Cultural Hangover: China’s Gender Imbalance

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Let’s face it, China’s gender imbalance is based on out-of-date, irrational sexist crap (unless you live on a farm/require manual labor). There, I said it. That’s all; you can go back to what you were doing.

I understand both the cultural and anthropological antecedents of this stuff. We’ve been dealing with the big switch-over to patriarchal societies since the agricultural revolution. Yes, it used to make sense having more guys around to till the soil, tote that barge, lift that bale, etc. But we’ve grown up a bit since then.

Now that the anthropological rationality is absent from the equation, we’re just dealing with cultural artifacts. And I’m sorry, but some aspects of “culture” are nonsensical (I’ll pause for a moment here to let you send me hate-mail).

In other words, valuing little boys more than little girls is totally and completely nutsy bobo, but your average urban resident in 2012 doesn’t want to admit that their long-held prejudices make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

It’s been a long day, and then I see this from Xinhua:

Census data showed that China’s gender ratio stood at 118.06 newborn baby boys for every 100 baby girls in 2010, which translates to roughly 1 million more boys born every year than girls, according to Yang Yunyan, a deputy to National People’s Congress, the top legislature.

The country’s been dealing with this problem for how many years now, and we’re still at 118+? Damn, that’s really disheartening. I’m already embarrassed that the United States is currently embroiled in its own irrational discussions about contraception (no, seriously), and now this? Each country and culture has its own schtick, I suppose.

But I like to believe in progress. Obviously the U.S. is going backwards on social issues. In China, I don’t keep up to date with gender imbalance statistics, but I really thought the situation was better than that. In 2000, the number was around 116, and in 2005, it was pegged at 119.

And it seems like the legislature is frustrated as well:

To balance the country’s gender ratio, China should impose harsher punishments for medical workers who conduct illegal sex determination tests, a deputy to the country’s top legislature said on Tuesday.

[ . . . ]

The gender ratio imbalance has existed since the 1990s. Although authorities have made efforts to address the imbalance in recent years, it remains a serious problem, Yang said, blaming the imbalance partly on the insufficient enforcement of existing laws.

Although the laws are on the books, it is difficult in practice to punish certified medical workers who conduct illegal gender tests, he said.

So the suggestion here is to be tougher on doctors, nurses et al who administer these tests illegally. A South Korean law that imposes thousands of dollars in fines and up to three years in jail is cited in the article as an example.

No surprise, the problem here seems to be enforcement of an existing law. Welcome to China. But look, while I’m all for a tougher law and better enforcement, this is fundamentally an education/awareness problem. Attitudes need to be adjusted in a serious way, although I realize that this is a long-term project.

Yeah, I’m usually not a big fan of attitude adjustment. But this is very different from something like IP infringement and the useless “public awareness campaigns” that I constantly rail about. Human beings are, in my opinion, programmed to be quite selfish. Let us get away with larceny, and we’ll do it over and over. And let’s not get into lust and gluttony, or we’ll be here all day.

This gender crap is different. While humans obviously have differentiated and distinct gender roles, that doesn’t really explain unequal valuation of offspring. (If there is a plausible evolutionary biology theory for this, please let me know.)

If the government has to throw doctors and nurses in jail, something is terribly wrong. Let’s try some more aggressive education on this issue in addition to the usual “crackdown” approach, huh? Whatever the policy is now, it doesn’t seem to be working.

6 responses on “Cultural Hangover: China’s Gender Imbalance

  1. kailing

    “Let’s try some more aggressive education on this issue in addition to the usual “crackdown” approach, huh?” Mmm dangerous words for the Chinese government. They will keep the aggressive, take out the education and then do some “scientific-harmonious” approach. What about… Let us take 50% of the Chinese male population and the alter their testicles in such a way that they can only produce female offspring and the same with the other 50% for male offspring… And now we have solve the problem! Just kidding…

  2. alexbc

    “But I like to believe in progress. Obviously the U.S. is going backwards on social issues. In China, I don’t keep up to date with gender imbalance statistics, but I really thought the situation was better than that.”

    You’re only disappointed because, like in most of your other posts, you vastly overstate U.S. decline while oddly retaining incredible faith in an East Asian totalitarian state. How exactly is it “obvious” that the U.S. is going backward on social issues? The contraception debate has only exposed how much of the country (I’m talking about regular citizens, not right-wing politicians who have no reelection strategy now that the economy has recovered) has moved on from fringe positions.

    China’s demographic wasteland is man-made, and is a symptom of a party that craves power even at the expense of its own citizens’ welfare. Like just about every other macro issue, it doesn’t have anything to do with “culture,” no more than China’s trade surplus has anything to do with its “culture of savers” or some such.

    1. H.Z.

      The same kind of sex imbalance issue exists in South Korea, India, Taiwan … so what do you mean it is not a cultural issue? It is basically old attitudes enabled by new technology. Over time the imbalance should naturally raise the “value” of girls and eventually everything should revert but the reversion (without effective intervention) could take a few decades and meanwhile you are left with millions of men without realistic prospects for marriage. South Korea imported a lot of Vietnamese brides but the Chinese population is so much bigger. Plus Vietnam probably has the same issue now as well due to the advance in medical technology there.

  3. jc

    I do think that the mentalities are changing a bit. I know a lot of my mom’s friends in China who say that these days, it’s much better to have girls. This is due mainly to the dating/marriage culture, where it is understood that men are the providers, and the man’s parents basically have to finance his house if the guy is ever to get married.

  4. Tee

    My understanding is that the problem here is mainly one of economic development because the educated middle-class urban residents in China no longer feel the pressure to have sons, and in fact the urbanites don’t feel like having any kids at all these days. The fertility rate in Shanghai, for example, is well below one per woman.