In all the media proclamations of the “end” of the one child policy, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that an altered version of the policy still exists – two children, rather than one. Of course, there are still multiple exceptions to the policy for minorities, and fines vary depending on location and income. But still, it’s worth asking why the government would restrict citizens to two children, when the response to the alteration of the policy has been so tepid.
Logically, one would think, that with an aging population and demographic crisis looming, many parents anxious about having more than one child due to high costs, and a government seemingly trying to exhort parents to have two children, having this restriction would be counterproductive – not to mention the fact the policy has caused horrific numbers of forced abortions and a staggering cost in terms of public outrage.
So why restrict people to two children, when the government clearly wants more people to start having children? There is an answer, but it has very grim implications for other aspects of society as well – money.
Some estimates have put the number of people employed by the family planning commission at about 500,000.
At a recent press conference by the State Council, Wang Pei’an, deputy head of the national health and family planning commission, told the audience that the jobs of people in China’s family planning commission were secure. After a reporter asked him about their jobs, he said that the commission needed to “help people have children” and “guide people to have children more responsibly.”
“It’s actually more work,” he said. “So we need this team to be stronger, instead of cutting it.”
Keep in mind that the family planning commission employs a wide variety of workers, including propagandists, bureaucrats, doctors, government officials, and the thugs who help carry out forced abortions. Author Sheng Keyi, formerly a doctor who performed forced abortions for the family planning commission, recently wrote in the New York Times: “Things I saw in the hospital shocked me. One day four burly men dressed in army camouflage dragged a young woman into the operating theater, one man per limb, as she desperately writhed. A faint sense of outrage flickered inside me, but I didn’t give it much thought because I was too busy worrying about my job and my own survival.”
And so too, would many others worry about their jobs if the one child policy and its associated bureaucracy were genuinely cast off. Those concerns are something Sheng speculated about in her article, but which Wang Pei’an appears to have confirmed from the bureaucracy itself.
Given the contradiction between the goal of having more children and the continued existence of a policy that restricts citizens from doing so, it seems more likely that the current situation is more the result of messy politics and a push to keep the people in this department employed, despite there not being any real need for them.
But now extrapolate this outcome to the vast “stability maintenance” system, which incorporates a wide variety of unsavory duties including internet censorship, monitoring dissidents and activists, maintaining black jails, suppressing protests and rounding up petitioners. Occasionally brutal interrogation techniques are used.
The budget for stability maintenance dramatically increased under domestic security czar Zhou Yongkang before his ignominious downfall in the ongoing corruption probe. In 2010 a report by Tsinghua University put the budget for stability maintenance that year at $77 billion. It is believed to have surpassed the country’s military budget since then, with costs skyrocketing with fancier, higher-tech solutions.
Seeing as there are huge amounts of money pouring into this system, there is a profit motive for maintaining it, regardless of the level of instability. In fact, it seems almost certain that the profit motive encourages the reporting of instability, thus warping attempts to quantify how “unstable” the country may be (which is a difficult task at the best of times). It is difficult to come to any conclusion other than the notion that instability must continue to exist for the money to continue to flow.
A sobering thought for Chinese human rights activists.
David Dawson is an Australian writer based in Beijing, with extensive experience in Chinese state media.