Brian Lee CrowleyEven those sympathetic to China can’t gloss over the harm caused by its one-child policy, or the brutal authoritarianism that spawned it, writes MLI Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley in the Ottawa Citizen. 

By Brian Lee Crowley, Dec. 4, 2015

China has long been judged by many by a different standard than the rest of the world.

Communist regimes in general have usually been given the benefit of the doubt by western observers. Lenin used to refer to such people as useful idiots, willing to paint an airbrushed portrait of life under communism. Some were simply naïve, such as Sidney and Beatrice Webb, founders of the British Labour Party, who called the Soviet Union a new form of civilisation. George Orwell, a man of the left, was disgusted by the whitewashing of communism and wrote Animal Farm to expose such hypocrisy.

Communist China received similar adulation, especially after authors like Edgar Snow presented an unknown Mao Zedong as some kind of agrarian reformer. Time has not dimmed communism’s attraction for many western elites, including Canada’s. One former Globe journalist recounts, in her biography, how as a Canadian studying in China she secretly denounced some of her Chinese classmates—possibly condemning them to torture and even death. Nothing could be more important than the success of the revolution.

Unlike the Soviet Union, of course, Chinese communism survived its confrontation with reform in Tiananmen Square, leaving the regime’s brutal underpinnings in place. The changes western apologists point to, such as rising living standards and the abandonment of the worst features of the centrally-planned economy, are only one half of the bargain the Chinese Communist Party (CPC) has struck with the population. The other half is the continuation of the CPC’s monopoly on political power and the police state that enforces it.

Nowhere do China’s ruthlessness and western whitewashing intersect more disturbingly than on the subject of China’s famed one-child policy and its recent “liberalisation” to allow two children.

The one child policy has been an egregious example of the illiberal nature of Chinese society since its introduction in the late 1970s. There can be few decisions that touch more deeply on individual freedom, personality and values than that of having children. Yet the CPC brutally extinguished that freedom and substituted in its place a vast police force charged with ensuring that no one had more children than the state decreed.

Those who believe that overpopulation will destroy the planet applauded, thinking that all humanity would have to follow this road sooner or later. They completely misread the forces shaping the globe’s population. Now the wealthiest societies in the world face severe problems engendered by too few children and virtually everywhere that living standards have risen birth rates have fallen. Since economic reform has dragged millions from poverty, experts now are sceptical that the one-child policy achieved anything positive for China that growth would not have done without the compulsion.

But the policy caused much harm. If there was to be only one child, tradition favoured boys. Due to the resulting horrific cull of girls by abortion, abandonment and adoption, by 2050 demographers estimate China will be short roughly 75 million women, leaving millions of men with poor prospects of finding a wife or of forming a family, with unforeseeable consequences.  

Even though the one child policy was somewhat relaxed in the countryside (and for ethnic minorities), it has impoverished many country dwellers who do not get the pensions available to city residents and would normally rely on plentiful children in their old age.

Changing the state imposed limit to two children does nothing to remove the policy’s oppressive nature that has resulted in numerous well-documented cases of kidnapping of pregnant women and the forcible aborting of their babies. The hated family police will continue to employ a million bureaucrats, who will enjoy the same coercive powers as ever.

Canadians are of two minds about China. We want to trade but abhor their brutality, as evidenced by their family policy. That ambivalence is justified. By all means trade with China, but never forget who is on the other end of the transaction.

Brian Lee Crowley ( is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa:

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