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  • China's Population: Problems, Thoughts and Policies
  • Rebecca L. Morrison
Gabe T. Wang . China's Population: Problems, Thoughts and Policies. Aldershot (England) and Brookfield (Vermont): Ashgate, 1999. xi, 245 pp. Hardcover £45.00, U.S. $78.95, ISBN 1-84014-736-9.

When little was known about China's population by the outside world, a general, comprehensive text on the topic seemed reasonable, especially for a population that has represented between a third and a fifth of the world's population over history. Since the reforms of the 1970s, however, copious amounts of data have emerged about the theory behind the population policy of the People's Republic of China, its implementation, and its results. As Gabe Wang proves, a single author can still attempt a comprehensive text on these topics, but is unlikely to do so effectively. China's Population: Problems, Thoughts and Policies covers too much ground, and succeeds least in areas where other authors have already done excellent work. The four chapters on population thought before and after the Revolution and the implementation of fertility and population-distribution policies, on the other hand, are excellent and welcome resources.

The synopsis of traditional Chinese population theory found in chapter 2 should be required reading for classes in economic or population theory. Ideas that Western students are taught as having originated with Mandeville, Malthus, or twentieth-century scholars were hotly debated in China between 300 B.C. and the Qing dynasty. Some of the best Chinese population thinkers, such as Hong Liangji—"China's Malthus"—in the eighteenth century, were dismissed by their peers and the political leaders of the time, however. Wang's discussions of policy implementation, particularly when involving population distribution, are sorely needed sources of information. Still, population policies, while in compliance with federal population law, are often made and implemented at provincial or local levels. Hopefully, future scholars of population policy will concentrate more on these areas.

Wang is less effective when he takes on the role of an apologist for the population policy of the PRC, particularly in the first and last chapters. Statements like Wang's assertion that all effective population-control policies necessarily involve a degree of coercion will not endear him to the Western population establishment. In order to argue his case more effectively, Wang needs to address the concerns of Western scholars, politicians, and human-rights activists rather than simply dismiss them all as biased and ethnocentric.

In fairness, it should be noted that Wang does not necessarily agree with PRC policy. In fact, he argues that the one-couple, one-child policy is extreme and will probably have to be modified. He does, however, see the Western concern with individual rights as a feature of Western culture that does not necessarily have relevance [End Page 557] for the Chinese case. He presents several reasons for why the extreme population policies of the PRC have been acceptable to the Chinese people. Among them are the common knowledge of overcrowded conditions in China, the much-debated collective orientation of the Chinese people (as opposed to the individualistic orientation of the West), and a tradition of an intrusive population policy in dynastic China.

Chapter 6 concerns the populations of the fifty-five official minority groups in the PRC, and chapter 7 examines population problems that lie in the future for the PRC. Wang argues that China's overpopulation will continue to be a problem, in spite of the fertility declines already realized. At the same time, China will be faced with problems that result from the severe fertility-reduction measures of the past two decades. These problems include the aging of the Chinese population and the resulting dependency burden, a skewed sex ratio, and an increase in population among the poorer, less-educated rural populations accompanied by a decline among richer, better-educated, urban populations. Wang's volume would have been stronger without the last two chapters, the subjects of which have been better examined by Banister (1987), Mackerras (1994, 1995), Postiglione (1992), and Poston (1991, 1992).

Some important information that would help the uninitiated reader interpret the presented data more effectively is left out. For example, falling birth rates...


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