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In pursuit of truths inherent to societies of mammals, renowned ethologist John B. Calhoun constructed a utopian environment, dubbed "Universe 25", for  four pairs of house mice (Calhoun 82), and observed their behavioral patterns over a period exceeding five years. "Universe 25" was free of predators, held an endless supply of food, water, and nesting material, and was kept at a balmy range of 70-90 degrees. Calhoun marked the evolution of "Universe 25" through a series of phases: Phase A- the initial period of adjustment to the environment, Phase B- a period of exponential growth among the mouse population, Phase C- the final period of growth among the mouse population, and finally Phase D- the decline and extinction of the mouse population.

While Phases A and B exhibited plenty of promise for the lab rats of "Universe 25", circumstances turned noticeably sour in Phase C. As the mouse population increased, the availability of meaningful societal roles greatly decreased, causing hapless males to devolve into social rejects: "they became very inactive and aggregated in large pools near the center of the floor of the universe. From this point on they no longer initiated interactions with their established associates, nor did their behavior elicit attack by territorial males" (Calhoun 84). Despite the absence of attacks from "territorial males" (Calhoun 84), violence still broke out among these pools of aimless mice, so much so that the dominant males lost their ability to defend vulnerable, nursing females. These rashes of violent behavior lead to drastic increases in nest invasions and, consequently, infant mortality. Mice born during the turmoil of Phase C experienced deafening blows to their abilities to carry out normal social interactions such as "courtship, maternal care, territorial defense" (Calhoun  86), and that loss proved to be quite detrimental. By the start of Phase D no young remained, and the remaining survivors were either unable to conceive or utterly stripped of any desire to do so.  

As Calhoun’s findings no doubt begged a litany of questions, he was eventually brought before a panel of curious doctors and professors to be grilled on various aspects of it. One professor in particular got at the primary concern aroused by “Universe 25”: “… was it not possible to get an answer to [the concern of overpopulation] for human beings by examining such communities? Did crowded, enclosed communities behave like mice?” (Calhoun 87). In response, Dr. Calhoun presented the idea that man had been able to continually avert an end like the one that crashed down upon the lab rats of “Universe 25” because of its use of “conceptual space” (Calhoun 87) “which enabled man to utilize ideas in order to mine resources and guide social relations” (Calhoun 87). Calhoun then stated that despite man’s use of “conceptual space” (Calhoun 87), “there was a breaking point for this process, at which time physical density might overwhelm man’s ability to utilize conceptual space in order to cope with increasing numbers” (Calhoun 87).      

It stands as an empirical fact that China’s population has undergone tremendous transformations within the last century. According to Maristella Bergaglio, a professor and professional researcher, these transformations occurred squarely “after the foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949” (Bergaglio 1): “first mortality began to fall rapidly and second, fertility remained for many years at about an average of six children per woman” (Bergaglio 1).  From this point on China experienced a steady decline in the national death rate until 1958, when “a period of  famine” (Bergaglio 2) swept through the country, “mainly because of policy errors and nationwide natural calamity” (Bergaglio 2). This crisis, later known as the Great Leap Forward, lasted a grueling three years and claimed the lives of over 30 million individuals. The Great Leap Forward ironically laid the groundwork for China’s all time spike in fertility rate “because of compensatory childbearing after the famine” (Bergaglio 2). In the wake of the incessant growth of its population, “China had to manage the problem of improving health, education and life quality for an ever large number of people with an economy that is still weak and inadequate resources” (Bergaglio  2).

 The ever expanding “physical density” (Calhoun 87) of China’s population subsequent to the horrors of its Great Leap Forward seemed to be slowly inching the entire country toward the very “breaking point” that Calhoun spoke of in the discussion following his work.  Rather than allowing the entire population to devolve into bedlam like the lab rats of “Universe 25”, top brass in the Chinese government collaborated on family planning policies designed to stymie its tremendous growth. The first of such family planning policies encouraged was the “later-longer-fewer” (Pascu 1) policy in 1970, which “promoted later births, longer spacing between births and fewer births” (Pascu 1). Though the policy called on citizens to participate voluntarily, “China’s population growth dropped by half from 1970 to 1976” (Fitzpatrick 1). The drop proved promising at the time, but growth among China’s population would return to form in the following years, leading policy makers to reconsider their methods.

China’s most effective attempt at creating a family planning policy appeared in 1979 with the rigorous implementation its One Child Policy. The policy calls for all “urban citizens to have only one child, and rural couples to have two, if the first child is a girl” (Gu 2). The policy appears in its loosest permutations “in the countryside, where 55% of China's population lives” (“Gendercide” 7): “In the coastal provinces some 40% of couples are permitted a second child if their first is a girl. In central and southern provinces everyone is permitted a second child either if the first is a girl or if the parents suffer ‘hardship’, a criterion determined by local officials. ... Minorities are permitted second—sometimes even third—children, whatever the sex of the first-born” (“Gendercide” 8). Despite slight moves in the policy for such accommodations, China’s end game remained utterly stringent as it “set a restricting target of 1.2 billion inhabitants in 2000” (Pascu 104).

