A ticking time bomb in China?

We were talking about this in the chat last night, so I thought I’d post a few links for anyone interested in this stuff.

Overpopulation is no longer the most threatening issue facing China. Actually, China’s growth rate is quite negligible these days: in some places, there are even labor shortages, or at least there were prior to the financial crisis. That’s not really true anymore. The current birth rate in China is about 1.8 children per family, which over the long term would actually lead to a shrinking population over time (you need about 2.1 to 2.2 children per family to break even). The issue now is the growing disparity between boys and girls. For children under the age of 20, there are now 32 million more boys than girls

That is only for children. That is equivalent to the entire male population of France. The disparity also exists among older generations, which has led to a massive surplus of males. Why has this happened? Well, it is pretty much purely the result of the One Child Policy. Male children have always been preferred in China, but previously, women could have as many children as they wanted, so if they had some girls, it didn’t matter. They could get a small dowry for the girls as well down the line. After the one child policy was enacted, however, families that had girl children started to freak out. Who would take care of the family? Luckily, they found an answer. Ultrasound had just recently been invented, which could detect the sex of a child prior to birth. If it was discovered to be female, it could be aborted and the family could try again. The procedure was quickly banned in China, but over here, anything can be had for a small price. The procedure is still commonplace today.

ACtually, the One Child Policy is not as set-in-stone as many believe. Most children in China are not only children. There are 300 million children, but only 60 million are only children. There are a few reasons for this. In the countryside, families that give birth to a girl first may try again for a boy. Families that want a second child can also simply pay a fine to have the child. The fine can range from anywhere to $1,000 to nearly $100,000, depending on the area and how many connections you have. There are also of course cases of twins, triplets, etc.


Some of these statistics are truly shocking. The most shocking to me was that in Anhui province, one of the most poor and rural provinces in China, among second born children the ratio of males to females born is 190 to 100. That is almost 2 males born for every female. The ratio in Shanghai is the lowest at 110 to 100, which is still statistically significant above the world average of 105 to 100. It is quite clear that the policy of allowign second born children to be males is not helping the ratio at all, when figures average about 140 to 150 to 100 for second born children. There is still a lot of sex selection going on.

Of course, this might be better than the alternative. The best estimate is that the one child policy has eliminated anywhere from 300 to 500 million births in China. If we take the middle and say 400 million, that would have increased China’s population today to 1.7 billion instead of 1.3 billion. What is worse? Having 400 million more people, or having 30 million extra boys? I guess I can’t really answer that, but I do disagree a bit with the figure. With China’s booming economy, it’s like that birth rates would have dropped quite significantly anyway, as has been shown time and again in developing economies.

As the article above shows, Children have become more of an investment than a safety net. It is very expensive to have a child in China now. Schools are not free: the good ones are very expensive, even by Western standards. Then there are all of the extra classes. English, swimming, math, cram studying…many have remarked that China no longer allows childhood. As soon as you are able to read, your life consists of 25 years of study, followed by work until death. You might have heard the term “little emperor” or “little empress” This is another outgrowth of the one child policy. Parents project all of their hopes and dreams onto their children. The side effect of this though is that children become despondent and unable to care for themselves, let alone their parents or extended families. Many parents hope their child can perform well on test and study abroad, thereby leading to a potential path for immigration for the whole family.

My favorite line in this whole article is the 15 year old girl who already “dreams of marrying a foreigner”, not for money, but for lifestyle. China’s environment is competitive beyond belief. Friends betray each other to get ahead, relationships are made not on love but on mutual benefit. Young boys and girls read Japanese romance novels and watch Korean soap operas, dreaming of a type of love they can only imagine happening with a “foreigner.” Chinese people, she thinks, are too cunning and practical. As a male foreigner in China, I obviously see this on a very personal level. I’m not bragging when I say that I could literally get 5 or 10 dates in the next 2 minutes if I just casually mention to some of my female coworkers that I’m “looking for a nice girl.” It can be hard not to exploit such a position, I will admit. I’m not saying every girl in China is “begging for a foreigner”, but supply and demand economics are quite clear on the issue. There are far more girls here willing to entertain the prospect of dating a foreigner than there are potential foreign candidates.


