Excessive population growth is an extremely serious problem facing the contemporary world. Each minute, the earth's population is increased by 160 people. In face of this problem, the UN Population Fund sounded a warning to the international community: Lacking prompt and determined moves to control population and maintain a balance between consumption and development, the world population would be 12.5 billion people by the middle of the next century and humanity be unable to develop further.
The global emergence of the population question poses a serious challenge to many countries and regions. For a populous developing country like China the challenge posed by the population question not only has a bearing on the survival and development of the Chinese nation but also affects the stability and prosperity of all human society.
How is China taking up the challenge to deal with this problem? Why has China adopted the strategic policy of carrying out family planning? What policies and measures has it taken to implement its family planning programme and what results has it achieved? We shall introduce the problem and provide some answers.
The population problem is an important question that touches upon the survival and development of the Chinese nation, the success or failure of China's modernization drive as well as the coordinated and sustained development between the population on one hand, and the economy, society, resources and environment on the other. It is a natural choice that the Chinese government has made to implement family planning, control population growth and improve the life quality of the population a basic state policy on the basis of a wish to make the state strong and powerful, the nation prosperous and the people happy.
After the founding of the People's Republic of China, due to the stability of the society, the development of production and the improvement of medical and health care conditions, the people lived and worked in peace and happiness. The death rate was reduced markedly, while the population increased rapidly, thus the situation then was characterized by more births, fewer deaths and high growth. It should be pointed out that this was an inevitable phenomenon at that time. But, just as the international community then was not responding promptly to the question of swelling global population, China lost the chance to solve the problem of over-rapid population growth in the first birth peak period after the founding of New China.
In the 1960s, China's population entered its second peak birth period. From 1962 to 1972, the annual number of births in China averaged 26.69 million, totalling 300 million. In 1969, China's population exceeded 800 million. Beginning from the 1960s, the contradiction between the population on one hand, and the economy, society, resources and environment on the other had become gradually apparent. In view of the situation, the Chinese government issued a call for family planning and advocated the use of contraceptives. However, as there was still the lack of a deep understanding of the seriousness of the population problem and the government still had not worked out a clear population policy, family planning was not effectively carried out throughout the country.
From the early 1970s, the Chinese government had become increasingly deeply aware that the over-rapid growth of population was unfavourable to economic and social development and decided to energetically carry out family planning in both urban and rural areas and integrated the plan for population development into the plan of national economic and social development. Consequently, family planning work entered a new phase of development.
At the end of the 1970s, Deng Xiaoping, the chief architect of China's reform and opening to the outside world, made an in-depth analysis of China's basic national conditions on the basis of the experience and lessons of socialist construction since the founding of the People's Republic, pointing out that, to accomplish the goal of the four modernizations in China, it was imperative to take into consideration the basic features of the Chinese environment, that is, the vast scale of the country, its weak foundation, its massive population and the low ratio of cultivated land, and this demonstrated the objective need for the development of population to be coordinated with the development of the economy, society, resources and environment. The major contribution Deng Xiaoping made to the solution of China's population problem is: To study and deal with the population problem in the overall context of the national economic and social development and clearly point out that China's population policy is an important policy of strategic significance. In accordance with Deng Xiaoping's thinking, the Chinese government has made it a basic state policy to carry out family planning and population control and to improve the life quality of the population, and has clearly incorporated it in the Constitution of the People's Republic of China, thus establishing the important position of family planning programme in China's overall task of national economic and social development.
By February 15, 1995, China's population had reached 1.2 billion. Over the past few years, the annual births have averaged about 21 million, with a net annual increase of 14 million. Such massive total population and annual population growth constitutes a heavy burden for China, a country that has a weak foundation and little cultivated land, whose economic and cultural level is rather backward and where development is regionally imbalanced. The negative impact of China's overabundance of population has permeated all aspects of social and economic life; in fact, many difficulties China has encountered in its economic and social development are directly related to the problem of population.
Over the vast territory of China, the space suited for people to live and engage in economic activities is limited and population distribution is extremely uneven. Plains and hilly land account for 12.0 percent and 9.9 percent respectively of China's total land area, totalling only 21.9 percent, while basins, mountains and plateaus account for 18.8 percent, 33.3 percent and 26.0 percent each, adding up to 78.1 percent. Many of the mountain, plateau, hilly and basin areas are unsuited for living. China's humid and semi-humid areas, appropriate for living, account for only 47 percent of the total land mass, while the arid and semi-arid areas account for 53 percent. Now, 94 percent of China's population live in the eastern part, which accounts for 46 percent of the country's territory, particularly in the southeastern region where the natural environment is better and the economy is relatively developed. The State Statistical Bureau estimates, on the basis of data collected in the third national census in 1982, that 20.3 percent of China's population live in areas over 500 metres above sea level, whereas in the world's population as a whole, only 10 percent live in areas over 400 metres above sea level. At present, there are still 70 million people in China living below the poverty level, of which the majority live in the western region where the geographic environment is harsher. Obviously, the poverty of the population is closely related to their poor living conditions. Besides this, China's per-capita average of forested land, grassland and freshwater resources amounts to only one-ninth, one-third and one-fourth of the respective world averages. "Food is the first necessity of the people." To solve the problem of feeding a population of 1.2 billion is a big challenge to China. Now, cultivated area in China accounts for only onetenth of its territory. In contrast, cultivated land in India accounts for 55 percent of its territory, with a per-capita average twice that of China. Although cultivated land in the United States makes up for only 20 percent of its territory, still its per-capita average is nine times that of China. The greatest pressure on China's agriculture, particularly grain production, is the continuous growth of the population and incessant shrinkage of the cultivated land. The United States and India, as well as China, are all major grain-producing nations in the world. Though its cultivated land is less than the United States and India, China ranks the first in the world in terms of grain output; its per-unit grain yield is much higher than the world average. But, as China's population is almost five times that of the United States, its per-capita share of grain is less t