One-Child Policy Could Push China Into Same Demographic Ditch As Japan

Getting lonely in China
Getting lonely in China
James Liang*

In 2011, Sony accumulated losses of $5.6 billion, Sharp lost $4.7 billion, and Panasonic $9.6 billion. The momentum of similar huge losses at these firms has continued through 2012. All these enterprises that used to be so much admired by the Chinese are plunging, one by one, into historic lows.

Of course the ups and downs of enterprises are part of the laws of nature. For instance, Kodak, once a king, is sliding toward extinction. More important are the new forces attacking the throne.

Among the four enterprises with the highest stock market capitalization in the world, Microsoft, Apple and Google were established since the 1970s. If we use the age of a person to measure these companies, they are just in their thirties, the prime of life. Google can even be regarded as a teenage boy. The vitality they possess infuses the U.S. economy with a steady stream of power.

In contrast, Sharp and Panasonic which were founded in the second decade of last century are about to become century-old stores. Their apathy not only drags down their own businesses, but is also pulling the Japanese economy into a quagmire.

Why is it that Japan can’t give birth to a new generation of corporate giants like the United States?

The answer may be quite complex, however one point in particular is not to be neglected. That is the discrepancy of the demographic structure between America and Japan. The creation of a young and dynamic enterprise must first have a young and dynamic entrepreneur. Bill Gates founded Microsoft when he was 20. Jobs founded Apple at 21. Marc Andreessen created the web browser and the company Netscape when he was 23. Google was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin when they were both 24 years old.

Where in Japan can one expect to find similar young entrepreneurs?

First, looking at the data of the total fertility rate. Japan has fallen from 4.0 children in the post-War period to today’s 1.3. This is far lower than America’s 2.1. That is to say, as Japan’s newborn population continues to dwindle, young people as a proportion of the total population also decrease. This has become a great disadvantage relative to the United States.

Fertility decline impedes the creation of corporations not just because of the absolute decline of young people but also because with the aging demographic structure. The elderly constitute the main voting force so various social resources and benefits will tilt in their favor.

When I was leaving Japan, three pairs of glasses of different degrees of farsightedness were available at the customs office where the forms are to be filled in. I can’t help but sign that Japan is indeed a paradise for the elderly. When a Japanese retires he still enjoys 70% of his previous wages at work, far higher than the salaries of young people just starting their career. This is enviable. The government’s taxation and the corporate seniority system virtually hand over the economic output created by the young to the elderly.

Under such circumstances, it’s hard for Japanese youth to have any chance of getting ahead. In the 1970s, 32% of section chiefs in Japanese firms were under 35 years old. This figure dropped to 16% in the 1990s. At the higher departmental level, there used to be 25% of managers aged under 45 years old, whereas this number dropped to less than 8% in the 1990s.

Turning to China

In the past, when people analyzed the gloom and doom of the Japanese economy they usually focused on factors such as the changes in exchange rates and the economic policies, but they ignored Japan’s demographic structure. It’s particularly worth noting that when policies deviate, it’s possible they can be corrected in the short term. However, the correction of population issues uniquely imposes much higher long-term costs.

Today’s population policy has its impact on the ratio of youngsters only in 20 or 30 years’ time. Were Japan able to use a time machine presumably they would have chosen to launch a pro-baby policy decades ago.

Having looked at the case of Japan, now we turn back to the situation in China. Japan has a 1.3 total fertility rate and is trying desperately to encourage child-bearing so as to fight its way out of the aging population quagmire. Meanwhile, as its Sixth Population Census showed, China has a 1.2 fertility rate and is still implementing the One-Child Policy that restricts child-bearing. Such a contrast looks particularly glaring.

Perhaps in Chinese policymakers’ eyes, what they see are just the crowds filling the Beijing or Shanghai subways, and therefore are convinced that China still has too many people. Nevertheless the effect of a population policy takes time to see. Thus, in the process of today’s formulation of policy, the conditions in 20 or 30 years’ time ought to be anticipated.