This brings us back around to what I was talking about first. There is already a huge surplus of males. Girls as young as 14 or 15 are already dreaming of marrying a foreigner or getting the hell out of dodge for a better life. What are all of those males going to do?


Well, this article is a bit old, but it’s only gotten worse. One thing that is happening is “wife stealing” Girls are stolen from poor Chinese villages and sold to families who have a boy child as a future wife. The phenomenon is quickly spreading to neibhoring countries as well, mostly Vietnam, Laos, Mongolia, and North Korea. It is, of course, impossible to steal enough women to satisfy demand, and it is a risky venture as well. Authorities are beginning to clamp down hard. I’ve heard a number of possible scenarios. One that is often touted is war. China’s military force is decreasing in size (people anyway, not the budget), however…and anyway, who is China going to fight a conventional war with anyway? Taiwan? It’s honestly not that likely. I’ve also heard that the issue is moot, as about 8% of those males would be homosexual, which is more than the 32 million surplus. Homosexuality is still largely frowned up in Chinese society, however, and most families will still abandon any child who is out of the closet.

Most likely, it will just lead to rising under-the-radar nationalism and increased crime / civil strife. Prostitution has been linked as well to the risign excess male population, which further exacerbates the problem: who wants to marry an ex-prostitute?


To wrap this up, I have one last article here. China’s population will soon stop growing. While some think this is a good thing, it can have disastrous economic consequences. We need look no further than Japan to see the evidence of stagnant birth rates. Prolonged periods of economic stagnation and decline. Why is that the case? Well, as birth rates slow, average population age increases. More and more old people need to be supported by fewer and fewer young people. However, as we’ve already seen, the current younger generation has little interest in caring for older generations. They have little interests beyond their own school/career. As the work force gets smaller, it becomes harder and harder to find suitable labor, driving up the cost of labor (which is still very low by world standards, but has increased rapidly in the last decade). Western countries have countered declining birth rates by substituting immigration for natural growth, but Asian countries like Japan and China are not multicultural, immigrant-fueled countries. china will not open its doors to immigrating cheap labor (though there are few restrictions on people like me - “professional” talent).

So what is the tl;dr of all of this? Well, you can’t just sum up China in the way you normally hear it portrayed. Yes, the economic growth has been a “miracle” - but when people make predictions that it will pass up the US in 20 years, these are based on assumptions that growth will continue at the same rate it has. That is a pretty weighty assumption. There are a lot of issues just bubbling at the surface. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Basically, visit the chat room. You can join in conversations like this.

Its interesting to see Zep actually make a serious post selling a story like this. I too have been keeping track of the too many males problem and I can’t begin to imagine what the fuck is going to happen in 20-30 years. I had never heard of the marry a foreigner thing though. Haw.

Did you mean to say telling a story, or are you tryign to imply something? :ark:

I didn’t mean anything mean by it. What I’m trying to say is that your post sounds like a university paper. You’re clearly presenting an argument, you’re advocating something instead of just listing the facts. I’ve always been under the impression that you’re riding your wave and so I didn’t expect to see you take up a cause.

Haha, I was just messing with you. Yes, I am certainly advocating a position, but I’m not necessarily taking up a cause. I don’t really have any ideas personally about what should be done. As someone who is living here though, and even trying to capitalize on my position, I am obviously interested in the level of social stability here. There are a lot of issues floating just under the surface here, such as rising nationalism, demographic shifts, mass migration of population. China is a large country, so these issues rarely intersect at the moment, but it’s a pretty scary thought to think what might happen if they all start to run into each other. Needless to say, it’s not uncommon for foreigners like me to keep a locked box of cash somewhere in the apartment in case we need to “get out in a hurry”. Personally, I don’t do that, at least not yet. If the economy continues to dive though, who knows…

I remember seeing on discovery channel recently one woman who was kidnapped as a wife and eventually found and rescued, but the screwed up thing is that she wasn’t even allowed to keep her rape baby. (That stayed with the father)

DAMMIT I hate that I wasn’t in the chat last night.

Come to the chat every night, Vicki.

Here’s another interesting article from the NYTimes yesterday

April 21, 2009
Letter From China
China Begins to Address a Coming Wave of Elderly

BEIJING — Beijing Sunshine Care House opened in January 2008, seeking to attract the city’s elderly with a tropical conservatory, billiard room and calligraphy studio. By the end of this year, the retirement home will triple the number of beds to 700 — and probably fill them all.

