China’s recent decision to expand the “allowance” of children per family from one to two has in some quarters been mistaken for a softening of the regime toward human rights, in this case the right of families to have children. However, tender pro-family feelings have nothing to do with this action taken by the nation’s rulers.
Let’s be clear about this: the Chinese government still operates on totalitarian principles, meaning it is a country whose governing class claims the right (and does not hesitate to put that right into practice) to control and regulate all aspects of the lives of its subjects. Perhaps it is becoming less correct to speak of China unqualifiedly as a communist country, given its enormous efforts in recent decades to promote an economy that to some degree operates along profit-making principles and tolerates substantial financial inequality to do so. At the same time, its recent economic successes have rested on essentially the slave labor of prisoners combined with low wages that, as prosperity causes living standards to creep up, are likely to rise enough to price China out of some of the wealthier nations’ outsourcing of labor.
In fact, it is virtually impossible to understand from a Western viewpoint what exactly the Chinese have in mind for their political system, economy, or basic social structure. Nonetheless, clearly the regime’s switch after many decades from a “one child per couple” policy to one permitting a second child points to something going on that, even if not motivated by sound morality, may have socially healthy repercussions.
Of course, the immediate and primary motivation appears to be the regime’s acknowledgement of severe demographic challenges resulting from the radical curtailment of reproduction there. The looming inverted pyramid of large numbers of elderly and small numbers of working-age people that most of the West and, even more dramatically, Japan are beginning to face has much more serious repercussions for China, both because China’s population decline will be more dramatic and because, despite its economic clout, its people are still not as prosperous as those in the West. And then there is the problem of the shortage of females, which the “one child” years greatly exacerbated. Neither of these problems, however, can be quickly reversed by China’s changed policy: Instead, China can anticipate demographic challenges and disequilibrium for the foreseeable future.
Fundamentally, children are a gift; healthy societies recognize that, and therefore even moving from one “permissible” child to two may be a major game changer for China. If we can put it this way, openness, step by step, to freedom and to the more developed members of the world community offer China its best opportunity for prosperity and for a healthy society. Of course, today’s China has far to go to reach the understanding of freedom and individual liberties that have fueled the progress of the Christian-formed West up until recent times. The regime may end up choosing a less tolerant and more aggressive path in pursuit of world power. Please God the Chinese have the wisdom to avoid anything that might develop into a catastrophic world war, for example. If, rather, the Chinese rulers truly want to be a world player, they will need to understand that although world powers become so in many different ways, one requirement is a large and dynamic population. Rather than being a deficit, it is an advantage to developing a prosperous and healthy society.
Those reading this are as appalled as I am by abortion, which is contrary to the natural law and to the teaching of the Church. However, despite China’s horrendous record of forced abortions throughout the “one child” years and its refusal to repudiate abortion as a means to enforce the new “two child” policy, I am optimistic for the future of human rights in China, in part because of the growth of Christianity there. Although Christians still make up only a tiny minority of Chinese, the Church, even under legal constraints and persecution, has shown very rapid growth there, which God willing will continue.
Can we hope that in time the leaders of China will come to see Christianity not as a threat but as a wellspring of national health and perhaps greatness? In the next several years, I believe it is not only possible but even likely that China will to a large extent have become Christian without any persecution, and that it will have distanced itself further from communism, imitating instead the healthy example of a free country in terms of both religion and the marketplace. And I pray that the Chinese will come to recognize all children as a gift, culturally and economically, regardless of the religion they profess. I am even optimistic enough to hope that this realization will return to the nations of the West as well, and that the United States and Europe will abandon a mindset that tolerates abortion and embrace one that cherishes its children.
Rev. C. J. McCloskey III, S.T.D. is a Church historian and Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, DC.



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