According to Mihai Lucian Pascu, a professor in sociology, “In 1983, the authorities imposed the placement of intrauterine devices for the sterilization of women with one child, the sterilization of couples who had two or more children and abortion in the cases of unauthorized conception. The harsh measures and the infringements of human rights stirred violent international reaction, thus forcing the Chinese government to embrace the bending of the law enforcement methods in 1984. The government officially abandoned the imposed sterilization and abortion, leaving it up to the provincial authorities to enforce the law” (Pascu 104). China then set monthly quotas for sterilizations and abortions for each province. Failure to comply with the set quota would result in the collective shaming of that province by the greater government and all other provinces surrounding it. As Jackie Sheeran puts it in her article “Cruel Cut”, “The understanding is that local officials do whatever is necessary to keep the numbers right and in turn their bosses look after their interests” (1).

Provincial officials have proven to be fervent cheerleaders of the greater government’s family planning ideals in the 33 years since the One Child Policy was first implemented. Some have even taken to selling children into adoption abroad as a means of upholding the policy’s regulations.  Shangguan Jiaoming, a reporter for Caixin, investigated the matter and found “that children in many parts of Hunan have been sold in recent years and wound up, sometimes with help from document forgers and complacent authorities, being raised by overseas families who think they adopted Chinese orphans” (Jiaoming 1). Children sold to adoption agencies are usually of parents who are unable to afford "social support compensation" (Jiaoming 1) fees imposed by stipulations in China’s One Child Policy.  Jiaoming states later in “…Family Planning Turns to Plunder” that “The official China Center of Adoption says more than 100,000 orphans and disabled Chinese children were adopted by families abroad until last year. The largest number now lives in the United States” ( 1).

Beyond legal kidnapping, provincial officials have also taken to forced abortions as a means of implementing the One Child Policy. Bo Gu, an official correspondent for MSNBC, reported earlier this year that Feng Jianmei, 22 years old and 7 months pregnant, “was dragged out of her relative’s home, carried and shoved into a van that headed straight to a hospital on June 2” (Gu 1). Later, Feng “was blindfolded, thrown on a bed, and forced to sign a document that she couldn’t read with the blindfold still on her eyes” (Gu 1). The entire charade ended with anonymous doctors injecting two shots of poison into her womb and the still birth of her child little more than “Thirty hours later, on the morning of June 4” (Gu 1).  Incidents such as these, though largely under reported, have become common practice among provincial officials. Chai Ling, founder of the anti-One Child Policy organization All Girls Allowed, estimates that “there are 1.3 million forced abortions in China every year” (Gu 2).

Perhaps the most fascinating of the transformations that China’s population has made beneath the weight of its One Child Policy, are those that have been made in accordance with their own, inherited traditions. Eastern Express, a now defunct Chinese newspaper, reported in 1995 that some Chinese people, specifically those who are employed by or frequently visit hospitals, have begun to consume aborted fetuses as means of nutrition. This bizarre trend has its roots firmly rooted in tradition according to Dr. Warren Lee, a former president of the Hong Kong Nutrition Association, “Eating fetuses is a kind of traditional Chinese medicine and is deeply founded in Chinese folklore. In terms of nutrition, a fetus would be a good source of protein and fats, and there are minerals in bone” (“Here Be Cannibals” 3). All of the aborted fetuses are of course “provided by China's extensive abortion services. … The Hong Kong Family Planning Association (FPA) estimates that 24 per cent of all abortions in Hong Kong are performed in the dubious surroundings of a Chinese hospital” (“Here Be Cannibals” 3). It is indeed interesting enough to have ideological justification for such brutish behavior, but the One Child Policy effectively adds fuel to the fire with its monthly quotas for abortions to be upheld in each of China’s provinces. Beneath the weight of the one child policy, unborn children have been reduced to mere points in a game of cat and mouse, so much so that the idea of actually eating them has taken on an air of expediency. 

Even some of China’s more light hearted traditions have taken on darker facades in the years of China’s One Child Policy.  Professor Pascu reports in “China’s One Child Family Demographic Policy…”, “In the Chinese rural culture the girl leaves behind her natural family after marriage, to continue her life next to her husband’s family” (104). As a result of leaving the nest, “the girl’s family loses manpower, as well as support and a source of income when the parents grow old and they can no longer secure income by their own physical work” (Pascu 105). The marriage between the traditional role of women among rural Chinese and the rock hard stringency of the One Child Policy has basically forced many families to terminate female babies as a means of securing “manpower”( Pascu 105) for the days they are unable to work for themselves. Pascu further reports that “As of 1981, the gender disparities in China evolved from 108 boys to 100 girls, to a ratio of 111 boys to 100 girls in 1988, and 117 boys to 100 girls in 2001, given that the natural ratio varies between 103 and 107 boys to 100 girls” (Pascu 105). As of 2010, China’s boy/girl ratio stood at a staggering “123 boys per 100 girls” (“Gendercide” 3).