“It’s an industry with a great market,” says Zhao Liangling, Sunshine’s director, perched on a white leather armchair in her office.

Ms. Zhao’s expanding customer base reflects a potential threat to China far greater than the current economic slowdown. The world’s third-largest economy is aging so rapidly that by 2050, there may be only two working-age people for every senior citizen, compared with 13 to one now.

That increases the urgency of the government’s pledge to expand the Chinese social safety net and make retirement benefits and health care accessible to as many of its 1.3 billion residents as possible. China’s graying also requires a cultural shift as the tradition of families caring for aging relatives at home becomes more difficult.

“You can’t wait 20 years to start dealing with that problem,” said James Smith, director of the Center for Chinese Aging Studies at RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, California. “People will talk about Chinese culture having very strong reverence for people who are old, but relying on that is very, very dangerous, because in most places those values are really altered with rapid development.”

A baby boom in the 1950s and 1960s was halted by draconian population control that began in 1979, reducing the Chinese birthrate to 1.7 children per woman from more than six in the 1960s. The first in that bulge of people in the prime working years —between 25 and 64 — is beginning to retire, putting a strain that will continue for decades on the smaller generation born since the start of restrictions on family size.

China’s elderly, about 12 percent of the population now, will reach 30 percent by 2050, according to Mr. Smith, who has helped to develop surveys that track aging in 25 countries. He said China was unusual in confronting this problem before achieving developed-nation status, unlike other places with an aging population such as Japan.

More than a fifth of the Japanese population is 65 or older, and that figure may rise to more than 40 percent by 2050, according to the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research in Tokyo. The country’s welfare ministry plans to cut pension benefits 20 percent by 2038 because of the increasing burden on the retirement system, the Asahi newspaper reported in February.

China’s Confucian tradition places strong emphasis on the obligation to care for parents. Many older people live with sons or daughters and take the responsibility for raising grandchildren.

Less than 5 percent of the urban elderly and 2 percent of the rural elderly live in institutional facilities, according to Zeng Yi, a demographer at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and Peking University in Beijing. While such centers have mostly been a last resort of the childless or handicapped, that is changing.

Sunshine Care “is much better than living at home; there’s no comparison,” said Tian Baofa, 76, a former newspaper photographer. “I’ve learned to use the computer, I play billiards — I never in my life before played billiards.”

He and his wife, Ge Nianjiu, 67, moved in last month. Their daughter is busy with her job, and their grandson is cared for by their son-in-law’s parents.

“As China develops, more and more people will walk this path,” said Mr. Tian, who pays Sunshine Care 2,300 yuan, or $337, a month from his pension of more than 3,000 yuan.

He is among a lucky few. The Chinese pension system covered 205 million people as of March 2008, according to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, or about 15 percent of the population. The government aims to lift that figure to 223 million by the end of next year, it said last week.

Rural areas where the system is less developed face the biggest risk, undermining government efforts to narrow the wealth gap between city and country.

A pension program that started in the 1990s covers only about 10 percent of the rural labor force, the World Bank says. Participants dropped by a third between 1999 and 2004, a setback Mr. Zeng, the demographer, attributed to the government’s shortsightedness and an assumption that families would take care of rural elderly — although he noted that official attitudes were changing. Family support is undermined partly by the migration of younger workers to cities.

Prime Minister Wen Jiabao pledged last month to expand urban and rural pension coverage and develop a system that would allow migrant workers who changed jobs frequently to shift retirement benefits. He didn’t specify how much would be spent on these efforts, and the government has left targets vague, saying only that the numbers covered by the rural plan would “expand year by year.”

Other initiatives include building four “demonstration bases” this year with investment of as much as 500 million yuan each in the cities of Beijing, Tianjin and Chongqing and in Jiangsu Province, China Daily reported this month. The centers would provide a model for the development of an industry to care for the elderly, the report said. This year alone, Beijing plans to add 15,100 nursing home beds, an increase of 43 percent.

Ma Li, deputy director of the government-linked China Population and Development Research Center, said the country still must do more.

“China is not yet ready for an aged society,” she told Xinhua, the official news agency, last month. “It does not have a complete old-age social security system. There are not enough resources. Fiscal support is scarce. And the risk is ever-rising.”

Dune Lawrence writes for Bloomberg News.

I quite like the NYTimes articles on China, but they still make ridiculous statements sometimes. They are, after all, writing for a Western audience.

For example, note the sentences that I bolded. Especially the first one. China’s Confucian tradition places strong emphasis on the obligation to care for parents. Why does the article have to mention Confucian traditions? Why can’t they just say Chinese people place a strong emphasis on care for elders? If you would ask most Chinese people if they agree with that sentence, they would say no. Until very recently, Confucian practices were actively discouraged. Confucian temples were burned down in the Cultural Revolution: many of the confucian traditions don’t meld too well with communist party rhetoric. Do we REALLY know it’s confucianism that causes this? How do we know it’s not simply done out of necessity? There are not many elderly care facilitise in China. Those that do exist are expensive: most peopel couldn’t afford them. Childcare is expensive as well. In China, most working class and middle class mothers work. Grandparents are a free source of childcare. As that national geographic article I posted in the OP shows, when a family has enough money, they put their elders in a facility as quickly as we do in the States. You have to read these articles with a very careful eye. Newspapers love blanket statements like these, but I’m not so sure they reflect reality.

Confucianism is usually a bad road to go down, when one doesn’t know one’s shit. It’s far less straightforward than a lot of other ideologies people like to thrown around; Nihilism or Utilitarianism would be pretty easy to use in some article to make you sound smart, while still being relevant and at least arguably correct, while some philosophies, like Confucianism or a lot of Feminism, are far more subtle and intricate.

None if this would be a problem if we didn’t let people have children willy nilly. There should be some sort of control over A: Who has kids in the first place. B: How many kids they have (1). and C: What Gender the offspring are, this would be selected using science. As I think nature has taken us as far as we are going to go. We need to take evolution into our own hands via Eugenics (genetic manipulation through selective breed) or just plain old genetic manipulation through radiation and other various super sciences. You know the ones i’m talking about. Also I think peoples lives should be selected before they are born. Like Human Offspring # 12409-1524-15 would be chosen to be a computer programmer or a dentist or something. People aren’t smart enough to make their own descisions anymore.

We’ve got the same problem back in the old country: the population of Russia and Ukraine (and other European ex-USSR republics) is slowly dying, and immigration is insufficient/unwanted.

The conventional wisdom seems to be that:

hordes of young sexually frustrated men = lots of war.

And war as in, China warring on other countries to give all those excess males something to do/kill them off.

I’mnot sure about the war theory. In a lot of ways China isn’t strong or unified enough to throw its weight around, and still won’t be in 20 years; I was going to make a new thread about this, actually.

I’ve also heard a theory about a massive wave of Chinese male immigrants to other countries(it would seem the U.S. would be a prime candidate for that); but some say most of these men won’t have enough money to go and try to make it in another country. Who knows, maybe they could walk over into Russia, which is watching its own population evaporate.

Personally, I think either the immigration thing happens, or China embraces prostitution like no other society has in the history of mankind. And by embrace, I mean like removing social taboos and integrating it as a part of life. Still, all those Chinese men would want children… Hopefully they won’t solve the problem through civil violence or war.

I think this seems unlikely. China is pretty rapidly drawing down the size of its military force, as increased technology no longer requires a massive force. This is similar to the path most Western militaries have followed as well. Also, who is China going to fight? Most enemies that China would fight would not exactly result in too many casualties for China. They could run over pretty much any country in the area with the exception of Japan. Though China uses a lot of anti-Japanese rhetoric to whip its citizens into a frenzy, the chance of any actual conflict is about the same as America going to war with Mexico.

Taiwan remains a possible conflict. Since Afghanistan / Iraq though, the ability of America to defend Taiwan in a meaningful way has been sharply reduced, so that probably wouldn’t have too many casualties either. Anyway, China has no interest in recapturing a Taiwan with its infrastructure in ruins. China wants to absorb a healthy, modern Taiwan, similar to the way it reacquired Hong Kong and Macau.

That leaves America. I really can’t see any reason that America and China would fight a war, with the possible exception of Taiwan. The economies are simply way too interconnected. If China declared war on the US, they would immediately lose basically all of their markets. It would be akin to declaring war on America, Canada, and Europe simultaneously. What does it have to gain by declaring war on half its customers and like 80% of its exports? Absolutely nothing.

