in support.

But the government, despite this exception, is not promising a change in policy. China’s one-child policy, first implemented in 1979, will live on. In fact, a few years ago, the government issued a report stating that if the Chinese people were left to their own devices, they would have too many children, and thus coercive population control measures must be maintained.


“The principal modification of the one-child policy occurred in the mid- to late-1980s when, in response to rising rates of female infanticide, the government relaxed the policy in the countryside for couples whose first child was a girl,” writes Mosher. “A quarter-century after the Chinese got deadly serious about family planning, the program continues to be carried out against the popular will by means of a variety of coercive measures. In presenting the program to foreigners, who can be squeamish about such things, Chinese family planning officials are careful to emphasize ‘voluntarism.’ In speaking to their own cadres, however, the only form of coercion ever condemned is the actual use of physical force—tying down pregnant women for abortions, for instance. But while force is frowned upon, it is rarely, if ever, punished.”

The mainstream media occasionally pick up on the use of violence by China’s population enforcers. For example, in September 2005, Time reported on the round-up of thousands of Chinese women in Linyi Province for forced abortions by overeager officials desperate to meet their birth limitation quotas. Heavy fines, loss of employment and health coverage, and demolition of homes are the more usual methods of enforcing birth limits.

But when China’s human rights abuses are catalogued by the media, the list is usually confined to the repression of political dissent, persecution of religious groups, and cultural genocide against minorities such as Tibetans. The massive, systematic abuses of real reproductive rights that oppress every family in China are rarely mentioned by journalists, academics, or politicians.

Mao Zedong, the vicious architect of Chinese Communism, used to promote large families among the Chinese, knowing that expanding populations are historically associated with expanding economies, social vitality, and power abroad. But the 1970s overpopulation hysteria reached as far as China, prompting the authorities there to flipflop and impose small families instead. In brutal Communist fashion, China simply outlawed having more than one child. Mosher was the first Western social scientist to document first-hand the Chinese government’s uncompromising population control efforts.

Communist China’s population control program is exceptionally blatant, even when compared to the systems of forced sterilization implemented in India, Peru, and other nations in past decades. Today, other countries attempt to avoid the more obvious human rights violations and even sidestep talking about population control directly— but not China.

Outside of the largest nation in the world, “population control” has become a disfavored phrase, replaced by the more empowering-sounding “reproductive rights” or “family planning,” but with the same end goal. As recently as the 1980s and even early 1990s, prominent government officials, international bureaucrats, and population control experts openly praised coercive methods of population control, celebrating when India opened forced sterilization camps and when China rounded up women by the thousands for visits to abortion clinics. Under President Nixon, the US government made population control—but not human rights or democracy—a precondition for receiving foreign aid.

But it’s become too politically incorrect, even for most liberals, to talk up forcible measures after the predictions of mass starvation and resource scarcity popularized by 1960s and 1970s overpopulation doomsayers did not materialize. Every once in a while, however, this attitude still comes out.

As reported by, Barry Gardiner, a member of Parliament for the ruling Labor Party, told the British House of Commons on June 9, “Climate change is real. It is caused by human action…. People are very keen to accuse China, as we have heard in this debate, over their coalfired power stations. Such people fail to commend the political initiative that has seen 400 million people not being born to create a carbon footprint in the first place.” Gardiner’s positive reference to China’s population control policy went unchallenged by other MPs.

To this day, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) continues to subsidize China’s population control program while claiming to oppose its human rights abuses. Population controllers have had a poor human rights record from the very beginning.

Another recent book on population control, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population by history professor Matthew Connelly of Columbia University, takes the movement to task for its many evils.

Before World War II, eugenicists concerned that inferior people and races were out-breeding superior ones often dominated population debates. After the defeat of Nazism, that argument was at first curiously unaffected, and eugenic sterilizations increased in many areas, even in parts of the United States. Georgia, North Carolina, Nebraska, and Iowa were particularly enthusiastic, and in 1950 Planned Parenthoodfounder Margaret Sanger was still calling for the sterilization of people with “dysgenic qualities of body and mind.”

Connelly notes that the population control movement coalesced in the 1950s into an alliance of eugenicists, women’s liberationists, environmentalists, economic growth proponents, and others who shared population limitation as a goal for a variety of underlying reasons. At first, most preferred voluntary methods, but many Third World people refused to adopt secular Western anti-family attitudes even when given contraception.