According to a statistical forecast coming from the U.S., if China maintains its current total average fertility rate, its demographic structure diagram by 2040 will be nearly the replica of that of Japan today. The series of issues that Japanese society is facing today are likely to befall us.

Due to the urgency of this, one of my jobs over the past two years has been making demographers understand better the relations between economy and population as well as try to make economists learn more about the grim situation of China’s demographic structure with its low birth rate. Hopefully this will encourage more economists to stand up and call for a change of China’s family planning policy.

Along with numerous economists and sociologists I have recently issued an Urgent Appeal to Stop the Family Planning Policy. It brooks no delay for China to adjust its population policy.

*James Liang is a columnist at Caixin media and a professor of economics at both Stanford University and Peking University

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Where Lockdowns For LGBTQ Meant Moving Back In With Homophobic Relatives

The confinement experience could turn brutal for those forced to live with relatives who would not tolerate a member of the family living their sexual orientation openly as a young adult. Here are stories from urban and rural India.

At a Rainbow pride walk in Kolkata, India

Sreemanti Sengupta

Abhijith had been working as a radio jockey in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020. When the government imposed a nationwide lockdown, Abhijith returned to the rural Pathanamthitta district , where his parents live with an extended family, including uncles, cousins and grandparents.

Eighteen months later, he recalled that the experience was "unbearable" because he had to live with homophobic relatives. "Apart from the frequent reference to my sexual 'abnormality', they took me to a guruji to 'cure' me," Abhijith recalled. "He gave me something to eat, which made me throw up. The guru assured me that I was throwing up whatever 'demon' was possessing me and 'making' me gay."

Early in 2021, Abhijith travelled back to Thiruvananthapuram, where he found support from the members of the queer collective.

Inspired by their work, he also decided to work towards uplifting the queer community. "I wish no one else goes through the mental trauma I have endured," said Abhijit.

Abhijith's story of mental distress arising from family abuse turns out to be all too common among members of India's LGBTQ+ community, many of whom were trapped in their homes and removed from peer support groups during the pandemic.

Oppressive home situations

As India continues to reel from a pandemic that has claimed more lives (235,524) in three months of the second wave (April-June 2021) than in the one year before that (162,960 deaths in March 2020-March 2021), the LGBTQ community has faced myriad problems. Sexual minorities have historically suffered from mainstream prejudice and the pandemic has aggravated socio-economic inequalities, instigated family and institutionalized abuse, apart from limiting access to essential care. This has resulted in acute mental distress which has overwhelmed queer support infrastructure across the country.

Speaking to queer collective representatives across India, I learned that the heightened levels of distress in the community was due to longstanding factors that were triggered under lockdown conditions. Family members who are intolerant of marginalized sexual identities, often tagging their orientation as a "disorder" or "just a phase", have always featured among the main perpetrators of subtle and overt forms of violence towards queer, trans and homosexual people.

Calls from lesbians and trans men to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns.

Sappho For Equality, a Kolkata-based feminist organization that works for the rights of sexually marginalized women and trans men, recorded a similar trend. Early in the first wave, the organization realized that the existing helpline number was getting overwhelmed with distress calls. It added a second helpline number. The comparative figures indicate a 13-fold jump in numbers: from 290 calls in April 2019-March 20 to 3,940 calls in April 2020-May 2021.

"Most of the calls we have been getting from lesbians and trans men are urgent appeals to prevent forced marriages during lockdowns," said Shreosi, a Sappho member and peer support provider. "If they happen to resist, they are either evicted or forced to flee home. But where to house them? There aren't so many shelters, and ours is at full capacity."

Shreosi says that the nature of distress calls has also changed. "Earlier people would call in for long-term help, such as professional mental health support. But during the pandemic, it has changed to immediate requests to rescue from oppressive home situations. Often, they will speak in whispers so that the parents can't hear."

