Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Family planning as a Mao concept

By Liang Zhongtang (China Daily) Updated: 2013-12-26 07:37

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 1944-1949" (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."

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