HONG KONG -- In China, longstanding family-planning policies limit most urban families to just one child. But that didn't stop a 31-year-old merchant named Ms. Li: Two weeks ago, she gave birth to her second child here in the former British colony of Hong Kong, a 10-hour bus ride from Ms. Li's home in Fujian province.Fees run as high as $8,000 just to arrange the trip and book a hospital in advance. There are even companies devoted specifically to the Hong Kong birthing-mill industry. The mainland could be cashing in on this. Paraenthetically, that Hong Kong operates on something similar to the spurrious current reading of the US Constitution's 14th Amendment has caused hordes of mainland Chinese women to give birth in Hong Kong for other reasons as well, including Hong Kong citizenship and access to education.
Hong Kong maintains separate government records from the rest of China, so Ms. Li's newborn son won't count toward her family's quota. "I wanted to have a second child to keep my daughter company," says Ms. Li, who asked to be identified only by her last name, from the hospital ward.
She and other well-off Chinese women are discovering ways to wriggle through bureaucratic loopholes in their government's one-child policy. Some pay rural women, who are often allowed two children under the policy, to pretend a child is theirs. Others accept a fine of between two and 10 times a family's yearly income --
dubbed "social alimony" -- for having too many children.
I don't understand China's one-child policy, especially in light of Han nationalism. While population density in some of the eastern coastal cities is a real concern, China's total population density is lower than much of Europe and all of East Asia. The policy strikes me as flawed in a few ways.
Han Chinese comprise 92% of the the country's 1.3 billion people, but they've exempted the remaining 100 million or so from the one-child policy. Why artificially dilute that ethnic homogeneity?
It applies more strictly to urban dwellers. Unlike developed countries in the West, however, urban residents in China are by-and-large more affluent than their rural compatriots, where poverty is 'endemic'. Meanwhile, impoverished rustics are allowed to have two children, and enforcement is more sporadic.
There's no easier way to attenuate the wealth gap than to prod the wealthy into having more children and get the poor to have fewer. Not only will this increase the number of skilled professionals to keep fees modest and decrease the supply of menial and semi-skilled laborers, increasing wages on the low end of the economic scale (raising the national IQ in the process) in the future, it will have an immediate impact. If a wealthy couple has one child, he stands to inherit all of their wealth. If they have five, it gets split up five ways. Conversely, if a modest couple has five kids, they'll each get a paltry sum, and it's hard for an empty bag to stand upright. But if they only have one, he'll receive a nice bag of money.
So in the name of reducing economic inequality, which is made out to be the worst problem a rapidly growing China faces, the policy discourages urbanites for whom a child is a 'frivolous' expense (in methodical East Asian thought) from having more of them.
The CPC, in refusing to let the yuan appreciate internationally, is effectively short-changing China's population today for increased Chinese wealth in the future. Retaining the one-child policy may be seen in the same light. That is, by reducing the number of young dependents, Chinese affluence will grow more rapidly (over the short- and medium-term). Currently, the PRC's economy is growing at seventeen times the rate of its population and increased fecundity will probably moderate this to some extent. The CPC seems to believe that continued stellar economic growth is the best way to overpower the wealth gap, and the strategy understood in this light paints the picture of a CPC that is eager for rapid wealth ascension, to be on par with the rest of the developed world as quickly as possible.
But a prounounced gender imbalance and an aging population in a country with an almost nonexistent social security entitlement structure are two potential obstacles in China's future that aren't getting any easier to navigate due to the policy. With a pragmatic, smart population that isn't afraid to chase the benefits of a potential genetic engineering revolution (91% of Chinese scientists favor the use of eugenics for the good of the country), the PRC's long-term prospects look good. But rushing too fast to the top might jeopardize that.