Anyone who has been scanning the news sections of the world press over the past few months must have come across headlines proclaiming Peking's “revived birth control bid” and the “renewal of the birth control campaign in Communist China.” The implication, as suggested by most of the articles, is that since China has suffered a series of grave agricultural reverses she is finally coming to her senses and again instituting controls over fertility. Has there recently been a change in the régime's attitude with respect to the population problem, and are the present measures likely to produce significant results in the rate of growth of China's population?
Let us briefly review some of China's population policies over the past ten years. The initial jubilation over the results of the 1953 census, showing a population of almost 600 million on the Chinese mainland, was gradually modified to concern over the economic and social implications of both the size and the rate of growth of this population. The official propaganda, however, never admitted the economic problems inherent in a rapidly growing population, and the birth control campaign which started slowly in late 1954 and 1955 stressed the health and educational advantages of having a small family. After the campaign reached its peak in the middle of 1957 and the early part of 1958, it began to lose its impetus; and by the autumn of that year it became obvious that Communist China had reversed its recently introduced policy of birth control, at the same time introducing the communes and the “great leap forward.” The new policy proclaimed a severe labour shortage and attacked all proponents of controlled fertility as Malthusians and rightists. The labour shortage, proclaimed in 1958 as an excuse for the reversal of the birth control policy, became a reality in 1959, when the overzealous cadres created an artificial labour crisis by conscripting millions of men into a variety of mass projects.