Fam­ily plan­ning as a Mao con­cept

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT - LIANG ZHONG­TANG The au­thor is a de­mog­ra­pher with Shang­hai Academy of So­cial Sciences. This is an ex­cerpt from his in­ter­view with China Daily’s writer Zhang Zhoux­i­ang.

The fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy has been grab­bing head­lines since the Third Ple­nary Ses­sion of the 18th Com­mu­nist Party of China Cen­tral Com­mit­tee eased some of the pol­icy re­stric­tions. The fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy, in­tro­duced in the late 1970s, al­lowed most fam­i­lies to have only one child.

The pol­icy was im­ple­mented af­ter Chair­man Mao Ze­dong’s era, but in fact Mao came up with the idea of fam­ily plan­ning way back in the 1950s. And al­though he didn’t im­ple­ment a fam­ily plan­ning pol­icy, it would be per­ti­nent to look into that chap­ter of his­tory now that the pol­icy is be­ing eased

In Au­gust 1949, when the CPC was on the verge of at­tain­ing vic­tory in the civil war, sig­ni­fy­ing the “fail­ure” of the US pol­icy to­ward China, Wash­ing­ton pub­lished a pa­per, “United States Re­la­tions with China with Spe­cial Ref­er­ence to the Pe­riod 19441949” (or sim­ply “China white pa­per”). The pa­per said regimes were over­thrown in the past be­cause they could not feed China’s huge pop­u­la­tion, and con­cluded that the CPC would fall into the same trap. Mao wrote a series of ar­ti­cles in re­sponse to the “white pa­per” and then US sec­re­tary of state Dean Ach­e­son’s “let­ter of trans­mit­tal”.

In an es­say, “The bank­ruptcy of ide­al­ist con­cep­tion of his­tory”, Mao said it was not the huge pop­u­la­tion but the un­fair dis­tri­bu­tion of so­cial re­sources that forced the op­pressed peo­ple to re­volt.

In­stead of view­ing the peo­ple sim­ply as con­sumers (be­yond the eco­nomic sense), Mao also em­pha­sized their role as fac­tors of pro­duc­tion: “It is a very good thing that China has a big pop­u­la­tion. Even if China’s pop­u­la­tion mul­ti­plies many ties, she is fully ca­pa­ble of find­ing a so­lu­tion; the so­lu­tion is pro­duc­tion. The ab­surd ar­gu­ment of Western bour­geois econ­o­mists like Malthus that in­creases in food can­not keep pace with in­creases in pop­u­la­tion was not only thor­oughly re­futed in the­ory by Marx­ists long ago, but has also been com­pletely ex­ploded by the re­al­i­ties in the Soviet Union and the Lib­er­ated Ar­eas of China af­ter their rev­o­lu­tions.” The ar­ti­cle also has one of his fa­mous quotes: “Rev­o­lu­tion plus pro­duc­tion can solve the prob­lem of feed­ing the pop­u­la­tion”.

The short es­say re­veals Mao’s de­mo­graphic thoughts: it was the bad so­cial sys­tem — feu­dal­ism cou­pled with pil­lag­ing im­pe­ri­al­ism — that forced Chi­nese peo­ple into poverty. Mao and his fel­low lead­ers used this tenet to deal with the de­mo­graphic dif­fi­cul­ties, in­clud­ing pop­u­la­tion pres­sure.

Un­der the prin­ci­ple, birth con­trol, a by-prod­uct of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, was for­bid­den in the early 1950s. It was only in Au­gust 1956 that the Min­istry of Health is­sued a doc­u­ment lift­ing the ban on the sales of con­tra­cep­tives and le­gal­iz­ing the prac­tice of abor­tion af­ter the ur­ban youths com­plained against the ban on birth con­trol.

The eco­nomic suc­cess — es­pe­cially in in­dus­trial con­struc­tion — dur­ing this pe­riod strength­ened the de­ci­sion-mak­ers’ con­fi­dence in the planned econ­omy, and Mao’s idea of “fam­ily plan­ning”, or guid­ing pop­u­la­tion growth to fit the eco­nomic plan, grad­u­ally gained ground. At a top-level meet­ing in 1957, at­tended by more than 1,800 elites from all pro­fes­sions, Mao said: “No coun­try other than China has such a large pop­u­la­tion. China needs to ad­vo­cate birth con­trol ... and fam­ily plan­ning ... China has 600 mil­lion peo­ple … What if the pop­u­la­tion grows 10 times to reach 6 bil­lion? The govern­ment might need to es­tab­lish a depart­ment or com­mit­tee on fam­ily plan­ning.”

