Courtesy Reuters

The Political Impact of New Population Trends

SIX months ago, the Chinese Communist Party newspaper, People's Daily, carried its first editorial on birth control. Asserting that China's population is increasing by more than 13,000,000 per year and that economic development cannot yet catch up with this rapid multiplication, the editorial urged the Government to spread the use of birth control and to encourage youths to postpone marriage until age 25. This authoritative statement of policy was not the first indication of Red China's concern with population. In 1953 the State Council had instructed the health department to give public instruction in birth control, and efforts were made in 1954-56 to strengthen this program; abortions were permitted as early as 1954 under certain restrictions, and the restrictions were subsequently eased; Party journals and the press carried articles on birth control. In 1957 intensive propaganda for family limitation began throughout the country, and a birth-control exhibition was opened in Peking on March 8, three days after the editorial in People's Daily.

Although not sudden, this recognition of the emergence of a population problem in Red China represents a dramatic shift in Communist strategy. Russia's early liberality with reference to abortion and birth control ceased in 1935, and the official Communist line has always been that socialist economics alone can benefit people, that overpopulation is a myth designed to conceal the true cause of misery--capitalism. Russia still clings to this view. If, therefore, Red China is in practice deviating from the Soviet line, it is not out of caprice but because of her own severe problems. The census taken in 1953 reported a population of 583,000,000 in mainland China, over a hundred million more than the United Nations had been estimating. The Red officials, faced with more hungry people than they had expected and with a rate of increase that taxed their ingenuity, doubtless found the mental gymnastics of reconciling birth control with Marxism easier than taking the awesome risk of doing nothing about the frightening accumulation of people in an already crowded country.

China's population problems are by no

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