Population growth was included within the development plan of the country. The nation had a serious responsibility to make sure its people had food, housing, and education.
On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People
In 1957, Mao wavered. He said, “it would be great if we could lower the birth rate a bit. We need planned births. Humanity… has plans for industrial production, but it does not have plans for the production of humans.”
This spurred Beijing University economist Ma Yinchu to write an article titled New Population Theory which attempted to fuse Marxism and Malthusianism. The Anti-Rightist response, which included over 200 published denouncements and his firing from the University, led to Mao backtracking.
A year later, he said ”for now, a large population is better,” adding “I said that we could manage with 800 million. I think that one billion plus would be no cause for alarm.” Population control remained a “forbidden zone” until the early 1970s.
Rockefeller & Kissinger Pressure Mao to make a Grand Bargain
In 1973, David Rockefeller visited Mao to discuss the opening up of the country’s economy. His family’s foundation had spent sixty years funding birth control studies in China, as John D. Rockefeller III once said population as an “outstanding problem” for the country. Within two weeks, China established the Family Planning Leadership Group.
The Rockefeller visit was followed closely by the publication of Henry Kisssinger’s loathsome NSSM-200: Implications of Worldwide Population Growth for U.S. Security and Overseas Interests report. It stated that “allocation of scarce resources should take account of what steps a country is taking in population control. There is an alternative view that mandatory programs may be needed.”
Judging from declassified White House briefings, Kissinger and Mao had a clear understanding about Western expectations for China‘s population “problem.”
In 1974, China‘s delegation to United Nations Population Conference issued one final public challenge to the Malthusian narratives:
Is it owing to overpopulation that unemployment and poverty exist in many countries of the world today? No, absolutely not. It is mainly due to aggression, plunder and exploitation by the imperialists, particularly the superpowers. . . . What a mass of figures they have calculated in order to prove that population is too large, the food supply too small and natural resources insufficient!
But they never calculate the amount of natural resources they have plundered, the social wealth they have grabbed and the superprofits they have extorted from Asia, Africa and Latin America. If an account were made of their exploitation, the truth with regard to population problems would at once be out. Their multitude of population statistics will not help them a bit either.
The statement was essentially the last outward-facing dissent to population control being forced upon China; from this point forth, the country had to control its population in order to access the capital it needed to modernize and revolutionize its productive forces.
In 1978, after Mao‘s death, Deng Xiaoping met with the U.N. Fund for Population Activities, which was mainly funded by the United States. A result of the meeting was that the UNFPA awarded $177M to China over the next 20 years.
In a cruel twist of fate, in the 1980s, conservative anti-abortion politicians in the United States raised alarms about the One Child Policy’s allegedly coercive practices, and threatened to pull UNFPA funding from China. Wittingly or unwittingly, they were protesting policies that the US government itself had nudged China to adopt.
The Club of Rome Invades China with the Limits to Growth
The case for population control was clear. If China could show progress to Western governments, Kissinger, and oligarchs like the Rockefellers, they would have access to foreign investment. They would be allowed to develop relatively unfettered than if they defied the West.
The only thing missing was a convincing population control argument that party members and officials could buy into. After all, they remembered what happened to people who made Malthusian suggestions in the past.
Deng encouraged defense scientists to turn their attention to China’s development problems. A missile scientist named Song Jian, who had no expertise in economics or population research, became a key figure in developing what is now known as the One Child Policy.
The big break was in 1979, when Song traveled to Helsinki for the Seventh Triennial World Congress of the International Federation of Automatic Control. There, he first encountered cybernetic-based, Limits to Growth-inspired methods of population control being proposed by Dutch scientists.
From then on, Song’s team was guided by techniques and logic extrapolated from the writings of the Club of Rome.
The historical context of that time is critical. At the time, books like The Population Bomb, Small is Beautiful, Silent Spring, and and the Limits to Growth report were considered in the West to be cutting-edge. To an outside observer, it was clear that every serious world power was deeply concerned with overpopulation, and that scientists had a mandate to come up with real solutions.
Song wrote in 1986:
After more than ten years of isolation from the outside world, during a visit to Europe of 1978, I happened to learn about the application of systems analysis theory… to the study of population problems. For instance, in a “Blueprint for Survival” published in 1972, British scientists contended that Britain’s population of 56 million had greatly exceeded the sustaining capacity of the ecosystem of the Kingdom. They argued that Britain’s population should be gradually reduced to 30 million, namely, a reduction by nearly 50 percent. Some Dutch scientists also believed that the Netherlands population of 13.5 million had far gone beyond the limit of what the country’s 40,000 square kilometery territory could possibly bear and should therefore be reduced by at least half. I was extremely excited about these documents and determined to try the method of demography.
Sadly for China, Song didn’t encounter any of the thorough critiques of the Limits to Growth‘s flawed computer modeling or underlying assumptions about innovation, resourcefulness and growth. As figures like Julian Simon and Lyndon Larouche most eloquently argued at the time, the Limits to Growth discounted our greatest resource: the ability of human beings to engineer solutions, like the Green Revolution for agriculture, or nuclear energy for electricity, to humanity’s problems.
Song returned to work in China and urgently began reading Malthus and Western demographers to replicate Club of Rome’s projections specifically for China, while cleaning them up to seem scientifically-based and socialist. The next year, the Politburo issued a letter to party members urging them to only have one child.
A Bad Idea That Should be Blamed on Western Imperialism; Not Totalitarianism
The policy encountered stiff resistance from Chinese citizens, especially in rural areas.
While only about 35% of the population had the policy applied to them, the overall moves toward discouraging reproduction resulted in China’s population growth rate decreasing from 2.3% in 1973 to 0.1% in 2021. Song failed to create “modernization with Chinese characteristics,” as Deng had requested, as his work was entirely Western-derived in nature, creating a one-sided fiction that China’s population was primarily preventing it from being a rich, powerful country.
The most critical flaw in Song’s work was that while his Western contemporaries treated population control as a scientific exercise, in China, it was treated as a concrete policy proposal that was needed to transform the country from a poor, backwards country into a world power.
England and the Netherlands never actually reduced their populations by 45% and 63%, despite what papers Song read at the 1979 conference. The One Child Policy, which had deep repercussions for China‘s population dynamics, can clearly be traced back to imperialist pressures and ideologies.
Figures such as Kissinger and Rockefeller effectively signaled to Chinese leaders that population control was a prerequisite for accessing essential Western capital. In a desperate bid to translate this pressure into actionable policy, Song Jian turned to Malthusian concepts, ultimately culminating in a policy that heaped immense costs upon the Chinese people.
As historian Susan Greenhalgh noted, “Western ideas… shape[d] China‘s population policy.”
Today, as China grapples with the challenges of an aging population, we must critically evaluate the influence of current Western environmental ideologies, particularly those promoted by the modern Club of Rome, on China‘s future trajectory.
Evidence is in the video below. Jorgen Rangers, one of the original authors of the Limits to Growth report, is now the Head of the Centre for the Ecological Civilization at Peking University and a key figure with the China Association for the Club of Rome. He appeared on CGTN to discuss how China needs to degrow its economy:
Meanwhile, Monthly Review, one of the leading Fabian Marxist journals, recently published an entire issue of their magazine devoted to the topic of degrowth. A frontpage story: “Degrowing China – By Collapse, Redistribution, or Planning?”
The specter of degrowth and even ecological civilization, championed by certain Western circles, looms large. These policies are the newer, kinder versions of the One Child Policy; “friendly suggestions” eagerly being pushed upon a sovereign nation by the Sinophile left and by environmentalists. Are they truly the best policies for China, or are they being forced upon the country to be allowed to develop?