The age of little emperorsThere once was an economist who dared to argue with Mao Zedong. At the 1954 National People’s Congress, Peking University President Ma Yinchu warned that China would be faced with a crisis if it failed to control population growth.
In 1957, he published a paper titled “New Population Theory” in the People’s Daily and proposed a family planning policy. It was directly against Mao’s theory that population means power. In a socialist system, which pursues abolition of the capitalist class, labor is the most important means of value creation, and the number of workers, or population, is greater the better, according to Mao.
The Malthusianism principle, which states that uncontrolled population growth is exponential while the growth of the food supply is arithmetical, was considered a theory that justified exploitation of the working class. Ma was removed from the post at the university and suffered persecution during the Cultural Revolution for being a rightist.
Just as Mao advocated, China’s population increased drastically, from 500 million in the 50s to 700 million in 1964 to 900 million in 1974. It was hard to meet the food demand, so China introduced an extreme measure unprecedented in human history: the one-child policy.
In the end, Beijing went with Ma Yinchu over Mao Zedong. In 2007, the Chinese government held an official event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the publication of the New Population Theory.
And the one-child policy has been abolished after 35 years at the third plenary session of the 18th Communist Party of China Central Committee. Now, all Chinese people can have two children, which had only been allowed to families with special circumstances, such as ethnic minorities.
As the one-child policy was implemented for more than a generation, the population structure has become extremely distorted.
The economically active population is dwindling while the number of seniors to be supported by the young generation is rapidly growing, a warning sign for national competitiveness.
The over-indulgent little emperors have become a problem as well. While young Chinese are not to be criticized as a whole, even Chinese people admit that the generation who has monopolized the love of maternal and paternal grandparents as well as their parents are relatively egocentric and lack tolerance compared to the older generation that grew up with siblings.
While the one-child era is gone now, the age of little emperors begins. The first children born during the one-child policy are now in their mid-30s, and will soon lead China.
Hopefully, the Chinese little emperors won’t try to rule the world using their swiftly growing power.
The author is the Beijing correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 31, Page 30
by YEH YOUNG-JUNE