Busting on One

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According to its Academy of Social Sciences, China "suffers from the world's most severe brain drain." Approximately two-thirds of the Chinese who have studied abroad in the past two decades did not return home.

The BBC offered many possible explanations for this drain: the lack of opportunities at home; a lack of freedom, especially after Tiananmen Square, and a preference for the Western "lifestyle."

One factor that was not mentioned but should have been was a concern about spending the rest of your life alone.

According to China's State Population and Family Planning Commission, "by 2020 some 30 million Chinese men will not be able to find wives." If these thirty million men were a country, they would be one of the forty most-populous countries in the world.

This inability to find wives, in the commission's words, "may lead to social instability." I guess it will. According to Constance Kong, a consultant in Shanghai, "given that understatement is a characteristic of the Chinese Government when it discusses national problems, this means that it is [really] alarmed."

The government has only itself to blame. The looming imbalance between men and women of marriageable age is the completely foreseeable result of China's "one-child" policy. Limited to one child in "a country where daughters are unwanted," many Chinese families, especially in rural areas, made sure—even by infanticide—that the one child born was a boy.

As a result, in parts of China, there are 130 males for every 100 females. Government attempts to end sex selection, such as prohibiting doctors from revealing the sex of unborn children, have failed: Families regularly bribe doctors.

This demographic imbalance has created a new market: kidnapping young girls from other parts Asia, not for the sex trade, but to provide wives.

Given the role that marriage and family plays in socializing males and the trouble that young unmarried men have historically created, it is little wonder that Beijing is alarmed. But that's not the only problem caused by the "one-child" policy.

It "has also created the world's fastest aging population." China's population is stabilizing, but, thanks to the "one-child" policy, it is replacing working-age adults with those over sixty. The result: a demographic "Titanic gunning for the iceberg," according to Kong.

This iceberg has raised many concerns among foreign investors. They are no longer putting all their eggs in the Chinese basket. As Kong puts it, it is no longer "China or bust," but "if only China, bust." This diversion of funds threatens China's ability to provide jobs for the tens of millions moving into its cities in search of work.

Given China's history, its leaders are right to be alarmed about the possible impact its demographics will have on "social stability."

China is not the only place where demographic trends are frightening: 3,500 miles away in Tehran, demographics have officials worried, and because they are worried, we need to be worried, as well. I will tell you more about this tomorrow.

China, having chosen "lifestyle" over life itself, is going to find out how costly that preference really was—and provide an object lesson to those of us in the West who are facing birthrate declines of our own.

This commentary first aired on March 7, 2007, and is part one in a three-part series.

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From BreakPoint®, August 8, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship