Read the following account of demographic changes in China:

Patterns of fertility in China have been significantly affected in the last thirty years by several factors. In 1979 China introduced a strict family planning policy that allows most couples to have only one child. Without this policy the Chinese government says that the country’s population would have continued to grow at an alarming rate. However, one of the results of this policy is the gradual emergence of a gender imbalance. In China as a whole, there are 120 males born for every 100 females. In some provinces, the number of males rises to160. The typical average ratio worldwide is about 105 boys for every 100 girls. There are now 18 million more men than there are women of marriageable age and the numbers are still growing.

The main reason for this imbalance lies in Chinese cultural traditions.When a woman married, she lived with, and worked for, her husband’s family. Therefore, male children were more valued, as they carried on the family line, earned money for the family and looked after their parents in old age. This is still particularly true for rural areas – baby girls are not a good investment!

At first there were incidents of baby girls being abandoned, or sometimes even killed. Today many female foetuses are aborted. Modern ultrasound techniques can identify the sex of a foetus and this can then influence a decision about abortion. Although there are now laws to prevent doctors telling parents the sex of their unborn child, such sex-determined abortions are still occurring.

The Chinese version of ‘Blind Date’ now attracts thousands of applicants from young men, who are willing to sing, dance and ridicule themselves for the chance of a date with a young woman. The status of older women as potential brides has improved and homosexuality has become more common. More worrying are the increase of kidnapping of women, sex trafficking from other Asian countries, and sexual crime by gangs of young men. In response, the government has introduced a propaganda campaign stressing the importance of girls.

Now discuss each of the following questions:

  1. Explain how a range of different social, cultural and political influences have brought about this situation in China.
  2. Look back to the section on fertility (page 49) and identify which factors identified there are relevant in this case also.
  3. What policies do you think the Chinese government could use to ease the growing problem of gender imbalance?