Anyway, the idea that a country would simply declare war to kill off some of its population is absurd. Countries declare war because they have objectives they want to achieve, or for ideological reasons. China’s excess male population is also spread out among a huge landmass larger than the continental United States, and the unmarried portion of them are obviously disproportinately poor or otherwise disadvantaged. Not exactly the group of people with the greatest clout. As I stated before, I think the most immediate effect of this will be social unrest and a significant increase in crime, which is already being seen quite clearly.

I’ve also heard a theory about a massive wave of Chinese male immigrants to other countries(it would seem the U.S. would be a prime candidate for that); but some say most of these men won’t have enough money to go and try to make it in another country. Who knows, maybe they could walk over into Russia, which is watching its own population evaporate.

That is, if other countries would accept them. Immigration to Western countries is pretty evenly 50/50 split between men and women at the moment, and that’s probably unlikely to change. As well, the men that do immigrate are from the higher classes (it’s not cheap to immigrate) and thus would be unlikely to have a problem finding a mate back in the old country anyway. Even amongst the girls (lol chinese girls all want a white husband), most of the first generation immigrants are likely to marry other male Chinese immigrants, so I think immigration is not a solution. It is interesting that you mention Russia though. I can’t find a very good source, but I have heard that Chinese are immigrating to Far East Russia in large numbers, often illegally. This is all I could find in a quick search.


Personally, I think either the immigration thing happens, or China embraces prostitution like no other society has in the history of mankind. And by embrace, I mean like removing social taboos and integrating it as a part of life. Still, all those Chinese men would want children… Hopefully they won’t solve the problem through civil violence or war.

Prostitution is WIDELY accepted among society in China. Though it is illegal (everythign is illegal in China), the authorities completely ignore the issue. Much like in Amsterdam, you can walk down a street in almost any neighborhood of any city in China and find “pink rooms” with girls inside sitting on couches. Prostitutes are everywhere. The pink rooms are the cheapest, but you can also find prostitution in bath-houses, karaoke bars, barber shops, massage parlors, walking the streets, on the internet, in nightclubs. I have heard that the sex trade accounts for up to 10% of China’s GDP. In some ways, I’d already say that it is true. There is an unfortunate twist to this though. Almost no Chinese man would ever marry an ex-prostitute. Many of them will get “hymen resconstruction surgery” or simply become old unmarried “ayis” - cleaning ladies that work for a buck or two an hour. More and more young women are being pushed into the trade as well, exacerbating the problem. The number of prostitutes in China is estimated at between 3 million to 10 million. It is not uncommon for otherwise normal college students to become “second wives” to older, wealthy Chinese men as well. The men will basically pay for the girl’s schooling, housing, and get a living stipend in return for that sweet young cooch. Foreigners “stealing their women” is a drop in the bucket compared to this. Stories come out here all the time in newspapers about government officials and business owners with 10 or 15 women - now how’s that for tradition? Trying to emulate the emperor’s harem.

A British friend of mine works as the director / principal of a primary school in the suburbs of Beijing. The school is actually a British school, which teaches the British National Curriculum to Chinese students who will study abroad in Britain at some point. Very expensive school that caters to the wealthy elite of Beijing. Beijing the director of the school, he will often get invited out to dinner by the parents of the school. One time, he was having dinner with one of the students and her mother and father. After the dinner and a few drinks, right in front of his wife and young daughter, he invited Tom to go to the bathhouse and “get some whores” He said this right in front of his wife and daughter, and they showed no reaction whatsoever. It’s just a normal thing. Daddy goes to the bathhouse and fucks whores with all of his buddies. If that isn’t revolutionary acceptance of prostitution, I don’t know what is.

Don’t they teach religion in China?

Actually, I’ve read some pretty convincing arguments that China is going to fall apart in the next 20 years. Which I’m going to transcribe and post in a new thread shortly.

China will never be allowed to fall apart because if it did, the fallout would make our current economic depression look like a trip to a summer camp.

By “fall apart” I don’t mean an economic collapse, but rather China breaking up politically into several smaller “political entities” that can’t cooperate with each other.

I think any perceived dissident factions would be clamped down on pretty hard by the ruling party.