One of the largest social experiments ever is coming to a halt. China has decided to drop its one-child policy first introduced in 1979. Faced with an aging population it will now allow all couples to have two children. Officials suggested that the approach stopped around 400 million births. This, in theory, reduced the need for resources which were then used to speed up China’s economic development. Yet the policy was never completely applied as it allowed ethnic minorities and rural couples whose first-born was a girl more than one child. And in 2013, a relaxation of the policy allowed families two children if one of the parents was an only child.
I believe that history’s conclusion on the one-child policy will be damning. For more than three decades, Beijing has controlled lives:
Gender imbalances have occurred due to the selective abortion of girls, or killing infants to secure a male heir. According to a report by the State Population and Family Planning Commission, there will be 30 million more men than women in 2020, which could lead to social instability.
And the sad thing is that it didn’t need to happen. China’s birth rate would have come down itself as the country industrialised, as it has in other developing Asian countries. The problem was that this policy made many officials rich from the large bribes needed to turn a blind eye to enforcing the rules.
So why should this concern the aspiring Stoic? I believe that there is a link between the principle of human rights and oikeiosis, the Stoic theory of attachment. This progressive Stoic idea was that justice is owed to everyone. Think about the attachment parents have for their offspring, or the love pets give to their owners. Stoics thought that this feeling could be extended to all other beings. And justice should extend in the same way as the feeling of attachment. Stoicism stresses the importance of humans as humans.
One famous quotation by Terence reads:
Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto
Cicero, perhaps influenced by stoicism, says,
If nature (ie reason) prescribes that a human should want to consider another human, whoever he is, just because he is a human,…
Although the Stoics thought that to a certain extent nothing matters except character and rationality – the rest is, in their words, indifferent, they had an interest in human justice. A Stoic, out of justice, should be concerned with the one-child policy violating a human right to determine the size of one’s own family. According to a 1968 proclamation of the International Conference on Human Rights:
Parents have a basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of their children.
A Stoic should also exercise good character. It’s therefore important that you should do your duty to ensure that those with human rights should have those rights met. The achievement of human rights is not a matter of indifference. Yet be mindful that we can’t ever really control how things will turn out. What’s more, when you want to control the outcome of things, you become more anxious, more tense.
So, what’s the answer?
Well, supporting an organization such as Amnesty International is an excellent start. This is an act of doing something good, something compassionate and helpful, without knowing whether things will conclude in the way you hope. You can simply make this commitment, a positive statement of wanting change today. A commitment to apply pressure to the Chinese government to drop this cruel experiment. We can only hope that it is not too late to undo all the damage caused..