“By the end of the 1960s, the force of global population growth and the object of childbearing as a private choice finally collided,” writes Connelly. “[Population controller Kingsley Davis] pointed out that the ‘Knowledge-Attitude-Practice’ surveys that had been used to demonstrate ‘unmet need’ for birth control in places such as South Korea, Tunisia, India, and Indonesia showed that the average respondent still wanted at least four children. At this rate, even if family planning programs met all the unmet need, the world was still doomed to disastrous overpopulation…. [Even] establishment figures now began to debate whether family planning wouldever work, or whether instead they would have to resort to either outright compulsion or broader social changes, such as measures to ‘make children expensive,’ as one Ford [Foundation]- sponsored meeting suggested.”


Viewed in the light of the desire to reduce human populations, left-wing causes look very different. Reducing the number of people in the world has been a goal among many of the cultural elite since Thomas Malthus wrote in the late 18th century, and in the early 20th century, that goal became the dominant fashion. That fashion has not changed, and numerous other political and social causes have come in and out of vogue in the past 200-odd years to serve that unvarying goal. Social engineering efforts couched in other terms—promoting liberation or rectifying injustice, say—thus appear to serve another, overarching purpose.

“[I]n the context of debates about population control, promoting women’s access to education and paid work, changing how society valued childrearing, and accepting homosexuality and alternative lifestyles were considered indirect means to reshape fertility preferences,” Connelly writes.

Abortion, too, was not originally adopted as a way to expand women’s rights. “Some governments—such as the United States, Sweden, and Norway—began to promote abortion in poor countries before they provided or even permitted abortion at home…. Between 1967 and 1978, 42 countries made it easier to terminate pregnancies, such that by the end of the decade only 20 percent of the world’s population lived in places where it was still prohibited,” Connelly reports. “In several countries, such as India, South Korea, Tunisia, and China, a desire to reduce overall fertility had played a major role in the change.”

India went through a phase in which poor Indian women were forcibly sterilized, and to this day, they face sterilization and abortion pressure. Some Indian states deny health and education benefits to families with more than two children. In Mexico and Peru, poor women are routinely threatened with an end to treatment at the local government clinic—usually the only one around—unless they agree to sterilization after two or three children. The legacy of the push for massive forcible population control in the late 1960s and 1970s lingers.

The costs have not only been in the spiritual, psychological, and economic suffering of hundreds of millions of people who have been deprived of the children they wanted—and in many Third World countries, the children they needed because of the lack of programs for the old. Most of the world will soon suffer from a global aging crisis due to a decline of birthrates to below replacement level in region after region, as Mosher relates in Population Control and as even the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) now warns.


China’s total fertility rate, or average number of children per woman in her lifetime, is only 1.7, according to the UNPD. That is well below the minimal replacement rate of 2.1. This means that the Chinese people, who have undergone and are undergoing perhaps the most rapid social changes in the history of the world, are starting to undergo a rapid demographic change as well. In 2005, 8 percent of China’s population was 65 or older. By 2035, that proportion will be 20 percent. At the same time, those 15-24 years of age will go from 17 percent to 12 percent. And it only gets worse after that. This demographic winter could spell the end of China’s economic miracle, especially when one considers China’s other demographic problem: the lack of women.

Because sons are culturally preferred and often necessary for a couple’s survival in old age, population control has led to a dramatic and ever-increasing imbalance between the number of Chinese men and Chinese women. Between 20 and 30 million young Chinese men will not be able to marry Chinese women because those women were aborted in the womb or killed shortly after birth, and that number increases every day.

Eliminating a girl gives a Chinese couple another chance at having a boy without bringing the wrath of the government upon them. Since immigration into China is minimal and xenophobic attitudes prohibit intermarriage in any case, what will be the fate of Chinese society over time? Historically, a large number of unattached men in a society has led to instability, violence, and often war. In fact, the Chinese government still lays claim to large portions of territory belonging to other nations, such as Japan. Perhaps Chinese leaders see a future use for their ever expanding unattached male population.

