Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles China's population is shrinking That's bad news for the Chinese Communist Party Can they solve the problem By forcing people to have babies? Welcome to China Uncensored. I'm Chris Chappell. Last week, the Financial Times came out with an explosive report. It said China's population had declined for the first time in five decades. This would be the first time the population has decreased since the Great Leap Forward. That was “Mao Zedong's disastrous economic policy in the late 1950s that caused the deaths of tens of millions of people.” Now the idea that China's population has fallen for the first time in 50 years doesn't sound controversial. But we're talking about China, where anything can become a state secret if the Chinese Communist Party is paranoid enough. Population growth? State secret. Real GDP numbers? State secret. Chinese leader Xi Jinping's favorite breakfast food? Definitely state secret. According to the Financial Times, China's population fell below 1.4 billion in 2020. Those population numbers come from China's latest 10-year census, which hasn't been publicly released yet. The Financial Times got their scoop from anonymous sources claiming to be “familiar with the research.” They added that “The figure was considered very sensitive and would not be released until multiple government departments had reached a consensus on the data and its implications.” Well after the Financial Times ran this story, Chinese government departments reached a consensus on the data. And their consensus was that the Financial Times is a big, fat lying liar who lies. China's National Bureau of Statistics came out with a one-line statement saying that China's population grew in 2020. And Chinese state-run media were quick to publish multiple articles denying the Financial Times report. Of course, the actual population data still hasn't been released yet, even though the census was supposed to be published last month. Look, Chinese statistics are an art, not a science. And everyone knows you can't rush art. Especially now that they have to fudge the numbers all over again to refute that Financial Times report. You know what else is an art? Reading between the lines of Chinese propaganda. This Global Times article seems to indicate that the census really did find that China's population was below 1.4 billion. But they blamed that on a “statistical error.” According to the Global Times, China's population didn't really drop, it was just never 1.4 billion in the first place. This is actually plausible. Some experts have said for years that China's population estimates are inflated. One of the reasons is that local governments are incentivized to inflate their population numbers to get more resources from the central government. That's a sign of a really functional system. But the Global Times also said that China's population is likely to start to decline as early as 2022. Which is pretty interesting. Because previous government estimates said that China's population would start to decline after 2027 or 2029. Suddenly moving that up to next year shows this is a bigger problem than the Party previously admitted. So it's quite possible China's population is already declining. It's just too politically sensitive to say it now. But why are these population statistics so politically sensitive? I'll tell you after the break. Welcome back. One of the big dangers for the Chinese Communist Party is that just as they get strong enough to become the dominant global power, their internal problems will trigger a crisis. And China's population decline is a big crisis. One that's due to the Chinese Communist Party's one-child policy. The first problem is that China now has too many men and not enough women. The common statistic is that there are more than 30 million more men than women in China. That leads to things like sex trafficking women from North Korea and Myanmar. We've talked about that before on the show. The second problem is that China is getting old, fast. China's working age population has been falling since 2011. If this keeps going, China won't have enough workers to support its aging population. And with China's inadequate pension and healthcare system, that's putting more pressure on younger people to support older adults. It's also a big problem for China's economy, which has been built on having a huge supply of workers. We've talked before about the disasters of the one-child policy, from the hundreds of millions of forced abortions and sterilizations, to the massive fines that were used to make money for local governments. And the tragic thing is, it turns out the one-child policy was probably unnecessary. China's birthrate had already been falling for a decade before the one-child policy. But the Chinese Communist Party went ahead with the one-child policy anyway, creating an authoritarian social engineering project that screwed up their population for decades. Birthrates started falling so fast that in 2016, the Party changed their one-child policy to a two-child policy. Now this doesn't mean there was more freedom. It just meant that people were allowed to have two kids instead of one. You still had to, for example, get a permit to have a kid. The massive bureaucracy created by the one-child policy was still there. For example, the military, the police, and other state-owned enterprises all have family planning units. These family planning units do things like monitor their female employees' menstrual cycles. And you thought your HR department was bad. But while the two-child policy resulted in an initial bump in the number of babies, ultimately it hasn't worked. In 2019, China's birthrate sank to the lowest level on record. It turns out that if you spend 35 years implementing a one-child policy, a generation of only children don't really want to have more than one child themselves. Especially because raising a kid is getting more and more expensive. The Chinese Communist Party knows this is a problem. Which is why they're starting to act like your mother when she asks you why she doesn't have grandchildren yet. Earlier this year, the People's Bank of China released a report calling for the central government to “fully liberalize and encourage childbirth,” meaning abandon restrictions on how many children people can have. Now this doesn't mean there will be more freedom. This is the Chinese Communist Party. They're going to use the full power of the state to make sure people do what they want. Does this mean that the Chinese Communist Party will force people to have babies? Should we get ready for China's baby quotas? I'll tell you more after the break. Welcome back. Could the Chinese Communist Party make people have babies? Well, they're definitely going to try. I'm not saying China's going to go full Handmaid's Tale. They just don't have enough women for that. But the Party is already pivoting to “encourage” people to have more children. Earlier this year, Chinese premier Li Keqiang talked about working to achieve an “appropriate” fertility level. Li didn't say exactly what appropriate fertility levels were, but here's a hint. State propaganda slogans are telling couples to “have children for the country.” Yes, lie back and think of China. That's probably not going to work. There are other ideas that might work better. “Measures now being discussed range from extending maternity leave to encouraging people to have a second child with straight cash incentives or tax breaks.” But possibly not. Similar policies have been tried in Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea after their birthrates fell. Things like baby bonuses, new parental leave policies, and expanded preschool availability. And they didn't work. But if incentives don't work, the Chinese Communist Party can use propaganda and social pressure. One example of this is the “leftover women” campaign. That's a propaganda campaign aimed at shaming educated women into getting married earlier, by trying to convince them that if they're over 27 and unmarried, no one will want them. And it's worked, in the sense that it's given Chinese women in their mid-20s crippling anxiety about their futures. But it's clear that this type of campaign will continue. There have been recent proposals that “The government should create a 'good matchmaking environment and encourage women aged between 21 and 29 to give birth during this optimal reproductive period.'” Are we sure that these guys should be creating a good matchmaking environment? What are they going to do, make a communist version of Tinder? But don't worry, because it's not just about matchmaking. It's also about getting married younger. There have been proposals that the government should lower the marriage age to 18. But what happens if propaganda and social pressure, not to mention the matchmaking prowess of the Politburo, still isn't enough? Remember what I said earlier about how the one-child policy created a massive family planning bureaucracy in China? Well some experts “fear that officials will reorient the gigantic family-planning bureaucracy, which enforced restrictions through forced abortions, sterilizations and steep fines, toward pushing women to have children.” Hey, the Chinese Communist Party loves quotas. The two-child policy could turn into a requirement instead of a restriction. Problem solved. I'm not saying this is going to happen immediately. But if other policies don't “persuade” people to have enough children, this will happen eventually. And that's because this is how the Chinese Communist Party functions. They govern through mass political campaigns that depend on local officials filling their quotas. And they already have the family planning system in place. Instead of monitoring employees' menstrual cycles to make sure they don't get pregnant, state-owned companies could monitor employees' menstrual cycles to make sure they do get pregnant. Instead of fining people who have too many children, local governments could fine people who don't have enough children. Instead of forced abortions, the Communist Party could limit birth control. Actually, they already did that once, under Mao. Which led to a population explosion, which led to the one-child policy, which led to the population decline, which...hmmm. It's almost like giant authoritarian social engineering policies don't work. But I wouldn't want you to think that everyone would be forced to have more kids under the Chinese Communist Party's pro-natal policy. Ethnic minorities will still get sterilized. And now it's time for me to answer a question from a fan who supports China Uncensored on the crowdfunding website Patreon. Rswaggs asks: Why doesn't China invest into fish farms? They must be cheaper than artificial islands. This was a question from our episode on how China's fishing fleets are wrecking the oceans. Well, Rswaggs, China does invest in fish farms. In fact, they have massive floating fish farms that provide two-thirds of the world's farmed fish. If you eat tilapia, it's probably from China. The bad news is, that China has had food safety issues with their fish farms. Farmers tried to deal with polluted water by feeding fish pesticides and antibiotics that are illegal to use in other countries like the US. Which led to import bans on Chinese farmed fish. In recent years, Chinese fish farmers have tried to clean up their practices. But even in China, consumers who have enough money prefer wild-caught fish from North America, Australia, and other places that they think of as having clean water.