Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Family planning as a Mao concept

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

According to historical documents, that was the emergence of the phrase "family planning" in China.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 over-optimistic 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 over-estimated that potential and made impractical plans for China's development. He launched the "Great Leap Forward" and the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) 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.

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.

(China Daily 12/26/2013 page9)

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