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Is the One Child Policy Finished—And Was It a Failure?

Is the One Child Policy Finished—And Was It a Failure?

 
 

Dorinda Elliott:

China’s recent decision to phase out the agency that oversees the one-child policy has raised questions about whether the policy itself will be dropped—and whether it was a success or a failure.

Aside from the burdens only children feel when it comes to caring for their parents and parents-in-law, the long-term implications of having a country ruled by only-child emperors are hard to fathom—and, in my view, a bit terrifying.

Most China watchers seem to have always taken for granted that the policy was a necessary evil. I know that I avoided thinking too much about the inconvenient forced abortion question. But at this point, it looks like the smartest thinkers are challenging the conventional wisdom. In a recent academic paper, Chinese demographers concluded:

“The one-child policy will be added to the other deadly errors in recent Chinese history, including the famine in 1959–61 … and the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s. While those grave mistakes both cost tens of millions of lives, the harms done were relatively short-lived and were corrected quickly afterward. The one-child policy, in contrast, will surpass them in impact by its role in creating a society with a seriously undermined family and kin structure, and a whole generation of future elderly and their children whose well-being will be seriously jeopardized.”

I wonder, what does it mean to have a country with no sisters, no brothers? Will those words one day be dropped from the Chinese language?

Responses

Experts and the public have been pushing for a phasing-out of the policy for years (it was never designed to be a permanent rule), so it’s exciting to finally see movement in that direction. I find it curious that the government would tackle it this way. They are essentially taking power away from the family planning enforcers by merging them with the Ministry of Health and by putting the National Development and Reform Commission in charge of population policy—but they are not yet changing the family planning rules.

At the grassroots level, this is bound to result in a lot of uncertainty and I’d be surprised if families didn’t try to take advantage of that, to push back and test how much power the family planning officials still have.

And I think retribution for past abuses is something that could emerge and China would be smart to deal with this more directly. There is understandably a lot of pent up anger over the policy.

To respond to your question, Dinda: Chinese ideas about family and kinship have changed dramatically, in part because of the policy, but also because of urbanization, migration and economic growth. And not everyone is an only child. Around 35 percent of Chinese families are subject to a strict one-child rule. Fifty percent or so are allowed a second child if their first is a girl and then the rest are subject to a two or three child policy. What’s always striking to me though is how supportive many Chinese are of such a radical policy. The constant lament heard across China is “Too many people! 人太多” This message has been internalized and many people, even those allowed to have two kids, are opting to have just one. 

I agree, Alexa: it’s mindboggling that most Chinese still buy into the logic that the one child policy is necessary because “Too many people! 人太多”!

It strikes me that the moral vacuum in China—people chasing money above all, endemic corruption, etc—stems in part from moral compromises people have had to make over the decades in the face of authoritarian policies.

One example: I had a chilling conversation on a recent trip to Zheijiang with a jolly, somewhat pudgy small-town propaganda official that made me think hard about the inherent cruelty of the one-child policy. In little more than one breath, he talked about his current work, which is to help build a “civilized society” (whatever that means), and then about his old job as a police officer, when he had to enforce the one-child policy.

I asked him what he did when someone didn’t want to have an abortion. “We did work,” he replied. And what does that mean, I asked. “Well,” he said reluctantly, clearly embarrassed, “we used force.”

Wow, I thought, and this is the fellow who is now enforcing the “civilized society” policy.

Nothing is too odd in China!

I had a similar experience interviewing a clinic official about a forced abortion case in 2006. The mother had been within weeks of her due date. The official confirmed that they aborted her baby because ‘she hadn’t followed the rules.’ This was her first child but she had gotten pregnant before applying for the necessary birth permit. It was a horrifying story. Unsurprisingly, the victim’s lawyer said he thought the real issue was an unpaid bribe.

I wanted to add something about whether this policy was in fact ‘a necessary evil.’ This is the essential question and its answer will determine how the policy is painted in history books, either as a measure that helped lift millions out of poverty and fast-track China to prosperity, or a cruel and unnecessary restriction that caused immeasurable heartache and suffering…or, maddeningly, both those things.

It’s a fascinating thought exercise. If China had never enacted the one-child policy in 1979, its population growth would almost certainly have slowed but at a less precipitous rate. (Economic growth leads to lower fertility and countries that had birth rates similar to China in the 1960’s and 1970’s have seen their population growth slow.) Because of its baby boom in the 1960’s, China would still have an ageing problem today but it wouldn’t be as dramatic. And the demographic dividend, the relatively large percentage of young workers in the population, would have lasted longer. The policy is widely blamed for worsening China’s imbalanced sex ratio, resulting in too few girls and a surplus of boys because families that had one chance at having a kid aborted their daughters. Though other Asian countries with strong son preference and no strict family planning limits also have this problem, China’s situation is extreme. The other side of that coin is that there is also a generation of young urban Chinese women who grew up as only children and never had to compete with brothers for education or other resources.

Finally, there’s no doubt that China would have a lot more people today if it hadn’t launched the one-child rule. The government says the policy prevented as many as 400 million births, though experts argue half that number is closer to the truth. Is China better off because it didn’t have those hundreds of millions? Was it worth it? Obviously it’s a question for the Chinese who lived through it to answer.

Even if it is abandoned today, the one-child policy will produce long-term economic and strategic consequences that cannot be escaped. Although all of Asia is aging, over the next few decades China will become one of the more age-heavy societies in the region. A forthcoming study from the Asian Development Bank projects that by 2050, 23.3% of China’s population will be over 65, compared to 13.7% in India, 18.6% in Indonesia, and 20.0% in Vietnam. Only the richest societies – Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong – will be older. A high percentage of retired people is a big disadvantage for long-term economic and strategic competition, because it reduces the economically productive proportion of the population and increases the burden on the working population to support the elderly. It also generates social strife – especially in countries that are not very rich – by forcing the government to redistribute income from workers to the elderly to pay for their health care and living expenses. The problem can be slightly alleviated but not fixed by increasing the retirement age. Another palliative – used by the U.S. – is to allow immigration of working-age people, but it is hard to imagine China doing this. Allowing families to have more children would make the situation worse in the short run by increasing the ratio of dependents to workers, and would help fix the population imbalance only in the very long run.

The work I am citing is Donghyun Park, Sang-Hyop Lee, and Andrew Mason, eds.,Aging, Economic Growth, and Old-Age Security in Asia; Co-publication of the Asian Development Bank and Edward Elgar Publishing, 2012.

Though the Chinese government can’t manufacture the perfect population balance, it would win points with the public if it switched to a two-child policy or lifted the restrictions altogether. Why the Hu-Wen leadership didn’t do that is a mystery. Getting rid of a problematic and unpopular policy not of their devising (and leaving the details to the next slate of leaders) seems like a no-brainer. Any thoughts, Andrew, on why it got passed to Xi-Li?   

My grandparents have seven children—that’s really a big family. I still remember when I was a child, the Spring Festival was always such a joyous gathering. So many uncles, aunts, their in-laws and their children, and more importantly, so much “Lucky Money” (压岁钱, people give to kids in the Spring Festival as blessing and good wishes). This, to me, is what a “family with Chinese characteristics” should be. But my parents only have me because of the One-Child policy. Although I don’t think I am socially awkward, and I don’t think I was a “Little Emperor” (小皇帝, often used to describe the spoiled only child), the Spring Festival is not as appealing to me anymore. Aside from all of other big theories, I oppose the “One-Child” policy only because I don’t think it is the government’s right or authority to tell me how many children I should have.

Alexa’s and Bin’s comments point to a current, rather than a future, cost of this policy, which is the resistance to it by many married couples who, for one reason or another, want more than one child. Many couples are satisfied with one child, as is the case elsewhere in the world. But some want more - perhaps for pragmatic reasons, as rural Chinese still depend chiefly on their male offspring for support in old age (indeed I believe it’s the case that it remains a crime in Chinese law not to support one’s elderly parents), perhaps for emotional reasons, and in some communities where “house” Christianity is strong, for religious reasons. Thus there are always a significant number of resisters. And that’s why Chinese population planning officials have had to use force to make sure they meet their population growth limits each year. It was for fighting such human rights abuses that the blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng ran afoul of the Party officials in his local village, Dongshigu in Shandong province.  In short, the population planning policy has set the state against “society” and has done so in the most personal, painful, and offensive way – against women’s bodies. Always a bad idea.

So why has it taken so long to change the policy? Why has it taken so long to change the labor reeducation (laojiao) policy? To change the household registration (hukou) policy that gives unequal citizenship to rural residents? The policy of using “retrievers” to put petitioners in “black jails” so they don’t have a chance to seek justice in Beijing? I guess the generic answer is that it’s a slow process to turn a big ship. More concretely, an overload of issues that have to be attended to at the center, and resistance to change on the part of the huge bureaucracy down to the most local level that enforces (and no doubt believes in) the population planning policy.

 

Yes, Bin put it quite well saying that the social fabric was woven around so many uncles and aunts. I actually had trouble remembering what exactly to call them. For example you have to call your dad’s older brother Bobo (伯伯) and younger brother Shushu (叔叔), and so on. I enjoyed all their company, despite all the problems associated with the competition for attention and at times money etc.

I have to admit that when I was young, I bought into the government line that the one-child policy helped the world by reducing the world’s burden with 400 million unborn people (figures vary as experts above have pointed out). My partiality was largely based on the fact that I wasn’t told about all the horrific cruelty that has accompanied the policy. Maybe this is too naive or hypothetical but I wonder what if Mao hadn’t encouraged our grand parents’ generation to multiply so fast. China would have avoided one grave mistake after another, and there might have been no one-child policy at all. First, we had “the more children the stronger the nation (人多力量大)”. Then later we were told “have less children, plant more trees (少生孩子多种树)”. It would have been much better off if we had avoided the first “have more children” mistake.

The consequences of the policy were highlighted after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, when a lot of, if not most, of the mourning parents not only lost their children but lost the opportunity to ever have offspring. In many cases, it was too late already to have a second child. This is doubly devastating when you factor in the lack of a well-estabished social welfare net that might have kicked in to help take care of these parents when they are old.

I hope for the best for all the millions of victims of China’s one-child policy, but I am certain that the problems just keep piling up. It will be a daunting task to undo all the damage racked up over all these decades.

Dorinda Elliott is Editor at Large at ChinaFile. In her “day job,” she is Global Affairs Editor at Condé Nast Traveler, where she spearheads coverage of global issues and corporate social...
Alexa Olesen is a Brooklyn-based writer who focuses mainly on China, particularly on politics, culture, and the one-child policy. She covered China for eight years as a correspondent for The...
Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. He is also chair of the steering committee of the Center for the Study of Human Rights and chair of the...
Ouyang Bin is an Arthur Ross Fellow at the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society in New York and Associate Editor of ChinaFile, where his major interests concentrate on China’s political...
Michael Zhao is a multimedia producer who focuses on environmental issues in China. From 2003 to 2005, he was a News Assistant in the Beijing Bureau of The New York Times, where he worked with...

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What Are Chinese Attitudes Toward a U.S. Strike in...

CHEN WEIHUA, VINCENT NI & more

Chen Weihua:Chinese truly believe that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, a U.S. air strike would only worsen the situation there. Chinese have seen many failures of U.S. intervention in the Middle East in the past decade.The U.S. clearly is...

Conversation

09.05.13

To Reform or Not Reform?—Echoes of the Late Qing...

ORVILLE SCHELL, JOHN DELURY & more

Orville Schell:It is true that China is no longer beset by threats of foreign incursion nor is it a laggard in the world of economic development and trade. But being there and being steeped in an atmosphere of seemingly endless political and economic tension where questions of...

Conversation

08.28.13

Beijing, Why So Tense?

ANDREW J. NATHAN, ISABEL HILTON & more

Andrew Nathan:I think of the Chinese leaders as holding a plant spritzer and dousing sparks that are jumping up all around them.  Mao made the famous remark, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”  The leaders have seen that terrifying truth confirmed in the pro...

Conversation

08.21.13

Is Xi Jinping Redder Than Bo Xilai Or Vice Versa?

MICHAEL ANTI & SHAI OSTER

Michael Anti:Competing for Redness: The Scarlet Bo vs the Vermilion Xi?Bo Xilai, the fallen Chinese princeling famous for leading a “Red Songs” communist campaign in southwest China's megacity Chongqing, is on trial today, live-Twittered from Jinan in Shandong province, east...

Conversation

08.15.13

What Should China Do to Reverse its Tourism Deficit?

THE EDITORS, LEAH THOMPSON & more

The Editors: Recent news stories and industry studies show that fewer international visitors are choosing China as their destination. January-June arrivals in Beijing are down 15% from the same period in 2012 and more Chinese than ever before are spending their money to travel...

