China has been an overachiever in the global process of demographic transition in the second half of the twentieth century. Its mortality decline was unparalleled in human history among populations of significant size, consequently setting the stage for rapid population growth. In turn, rapid population growth laid the foundation for an unprecedented state intervention in birth control. China’s fertility decline in the closing decades of the twentieth century was perhaps even more extraordinary for its speed and especially for the measures taken and the authorities involved. With China’s fertility now well below replacement level, what lies ahead for this demographic overachiever? In this chapter I examine three issues related to China’s demographic transition. First, I briefly review the demographic transition in China. Second, I discuss the role of the Chinese state, a particularly salient aspect of the demographic transition and one that has attracted much attention and caused a good deal of confusion. Third, using population projections, I highlight a few important features of China’s demographic future, deriving in large part from its status as a demographic overachiever.
A big question going forward is '[is China] going to use the same tools to keep it at two [children] as they used for one?' which were quite abusive and in effect were human-rights violations, particularly in rural areas. Coercing pregnant women into abortions if they'd already had one kid, early on forcing them to have sterilizations at least in some parts of China. It was really nasty. Over time, as there was more prosperity, people were more willing and able to pay the fines that were charged, but this will help get the state out of the bedroom up to a point.
For a family-centered society like China going back thousands of years, [the one child policy] was a big change and so this relaxation will enrich family life to some extent, and that's a good thing... [The one child policy] really skewed the male-to-female ratio and it meant [China was] staring at a situation where more and more young men were not going to be able to find brides, which is not a good situation you want in any society.