(TibetanReview.net, Dec28’23) – One of the Party-state of China’s main policies to deal with its failures is to avoid any public discussion of it, and censor those who expose it for doing so, as this is seen to negate its justification for its authoritarian power. And so, on Dec 27, its censors have deleted an article that reportedly leaked full-year population figures for 2023, revealing a plummeting birth rate despite ongoing efforts by the ruling party to encourage people to have families, reported the Mandarin service of rfa.org Dec 27. President Xi Jinping recently called on the country’s women to embody “the traditional virtues” of marriage and raising children.
The report noted that while official figures won’t be confirmed until Jan 17, the Mother and Infant Daily news service said 7.88 million babies were born across the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 2023, which was 1.68 million fewer than in 2022.
Given that 11 million people died this year, the PRC’s population has fallen by 3.12 million, the population of a medium-sized Chinese city, the report was cited as saying, citing the City Data account on Baidu‘s Tieba forum site.
The report said the City Data post had been deleted by Dec 27 evening local time, suggesting that the topic is a highly sensitive one for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, which is keen to sing the praises of the economy in a bid to boost people’s confidence in the future.
However, the reported figures were stated to be in line with earlier estimates, including one by Peking University School of Medicine scholar Qiao Jie, who had told a forum in August that the number of newborns had plummeted by 40% over the past five years.
“The number of births in 2023 is expected to range from 7-8 million,” China Business News was stated to have quoted Qiao as saying.
Likewise, the journal China Philanthropist was stated to have predicted in May that new births this year would come in under the 8 million mark, extrapolating figures that were available at the time.
The report noted that in 2022, China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported a drop in population of around 850,000 to 1.41175 billion, the first fall since 1961, the last year of China’s Great Famine.
Faced with plummeting marriage rates, flagging births and a rapidly aging population, President Xi recently called on the country’s women to step up and embody “the traditional virtues” of marriage and raising children in a bid to “rejuvenate” the nation.
Recent media reports have said authorities in Hangzhou, Zhengzhou and other major cities with populations in the tens of millions, had promised cash subsidies for new families, with the Wuhan Donghu High-tech Zone offering 60,000 yuan (US$8,400) per child, the highest known rate so far. Various other incentives have been announced by a number of local governments in China.
The scale of the plummeting birth could be gauged from the fact that the number of Chinese couples tying the knot for the first time had fallen by nearly 56% over the past nine years, the financial magazine Yicai had quoted the 2023 China Statistical Yearbook as saying, with such marriages numbering less than 11 million in 2022.
As regards the reason why, the report noted that young people were increasingly avoiding marriage, having children and buying a home amid a tanking economy and rampant youth unemployment, part of an emerging social phenomenon known as the “young refuseniks” – people who reject the traditional four-fold path to adulthood: finding a mate, marriage, mortgages and raising a family.
A recent poll on the social media platform Weibo was stated to have found that while most of the 44,000 respondents said 25-28 was the best age to marry, nearly 60% said they were delaying marriage due to work pressures, education or the need to buy property.
A Chinese expert who declined to be named for fear of reprisals has told Radio Free Asia that the leaked figures likely signal a turning point in the aging of the population, and blamed the three years of stringent zero-COVID policies under Xi.