Conversation

08.07.13

What Will Come out of the Communist Party’s Polling...

DAVID WERTIME, DUNCAN CLARK & more

David Wertime:Simon Denyer’s recent article (“In China, Communist Party Takes Unprecedented Step: It Is Listening,” The Washington Post, August 2, 2013) provides a valuable look at some of the ways that Chinese authority mines domestic micro-blogging platforms like Weibo...

Conversation

08.01.13

How Dangerous Are Sino-Japanese Tensions?

JEROME A. COHEN

Sino-Japanese relations do not look promising at the moment. Obviously, the Diaoyu-Senkaku dispute is not the only factor in play but it does focus nationalist passions on both sides. Yet both countries are capable of wiser conduct if their leaders can manage to rise above the...

Conversation

07.30.13

Is Business in China Getting Riskier, Or Are...

ARTHUR R. KROEBER , DAVID SCHLESINGER & more

Arthur Kroeber:The environment for foreign companies in China has been getting steadily tougher since 2006, when the nation came to the end of a five-year schedule of market-opening measures it pledged as the price of admission to the World Trade Organization. Soon after the WTO-...

Conversation

07.25.13

The Bo Xilai Trial: What’s It Really About?

THE EDITORS, JEROME A. COHEN & more

The Editors:China has charged disgraced senior politician Bo Xilai with bribery, abuse of power and corruption, paving the way for a potentially divisive trial. But what’s at stake goes beyond the fate of one allegedly corrupt official: Is it really a fight between factions in...

Conversation

07.23.13

What Would a Hard Landing in China Mean for the World?

BARRY NAUGHTON, JAMES MCGREGOR & more

Barry Naughton:Paul Krugman in a recent post (“How Much Should We Worry About a China Shock?” The New York Times, July 20, 2013) tells us NOT to worry about the impact of a slowing China on global exports, but to be worried, very worried about the indirect and unanticipated...

Conversation

07.18.13

Xu Zhiyong Arrested: How Serious Can Beijing Be About...

DONALD CLARKE, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

Donald Clarke:When I heard that Xu Zhiyong had just been detained, my first thought was, “Again?” This seems to be something the authorities do every time they get nervous, a kind of political Alka Seltzer to settle an upset constitution. I searched the web site of The New...

Conversation

07.16.13

What’s the Senate’s Beef with China’s Play for...

THE EDITORS, ARTHUR R. KROEBER & more

The Editors:Last week the U.S. Senate held hearings to question the CEO of meat-producer Smithfield Farms, about the proposed $4.7 billion sale of the Virginia-based company to Shuanghui International, China’s largest pork producer. The sale is under review by the Committee on...

Conversation

07.09.13

What Is the “Chinese Dream” Really All About?

STEIN RINGEN, JEREMY GOLDKORN & more

Stein Ringen:I’m coming to the view that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is a signal from the leadership of great import that has much to say about the nature of the Chinese state. It is striking, in my opinion, how effectively and rapidly the system swung into action to interpret and...

Conversation

07.03.13

How Would Accepting Gay Culture Change China?

THE EDITORS, FEI WANG & more

The Editors: Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the core provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act is not only “a stride toward greater equality in the United States, but also a shift that will reverberate far beyond our shores,” wrote novelist and...

Conversation

06.27.13

Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real?

RODERICK MACFARQUHAR, WINSTON LORD & more

Roderick MacFarquhar:Xi Jinping’s overriding aim is the preservation of Communist party rule in China, as he made clear in speeches shortly after his elevation to be China’s senior leader.  Like his predecessors, he is obsessed with the Gorbachev phenomenon and doesn't...

Conversation

06.25.13

How Badly Have Snowden’s Leaks Hurt U.S.-China...

MATT SCHIAVENZA

Matt Schiavenza:In the understatement of the day, the United States is unhappy with the recent developments of the Edward Snowden situation. Just three days ago, Washington was in negotiations with Hong Kong to file a warrant for Snowden's arrest, a process which the U.S. hoped...

Conversation

06.21.13

How Should the World Prepare for a Slower China?

ARTHUR R. KROEBER & PATRICK CHOVANEC

Get Ready for a Slower ChinaThe recent gyrations on the Chinese interbank market underscore that the chief risk to global growth now comes from China. Make no mistake: credit policy will tighten substantially in the coming months, as the government tries to push loan growth from...

