73. Report Prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research1

No. 908



According to a number of reports from China, the government has recently initiated a new phase in its birth control program by requiring couples (either parent) to be sterilized after the second child. This tightening of the anti-natalist population policy appears to be an outgrowth of the 11th Party Congress, held in August 1977. Late marriages and a five-year minimum interval between the first and the second birth remain active components of the family planning program.

If these reports are accurate, the new policy marks an abrupt attempt to intensify China’s long-standing and seemingly successful birth control efforts. The government may be seeking to extend the geographic coverage of the program and to apply uniform demographic targets to all sections of the country. In the past, three-child families were, on the whole, tolerated in rural areas while urban residents were exhorted to limit themselves to two children.

We do not know whether the new instructions represent a successive step in a long-range birth control strategy or the new leadership’s dissatisfaction with the current pace of fertility decline. The government’s ability to popularize a small family norm in a relatively poor and predominantly agricultural society is also conjectural. If the government’s two-child policy is effective, however, China’s 1975 population can be expected to increase by less than 30 percent by the year [Page 283] 2000. It would expand by no more than 50 to 60 percent (over 1975) before ceasing to grow in the second half of the 21st century.2

[Omitted here is the main body of the report.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Far East, Oksenberg Subject File, Box 28, Brzezinski 5/78 Trip to China: 5/5–9/78. Confidential. Drafted by Lydia Giffler and approved by James H. Noren, both in the Office of Economic Research and Analysis.
  2. The analysis in the body of the report predicts that the PRC effort to reduce population growth would greatly strengthen that country’s potential for economic growth during the next few decades, but would produce a rapid aging of the population.