For the first time in decades, China reported a population decline. Some researchers believe the population may actually have been dropping for years. Now experts ask: What does this mean for China’s future?
China’s last population decline occurred during what is called the “Great Leap Forward.” In 1958, China’s leaders forced communism on the country’s farm-based economy. Instead of individually owned farms, China set up communes controlled by the government. This led to one of the worst famines in human history. Tens of millions of people died.
During this time, China’s leaders also urged people to have more children. More children meant more workers. More workers meant a stronger economy. China’s population boomed—so much that by 1980, officials feared overpopulation.
That year, China once again imposed sweeping rules on its citizens. It instituted the one-child policy. Most families were allowed to have only a single child.
God tells us that children are a blessing. (Psalm 127:3) This one-child policy went against that principle. In those years, many Chinese parents falsely believed sons had more value than daughters. If they could have only one child, most wanted a son. Many children—mostly girls—were abandoned.
In 2016, China did away with this policy completely. Once again, its leaders wanted to bolster the population. China’s workforce had started to grow old. To compete with the United States for the title of world superpower, China needed new, young workers.
Since then, China’s population has risen, along with its projections of economic success. At least, that’s what the official reports have said.
The numbers from 2022 tell a different story. China reported one million fewer babies born than in the previous year. Deaths also outnumbered births by nearly one million.
Why the decline? COVID-19 and China’s strict lockdowns may have played a role. And many believe the cost of raising children has discouraged Chinese citizens from having kids.
But some experts say the population has actually been declining since 2018.
Yi Fuxian studies Chinese population trends for the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He believes China’s population crisis will have far-reaching effects—and not just because of fewer workers. According to Yi, the real problem is that China based its plans on false population numbers. “All of China’s past economic, social, defense and foreign policies were based on faulty demographic data,” says Yi.
At creation, God blessed humanity and directed humankind to subdue the Earth and fill it. (Genesis 1:28) China’s leaders put their own plans in the place of God’s plan. Now the nation needs children and workers, but its population is falling.
Experts disagree on what the future holds for China. But we can ask as we watch: What happens to a nation when its leaders play God?
Thus says the Lord GOD: “Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god.” — Ezekiel 28:2
(A girl rides on a man’s shoulders in Beijing, China. AP/Mark Schiefelbein)