Conversation

06.18.13

What’s Right or Wrong with This Chinese Stance on...

THE EDITORS, SHAI OSTER & more

The Editors: For today’s ChinaFile Conversation we asked contributors to react to the following excerpt from an op-ed published on Monday June 17 in the Global Times about Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old American contract intelligence analyst who last week in Hong Kong...

Conversation

06.13.13

Who’d You Rather Be Watched By: China or the U.S.?

THE EDITORS, TAI MING CHEUNG & more

Editor’s note:Reports of U.S. gathering data on emails and phone calls have stoked fears of an over-reaching government spying on its citizens. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei worries that China will use the U.S. as an example to bolster its argument for surveillance on dissidents....

Conversation

06.11.13

What’s the Best Way to Advance Human Rights in the U....

NICHOLAS BEQUELIN, SHARON HOM & more

Nicholas Bequelin:The best way to advance human rights in the U.S.-China relationship is first and foremost to recognize that the engine of human rights progress in China today is the Chinese citizenry itself. Such progress is neither the product of a gradual enlightenment of the...

Conversation

06.06.13

What Would the Best U.S.-China Joint Statement Say?

THE EDITORS, WINSTON LORD & more

As we approach the June 7-8 meeting in California of U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping we are holding a small contest. We have asked ChinaFile Conversation regulars and a few guests to envision their ideal Sunnylands summit and then write the joint...

Conversation

06.04.13

How Would Facing Its Past Change China’s Future?

DAVID WERTIME, ISABEL HILTON & more

David Wertime:The memory of the 1989 massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square remains neither alive nor dead, neither reckoned nor obliterated. Instead, it hangs spectre-like in the background, a muted but latently powerful symbol of resistance.There’s no question that an...

Conversation

05.29.13

What Should Obama and Xi Accomplish at Their California...

SUSAN SHIRK, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

Susan Shirk:It’s an excellent idea for President Obama and President Xi to spend two days of quality time together at a private retreat in Southern California. Past meetings between Chinese and American presidents have been too short, formal and scripted for them to develop a...

Conversation

05.23.13

China and the Other Asian Giant: Where are Relations...

MICHAEL KULMA, MARK FRAZIER & more

Mike Kulma:Earlier this week at an Asia Society forum on U.S.-China economic relations, Dr. Henry Kissinger remarked that when the U.S. first started down the path of normalizing relations with China in the early 1970s, the economic relationship and trade between the two...

Conversation

05.21.13

U.S.-China Economic Relations—What Will the Next...

JONATHAN LANDRETH, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

On Monday, within hours of the announcement that Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet U.S. President Barack Obama on a visit to California on June 7-8, Tung Chee-hwa, the former Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, introduced former U.S....

Conversation

05.16.13

China: What’s Going Right?

MICHAEL ZHAO, JAMES FALLOWS & more

Michael Zhao:On a recent trip to China, meeting mostly with former colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, I got a dose of optimism and hope for one aspect of the motherland. In terms of science, or laying down a solid foundation for better science to come, things are...

Conversation

05.14.13

Why Can’t China Make Its Food Safe?—Or Can It?

ALEX WANG, JOHN C. BALZANO & more

The month my wife and I moved to Beijing in 2004, I saw a bag of oatmeal at our local grocery store prominently labeled: “NOT POLLUTED!” How funny that this would be a selling point, we thought.But 7 years later as we prepared to return to the US, what was once a joke had...

Conversation

05.10.13

What’s China’s Game in the Middle East?

RACHEL BEITARIE, MASSOUD HAYOUN & more

Rachel Beitarie:Xi Jinping’s four point proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is interesting not so much for its content, as for its source. While China has maintained the appearance of being involved in Middle East politics for years, its top leaders, so far,...

Conversation

05.07.13

Why Is a 1995 Poisoning Case the Top Topic on Chinese...

RACHEL LU, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

With a population base of 1.3 billion people, China has no shortage of strange and gruesome crimes, but the attempted murder of Zhu Ling by thallium poisoning in 1995 is burning up China’s social media long after the trails have gone cold. Zhu, a brilliant and beautiful...

Conversation

05.02.13

Does Promoting “Core Interests” Do China More Harm...

