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High Time for Adjustment of the Family Planning Policy

May 28, 2011
  • Hu Angang

    Director, Tsinghua National Research Center

According to data from the Sixth Census, China has a population of 1.34 billion on its mainland (excluding Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan). Since I myself is an expert on the drafting of the 11th Five-Year Plan, and have taken part in the drafting on both the 11th Five-Year Plan and the 12th Five-Year Plan, I’ve done some research on this subject. If the data from the census are accurate, there must have some big errors in our population policy now in force. In the 11th Five-Year Plan, we’ve targeted our total population at 1.36 billion. The actual figure found in the latest census, however, is 20.28 million smaller. It is 1.28 million less even if calculated against the 1.341 billion target set in the 12th Five-Year Plan. Thanks to the census, which has revealed the precise size of our population, we are now much surer about what population policies as well as social and economic policies to be made in the future.

The Sixth Census has also revealed that the level of education received by our people has gone up remarkably, with the number of people receiving higher education expanding much faster than the growth of the population as a whole, a trend that has never been seen in human history. On average, our people now get education for nine years, compared to about just one year found in the Third Census in 1982. The process of modernization, in final analysis, is a process of modernization of people, which hinges mainly on the improvement of human capital. As found in the census, there has occurred an apparent trend of human capital concentration, with some cities growing into metropolises of talents, especially Beijing and Shanghai.

Viewed from the market demand boosted by population growth, change in family formation, and advancement of urbanization, China has entered the stage of urbanization in a scale never seen in human history and the process of formation of central families. In 2000, each Chinese family had 3.44 members. By 2010, the average dropped to 3.10, driving up the total number of Chinese families from 368 million to 401.5 million. This has ignited the explosion of market demand for housing. Although the national average stands at 3.10, that in cities has fallen below 3.0, greatly spurring market demand for housing in urban areas. In 2010, for instance, China completed residences totalling 1 billion square meters, almost tripling the biggest figure ever recorded in the United States and 10 times that in Japan and turning China into the biggest housing market in the world.

As for the flow of the population, the number of people living away from their registered residency for more than half a year stood at 261.39 million in 2010, as found in the Sixth census, 117 million or 81.03 per cent up from the figure in 2000. This has signified the largest-scale revolution of economic freedom, giving our people greater freedom in their option for residency, occupation and education.

Viewed from its trend of dynamic development, the Chinese population has transitted from its traditional binary formation to a quaternary one as we see today, when it has come to be composed of people engaged in official and non-official economic activities in the urban areas and those keeping to traditional farming or taking up non-agricultural businesses in the rural areas. This is a unique landscape characterizing China’s course of industrialization and urbanization. China differs both from developed countries in terms of its road toward industrialization, urbanization and modernization, and from other major developing coutnries that have seen their population moving from a binary or ternary formation to a unitary one. With such a unique economic and social formation, China will surely experience a development as just unique. As can be expected, China will move toward the basic direction of economic and social integration, convergence and modernization with no longer any demarcation of its popualtion by residency or occupation.

The latest census has also re-mapped the population geography in the Chinese economy. As has been found from its changing population geography, China’s urbanization drive has been designed not only to erase the division of its population into urban and rural residents, but also to spur the areal distribution of its population as a whole, as evidenced by the continuous flow of its population into well-developed coastal areas in the east. In areas with a fairly big population and a comparatively underdeveloped economy, in particular, the number of people seeking jobs in cities far beyond their provincial borders has kept growing, leading to steep population growth in some provinces such as those in the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta, and in some best developed cities such as Beijing.

As has been revealed in the data from the Sixth Census, China will soon meet with challenges in terms of population development, seeing its number of newborns dropping while that of the aged growing. Already, its number of children aged 0-14 counted merely 16.6 per cent of its total population in 2010, a figure noticeably smaller than the figure recorded 10 years ago. This number will continue to fall in the future. Its number of the aged, meanwhile, hit 177 million in the year, and will grow to more than 200 million before 2015.

In other words, China will suffer a constant drop in the number of newborns and continuous growth of the number of the aged. To regulate the aging of its population, China needs to adjust its family planning policy now in force, thus preventing the imbalance of its population composition and alleviating the aggravation of its social burdens.

China has maintained its economic growth as an annual rate as big as 9.9 per cent for more than 30 years. Apart from its implementation of the policy of reform and opening-up, demographic dividend has played a major role. What lies ahead for China, however, is the dribbling away of its demographic dividend, and the rolling up of its demographic deficit. As the situation stands, it is high time for China to take some action so as to alleviate the population burdens of its coming generations.

Family planning is a fundamental national policy China has been implementing up to date. It is right, of course, to stick to this policy without any diversion. When it comes to specify detailed targets and prescribe concrete measures for implementation of the family planning policy, however, the changed situation should be taken into consideration, different cases should be dealt with differently, and specific contents should be tailored for different stages of development. Any other attempt would be dogmatic.

In its open letter sent in 1980 to all party and youth league members concerning control of population growth, the Party Central Committee made the far-sighted point that ‘30 years later, China will see some alleviation of the stinging strain it is now suffering from population growth, and follow different population policies accordingly.’ The message in the data from the Sixth Census tells us that it is high time to adjust our specific family planning policies now.

Hu Angang is director of the Tsinghua National Research Center.

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