Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Affluent Chinese women go to HK to birth

If you're a wealthy Chinese woman wanting to have a second child, Hong Kong is apparently the place to go:
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.

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.
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.

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.


Expat Eddie said...

Crush, your objections to the One Child Policy are on target, but remember that the policy doesn't really have an accurate name. It does not in any way mandate that Han Chinese have only one child per couple-- it just creates a series of incentives to help move toward some flavor of population stabilization.

Remember, historically the policy came in the wake of the unusually pro-natalist policies of Mao, though it's little known in the West that even before it came into effect, China just offered up a series of voluntary incentives and village education in the 70's that sharply cut the birth rate from about 6 to a little over 2-- if anything, the One Child Policy (which emphasizes fines more) has been far less successful.

The policy really doesn't apply in rural China-- couples there, Han and otherwise, basically have as many kids as they want, and the bureaucrats don't really bother them. The last thing the Chinese government wants is a rural uprising of angry Chinese peasants, and they know that fining farmers who need the kids to help them is a very, very bad idea for social harmony. It's common to see rural families in China with 5 and 6 kids.

High echelon scientists and other professionals also have exceptions to the policy-- many have 3 kids. Members of the military and accomplished athletes have exceptions to the policy. Wealthy businesspeople have all kinds of ways around the policy.

Also, while the Policy is enforced in the biggest cities (such as Shanghai), again there are all kinds of ways around it. Many go abroad as you point out here-- not just to Hong Kong but also to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and China, where they give birth and then return home. Some go to smaller cities where enforcement is weaker. Some even go to China's rough, fledgling equivalent of "suburbs" where again, the policy often has lax enforcement.

Serious demographers in China have conferences and it's basically an open joke in the demographics community that Chinese population statistics are hilariously unreliable, way lowballing actual numbers. The bureaucrats just report artificially low numbers ot get their bonuses. There are many more girls than officially reported, since Chinese families just send their girls to other households when the census takers come around-- China does have a gender imbalance but it's not nearly as high as the official stats suggest. (It's much worse in India, in anything.) In fact, China's actual population is actually closer to 1.4 billion than 1.3 billion, and the true birth rate is closer to 2.

Also, it's interesting that in China, this fertility applies to the majority and founding Han population, whereas in the USA, the majority and founding White population has a birth rate of about 1.6 now and dropping (way below replacement), while other groups such as Blacks and Latinos have a much higher birth rate.

In fact, if you work in Chinese businesses that make products for kids (like baby food and medications), they have something called "the 20%" rule where they pretty much constantly add 20% more kids (at least) to the numbers in the official rolls to get accurate figures.

crush41 said...


Thanks for the insights. My perspective is very much from the outside looking in.

You preempted me--I was going to ask if you thought the official TFR is underreported.

Then does the CPC want an inverted population structure and is just too impotent to enforce it? As I understand it, it's not much of a populist issue.

The 20% rule is interesting and seems indicative of what you're saying.

In the US, even blacks are no longer above replenishment, although Hispanics (very comfortably) are.