Ac­cord­ing to his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments, that was the emer­gence of the phrase “fam­ily plan­ning” in China. Mao’s fam­ily plan­ning pro­posal was part of his de­mo­graphic out­line for the planned econ­omy. In other words, pop­u­la­tion growth, like eco­nomic growth, can be planned sci­en­tif­i­cally to best serve the coun­try’s pro­duc­tion needs and for ex­ploita­tion of re­sources.

Mao had enough rea­son to be con­fi­dent. From 1950 to 1957, China’s so­cial gross out­put had in­creased from 68.3 bil­lion yuan to 160.6 bil­lion yuan and per capita in­come had grown by 10.5 per­cent a year, both “un­prece­dented” achieve­ments.

But the eco­nomic achieve­ments made Mao overop­ti­mistic about the po­ten­tial of a larger pop­u­la­tion cre­at­ing mir­a­cles. In a let­ter, dated April 15, 1958, Mao wrote that China could “catch up with the UK within 15 years and the US within 20 years”. A sim­i­lar sen­tence was in­cluded in the CPC’s eco­nomic plan a month later, thus start­ing the “Great Leap For­ward”.

Af­ter 1958, Mao deleted the sen­tences on fam­ily plan­ning from all his pub­li­ca­tions and no longer talked openly about the idea. The idea to es­tab­lish a na­tional agency on fam­ily plan­ning, ini­ti­ated by Mao, was thus aban­doned by Mao him­self.

But a so­ci­ety can de­velop only grad­u­ally. Mao planned to achieve faster eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in the same way that wars are fought — by mo­bi­liz­ing the peo­ple — which was not the right way. Marx said a so­ci­ety can’t skip or can­cel its nat­u­ral de­vel­op­ment stage. Mao’s “Great Leap For­ward” set up goals which were not achiev­able at the level of so­cial de­vel­op­ment at that time.

In the fol­low­ing years, China suf­fered se­ri­ous eco­nomic losses be­cause of the im­prac­ti­cal ob­jec­tives and un­re­al­is­tic means of pro­duc­tion. That was the re­sult of vi­o­lat­ing Marx’s ma­te­ri­al­ism and Mao’s own prag­matic “rev­o­lu­tion plus pro­duc­tion” the­ory.

Sev­eral con­clu­sions can be drawn from this. First, Mao was not a pro­fes­sional de­mog­ra­pher, but a great revo­lu­tion­ary, thinker and states­man who de­voted his life to seek­ing ways to solve China’s so­cial prob­lems and con­tra­dic­tions. His “de­mo­graphic the­ory” is part of the over­all Mao Ze­dong Thought, aimed at find­ing a way to lib­er­ate the Chi­nese peo­ple, boost the coun­try’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and achieve in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion. Mao Ze­dong Thought is a com­bi­na­tion of Marx­ism and Chi­nese revo­lu­tion­ary prac­tices. So it’s not cor­rect to re­view Mao’s de­mo­graphic think­ing with­out con­sid­er­ing the spe­cial his­tor­i­cal back­ground or to sep­a­rate his de­mo­graphic think­ing from Mao Ze­dong Thought as a whole.

Sec­ond, any de­mo­graphic the­ory must first an­swer the ques­tion: What causes pop­u­la­tion pres­sure? Most schol­ars un­til then had at­trib­uted it to rapid pop­u­la­tion growth, but as a firm be­liever in Marx’s his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­al­ism, Mao was con­vinced that peo­ple are both con­sump­tion force and pro­duc­tion force. It was this “peo­ple-ori­ented” think­ing that had helped Mao and his fel­low lead­ers to es­tab­lish the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic and unite peo­ple to strive to build a pros­per­ous na­tion.

Third, Mao rightly judged a large pop­u­la­tion’s po­ten­tial role in eco­nomic con­struc­tion, but he over­es­ti­mated that po­ten­tial and made im­prac­ti­cal plans for China’s de­vel­op­ment. He launched the “Great Leap For­ward” and the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (196676) in the il­lu­sory hope that mass move­ments would solve all the prob­lems, in­clud­ing those of the eco­nomic kind. By do­ing so he be­trayed his own “de­mo­graphic the­ory” and caused great set­backs in China’s eco­nomic con­struc­tion and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.