THE EDITORS, STEPHANIE T. KLEINE-AHLBRANDT & more

On April 30, as tensions around China’s claims to territories in the South- and East China Seas continued to simmer, we began what proved to be a popular ChinaFile Conversation, asking the question, What's Really at the Core of China’s ‘Core Interests’? The participants...

Conversation

04.30.13

What’s Really at the Core of China’s “Core...

SHAI OSTER, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

Shai Oster:It’s Pilates diplomacy—work on your core. China’s diplomats keep talking about China’s core interests and it’s a growing list. In 2011, China included its political system and social stability as core interests. This year, it has added a vast chunk of the...

Conversation

04.25.13

Hollywood in China—What’s the Price of Admission?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, YING ZHU & more

Last week, DreamWorks Animation (DWA), the Hollywood studio behind the worldwide blockbuster Kung Fu Panda films, announced that it will cooperate with the China Film Group (CFG) on an animated feature called Tibet Code, an adventure story based on a series of recent Chinese...

Conversation

04.23.13

How Would You Spend (the Next) $300 Million on U.S.-...

ORVILLE SCHELL & MICHAEL KULMA

Orville Schell:When Stephen A. Schwarzman announced his new $300 million program aimed at sending foreign scholars to Tsinghua University in Beijing the way Rhodes Scholarship, set up by the businessman and statesman Cecil Rhodes in 1902 began sending American scholars to Oxford...

Conversation

04.18.13

How Fast Is China’s Slowdown Coming, and What Should...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, BARRY NAUGHTON & more

Slower Chinese GDP growth is not a bad thing if it’s happening for the right reasons. But it’s not happening for the right reasons.Instead of reining in credit to try to curb over-investment, Chinese authorities have allowed a renewed explosion in credit in an effort to fuel...

Conversation

04.16.13

Why is China Still Messing with the Foreign Press?

ANDREW J. NATHAN, ISABEL HILTON & more

To those raised in the Marxist tradition, nothing in the media happens by accident.  In China, the flagship newspapers are still the “throat and tongue” of the ruling party, and their work is directed by the Party’s Propaganda Department.  That’s the first...

Conversation

04.11.13

Why Is Chinese Soft Power Such a Hard Sell?

JEREMY GOLDKORN, DONALD CLARKE & more

Jeremy Goldkorn:Chairman Mao Zedong said that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and he knew a thing or two about power, both hard and soft. If you have enough guns, you have respect. Money is the same: if you have enough cash, you can buy guns, and respect.Israel and Saudi...

Conversation

04.03.13

Bird Flu Fears: Should We Trust Beijing This Time?

DAVID WERTIME, YANZHONG HUANG & more

David Wertime:A new strain of avian flu called H7N9 has infected at least seven humans and killed three in provinces near the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai, with the first death occurring on March 4. Meanwhile, in the last month, about 16,000 pigs, 1,000 ducks, and a few swans...

Conversation

04.02.13

Why Did Apple Apologize to Chinese Consumers and What...

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & more

Jeremy Goldkorn:On March 22, before the foreign media or Apple themselves seemed to have grasped the seriousness of the CCTV attacks on the Californian behemoth, I wrote a post on Danwei.com that concluded:“The signs are clear that regulators and establishment media would both...

Conversation

03.28.13

Will China’s Renminbi Replace the Dollar as the World...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, DAMIEN MA & more

Patrick Chovanec:This week’s news that Brazil and China have signed a $30 billion currency swap agreement gave a renewed boost to excited chatter over the rising influence of China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB). The belief, in many quarters, is that the renminbi is well on...

Conversation

03.26.13

Can China Transform Africa?

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & more

Jeremy Goldkorn:The question is all wrong. China is already transforming Africa, the question is how China is transforming Africa, not whether it can. From the “China shops”—small stores selling cheap clothing, bags, and kitchenware—that have become ubiquitous in Southern...

Conversation

03.19.13

China’s New Leaders Say They Want to Fight Corruption...

ANDREW J. NATHAN & OUYANG BIN

In his first press conference after taking office as China's new premier, Li Keqiang declared that one of his top priorities would be to fight corruption, because “Corruption and the reputation of our government are as incompatible as fire and water.” This put Li on message...

Conversation

03.13.13

China’s Post 1980’s Generation—Are the Kids All...

SUN YUNFAN, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

This week, the ChinaFile Conversation is a call for reactions to an article about China's current generation gap, written by James Palmer, a Beijing-based historian, author, and Global Times editor. The article, first published by Aeon in the U.K., “The Balinghou: Chinese...

Conversation

03.08.13

Will China’s Property Market Crash, and So What If It...

DORINDA ELLIOTT & BILL BISHOP

Dorinda Elliott:At this week’s National People’s Congress, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed that the government kept housing prices from rising too fast. Really? I wonder what my 28-year-old Shanghainese friend Robert thinks about that. He and his fiancée could never...

Conversation

03.06.13

Are Proposed Sanctions on North Korea a Hopeful Sign...

ORVILLE SCHELL, SUSAN SHIRK & more

Orville Schell:What may end up being most significant about the new draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council to impose stricter sanctions on North Korea, which China seems willing to sign, may not be what it amounts to in terms of denuclearizing the DPRK, but what it...

Conversation

03.01.13

Is America’s Door Really Open to China’s Investment...

DANIEL H. ROSEN, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

Daniel Rosen:There have not been many new topics in U.S.-China economic relations over the past decade: the trade balance, offshoring of jobs, Chinese holding of U.S. government debt, whether China’s currency is undervalued and intellectual property protection problems have...

Conversation

02.27.13

How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a State Secret?

ELIZABETH ECONOMY, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

Elizabeth Economy:The environment is center stage once again in China. A Chinese lawyer has requested the findings of a national survey on soil pollution from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and been denied on the grounds that the information is a state secret. (The...

Conversation

02.22.13

Will Investment in China Grow or Shrink?

DONALD CLARKE & DAVID SCHLESINGER

Donald Clarke:I don’t have the answer as to whether investment in China will grow or shrink, but I do have a few suggestions for how to think about the question. First, we have to clarify why we want to know the answer to this question: what do we think it will tell us? This...

Conversation

02.20.13

Cyber Attacks—What’s the Best Response?

JONATHAN LANDRETH, JAMES FALLOWS & more

Jonathan Landreth:With regular ChinaFile Conversation contributor Elizabeth Economy on the road, I turned to her colleague Adam Segal, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Segal said that “the time for naming and...

Conversation

02.15.13

U.S.-China Tensions: What Must Kerry Do?

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ELIZABETH ECONOMY & more

Dorinda Elliott:On a recent trip to China, I heard a lot of scary talk of potential war over the disputed Diaoyu Islands—this from both senior intellectual types and also just regular people, from an elderly calligraphy expert to a middle-aged history professor. People seemed...

Conversation

02.13.13

North Korea: How Much More Will China Take and How...

WINSTON LORD, TAI MING CHEUNG & more

China is increasingly frustrated with North Korea and may even see more clearly that its actions only serve to increase allied unity, stimulate Japanese militarism and accelerate missile defense. For all these reasons the U.S. should lean on Beijing to—at last—not only help...

Conversation

02.08.13

Rich, Poor and Chinese—Does Anyone Trust Beijing to...

ANDREW J. NATHAN, SUSAN SHIRK & more

Andrew Nathan:The new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping seems to be making some bold opening moves with its attacks on corruption and the announcement on February 5 of plans to reduce the polarization of incomes.  Does this mean Xi is leading China in new directions? ...

Conversation

02.06.13

Airpocalypse Now: China’s Tipping Point?

ALEX WANG, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

The recent run of air pollution in China, we now know, has been worse than the air quality in airport smoking lounges. At its worst, Beijing air quality has approached levels only seen in the United States during wildfires.All of the comparisons to London, Los Angeles, and New...

Conversation

02.01.13

China’s Cyberattacks — At What Cost?

JAMES FALLOWS, DONALD CLARKE & more

James Fallows: Here are some initial reactions on the latest hacking news.We call this the “latest” news because I don’t think anyone, in China or outside, is actually surprised. In my own experience in China, which is limited compared with many of yours, I’ve seen the...

Conversation

01.30.13

China, Japan and the Islands: What Do the Tensions Mean...

ORVILLE SCHELL, JOHN DELURY & more

How did the Diaoyu, Spratly, and Paracel islands come to replace Taiwan as the main source of tension for maritime Asia? And how are we to explain the fact that China’s foreign policy toward its Asian neighbors has now morphed from such slogans as: “Keep our heads down, and...