Lack of spaces

Like many of his fellow queer community members, life for Sumit P., a 30-year-old gay man from Mumbai, has taken a turn for the worse. The lockdown has led to the loss of safe spaces and prolonged residence at home.

"It has been a really difficult time since the beginning of the lockdown. I am suffering from a lot of mental stress since I cannot freely express myself at home. Even while making a call, I have to check my surroundings to see if anybody is there. If I try to go out, my family demands an explanation. I feel suffocated," he said.

The pandemic has forced some queer people to come out

Sumit is also dealing with a risk that has hit the community harder than others – unemployment and income shortage. He's opened a cafe with two other queer friends, which is now running into losses. For others, pandemic-induced job losses have forced queer persons from all over the country to return to their home states and move in with their families who've turned abusive during this long period of confinement.

Lockdowns force coming out

According to Kolkata-based physician, filmmaker and gay rights activist Tirthankar Guha Thakurata, the pandemic has forced some queer people to come out, succumbing to rising discomfort and pressure exerted by homophobic families.

"In most cases, family relations sour when a person reveals their identity. But many do not flee home. They find a breathing space or 'space out' in their workspaces. In the absence of these spaces, mental problems rose significantly," he said.

Not being able to express themselves freely in front of parents who are hostile, intolerant and often address transgender persons by their deadname or misgender them has created situations of severe distress, suicidal thoughts and self-harm.

Psychiatrist and queer feminist activist Ranjita Biswas (she/they) cites an incident. A gender-nonconforming person died under suspicious circumstances just days after leaving their peer group and going home to their birth parents. The final rites were performed with them dressed in bangles and a saree.

"When a member of our community asked their mother why she chose a saree for someone who had worn androgynous clothes all their life, she plainly said it was natural because after all, the deceased 'was her daughter,'" Biswas recalls.

The Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling

David Talukdar/ZUMA

"Correctional" therapy

In India, queer people's access to professional mental healthcare has been "very limited," according to community members such as Ankan Biswas, India's first transgender lawyer who has been working with the Human Rights Law Network in West Bengal.

"A large majority of the psychiatrists still consider homosexuality as a disorder and practice 'correctional therapy'. It's only around the big cities that some queer-friendly psychiatrists can be found," Biswas said. "The pandemic has further widened the inequalities in access to mental health support for India's LGBTQ community."

Biswas is spending anxious days fielding an overwhelming amount of calls and rescue requests from queer members trapped in their homes, undergoing mental, verbal and even physical torture. "We don't have the space, I just tell them to wait and bear it a little longer," he said.

Medical care is dismal

Anuradha Krishnan's story, though not involving birth family, outlines how the lack of physical support spaces have affected India's queer population. Abandoned by her birth family when she came out to them as a trans woman in 2017, Anuradha Krishnan (she/they), founder of Queerythm in Kerala who is studying dentistry, had to move into an accommodation with four other persons.

Isolation triggered my depression

"I am used to talking and hanging around with friends. Isolation triggered my depression and I had to seek psychiatric help." Living in cramped quarters did not help with quarantine requirements and all of them tested positive during the first wave.

What is deeply worrying is that the Indian queer mental health support infrastructure, already compromised with historical prejudice, is now struggling, placing more and more pressure on queer collectives and peer support groups whose resources are wearing thin.

During the 10 months of the first wave of the pandemic in India in 2020, Y'all, a queer collective based in Manipur, received about 1,000 distress calls on their helpline number from LGBTQ+ individuals. In May 2021 alone, they received 450 such calls (including texts and WhatsApp messages) indicating a telling escalation in the number of queer people seeking help during the second wave.

As India's queer-friendly mental health support infrastructure continues to be tested, Y'all founder, Sadam Hanjabam, a gay man, says, "Honestly, we are struggling to handle such a large number of calls, it is so overwhelming. We are also dealing with our own anxieties. We are burning out."

Sreemanti Sengupta is a freelance writer, poet, and media studies lecturer based in Kolkata.

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