China’s sexual discrepancy appears baffling enough within the ratio of “123 boys per 100 girls” (“Gendercide” 3), but its severity is amplified even further when viewed through the demographic brackets of first, second, and third births. The boy/girl ratio among first born children is 108/100, which falls just outside the worldwide average. Among second born children the chasm widens formidably at “146 boys for every 100 girls” (“Gendercide” 8). Among third born children the discrepancy appears at its greatest stature with an astronomical “167” (“Gendercide” 8) boys born for every 100 girls, though “relatively few” (“Gendercide” 8) parents are permitted a third child. And while China’s sexual discrepancy appears even more unnatural through these divisions, it spells out an even more distorted future for the composition of China’s population. As the Economist reports in “Gendercide: The worldwide war on baby girls”, “China in 2020 will have 30m-40m more men [below the age of 20] than young women. For comparison, there are 23m boys below the age of 20 in Germany, France and Britain combined and around 40m American boys and young men. So within ten years, China faces the prospect of having the equivalent of the whole young male population of America unable to find a bride” (2).

The prospect of “30m-40m”(“Gendercide” 2) young males with no hope of finding a bride is indeed a troubling one, “especially …in countries where status and social acceptance depend on being married and having children, as it does in China” (“Gendercide” 9), but its implications bear similar contours to the doomed fate of “Universe 25”. China’s “Bare Branches” (“Gendercide” 9), or young, brideless males, bear circumstances nearly identical to that of Calhoun’s social rejects  that pooled at the center of his lab rat utopia. With no sort of meaningful societal roles to fulfill, many of China’s “Bare Branches” (“Gendercide” 9), have resorted to rashes of violent behavior: “The crime rate has almost doubled in China during the past 20 years of rising sex ratios, with stories abounding of bride abduction, the trafficking of women, rape and prostitution” (“Gendercide” 9). While China hasn’t exactly devolved into bedlam quite yet, it is notable that when “Universe 25” bore similar contours, its inhabitants had begun their eventual descent into extinction.

 In pursuit of the salvation of its populace, deliverance from The Great Leap Forward, and an escape from the grips of “Universe 25”, China’s greater government has prevented some 400 million births since the implementation of its One Child Policy in 1979. This pursuit appears wildly schizophrenic to most fair minded people, especially considering the vigorous methods by which these births were prevented. Ideals of “sustained economic growth and sustainable development, satisfying the daily increasing material and cultural demands of the whole people, and guaranteeing the fundamental and long-term interests of the current generation and their posterity” (China 3) are indeed hard to argue with, especially in light of the uncertain future projected by China’s Great Leap Forward, but it is still indeed a shame that these ideals had to be achieved by such violent and brutish means. But in the end, would it not have been just as shameful if the greater government simply allowed nature to run its course, just as Calhoun did with the lab rats of “Universe 25”?  Therein lies the gnarled bedrock beneath the overarching problem of overpopulation: outside of controlling the rate at which individuals populate the earth, and effectively dehumanizing whole societies of people within that same process, there simply doesn’t seem to be any other options.




Works Cited

Bergaglio, Maristella. “Population Growth in China: The Basic Characteristics of China’s Demographic Transition”. N.p., 11 January 2009.Web. 20 July 2012 

Calhoun, John. "Death Squared: The Explosive Growth and Demise of a Mouse Population". Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine Volume 66 January 1973, pp80-88. National Center for Biotechnology Information.  Web. 3 July 2012.  

China. Information Office of the State Council. “Family Planning in China”. Embassy of the People’s Republic in China in the Republic of Lithuania. Embassy of the People’s Republic in China in the Republic of Lithuania, August 1995. Web. 23 July 2012

Fitzpatrick, Laura. “A Brief History of China’s One Child Policy”. Time. Time Inc., 27 July 2009. Web. 19 July 2012.

“Gendercide: The worldwide war on baby girls”. The Economist. The Economist Newspaper Ltd., 4 March 2010. Web. 20 July 2012.

Gu, Bo. "Gruesome photos put spotlight on China's one-child policy". Behind the Wall. MSNBC, 14 June 2012. Web. 2 July 2012. 

“Here Be Cannibals”. The Heretical Press. N.p., 12 April 1995. Web 25 July 2012.

Wiles, Will. "The Behavioral Sink". Cabinet Magazine. Cabinet, Summer 2011. Web. 19 June 2012.