Growing gender imbalances aren’t confined to China. Other Asian nations—from India to Taiwan—suffer from them, and they are worsening. Inexpensive ultrasounds, easy abortion, and the desire or perceived necessity for small families prompt Asian couples to have one or two children, and cultural and practical reasons dictate that boys be chosen over girls. Though sex selective abortion is illegal in China and India, each year the birth ratio worsens. In 2006, the United Nations Development Program estimated that as few as 850 girls are born in China for every 1,000 boys. In India, the number is 927 girls for every 1,000 boys.

A preference for sons alone cannot account for the growing imbalances. Muslim nations, which also tend to favor male offspring, show no such disproportionate birth ratios, since Islam frowns upon both abortion and infanticide. The sex ratio imbalances in Asian nations could easily lead to social discord or perhaps even national security threats in the near future.


Population control—or “reproductive rights”—has produced another national security problem. It is resented by large numbers of people worldwide, especially the traditional-minded. “It is not because women in the West have abortions and premarital sex that bin Laden and his pals attacked us. They were bent on violence in any case. But the promotion by the United States and other ‘modern democracies’ of abortion, divorce, adultery, and premarital sex in Muslim countries cannot help but generate sympathy and new recruits,” Mosher writes. “One can understand the resentment of even moderate Muslims when Western-funded population controllers come knocking at the doors of their houses, bearing their human pesticides and insisting that their wives be rendered sterile.”

Muslim imams are well aware that, with the exception of the United States, every developed Western and Westernized nation has a belowreplacement birthrate. They don’t intend for their people to commit suicide the way Westerners are.

Mosher’s book differs from Fatal Misconception in both its scope and its perspective. A China expert as well as a demography analyst, Mosher comes from a more thoroughly Christian, propopulation angle and considers population control to be an unmitigated social and economic disaster, whereas Columbia professor Connelly has a more secular, individualist bent. Though the books do overlap, Connelly’s is more a history of the population control movement, whereas Mosher’s goal is to delineate the effects of population control policies.

Connelly points out that facts do not deter population controllers from their beliefs or their courses of action. Historically, when the predictions of over-population theorists have failed to materialize, this has been interpreted as a mere delay of the inevitable. “If improved nutrition, sanitation, and education made people physically fitter and measurably smarter, eugenicists warned that this only masked the genetic deterioration that would manifest itself in generations to come,” Connelly says. “Though demographic projections consistently failed to anticipate change, new projections were still taken as irrefutable signs of inevitable doom.”


Now the world faces a baby bust. In every region of the world except sub- Saharan Africa, birthrates have nosedived and continue downward. Even Mexico’s birthrate is below replacement, according to some estimates, and will soon be much lower. Latin America’s as a whole is down to 2.4 and dropping fast, according to the UNPD. India’s has hit 2.8 and will be below replacement within 20 years.

If current trends continue, Islam could inherit the Earth since Muslim birthrates—though dropping—are well above those of Christians, Jews, and the Chinese, and Muslim immigration into Europe continues apace.

The UNPD, which likes to overestimate population growth and birthrates, predicts that the world’s birthrate will drop below replacement— that is, will enter suicidal territory— in only 30 years. What is the advantage of aging, shrinking populations and the accompanying anemia? Why, after so much cruel success, is population control still so popular among the elites of the world? Why have over 200 years of phony predictions of environmental disaster not demolished the overpopulation myth?

Perhaps spiritual forces are at work here. Perhaps Jonathan Rago outlined the real hidden motive in an article for the Wall Street Journal, published June 20, in which he discussed the new movie The Happening (emphases in original):

Few major studio releases are so thoroughly pro-death, so deeply anti-human. We have arrived at a strange moment in American pop culture when movie-goers spend two hours in the theater being informed that we all deserve to die…. Trees are releasing an airborne neurotoxin, as revenge against mankind for global warming, pollution, and nuclear power. The genocide, we are told, is condign punishment for our ecological crimes….

Environmentalism’s seam of misanthropy traces back to John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club in 1892, and probably to Thoreau. We’re just another species, the thinking goes, or would be had our iniquities not made us unworthy of a place in the ecosystem. The existence of Homo sapiens is an affliction and cause for profound shame…. A best-selling book last summer was The World Without Us, in which science journalist Alan Weisman gleefully imagined how nature would respond if man abruptly went extinct and how great it would be for the planet. The Happening merely takes this misanthropy to its logical extreme.


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