Shifts in China's population policy, 1984-1986. Views from the central, provincial, and local levels.
Important but little noticed changes have occurred in China's population policy since early 1984. Family planning remains mandatory and 3rd children continue to be prohibited, yet there is substantial evidence that China's birth planning program has become more lenient in the past 2 years. This trend is likely to continue to the year 2000 when the 1-child policy is scheduled to be abandoned. This report covers key changes in policy and practice at the national, provincial, and local levels and assesses their import for the overall style of the program. The review emphasizes family planning among the Han majority; policies for the ethnic minorities, who make up 7% of the population, always have been more permissive. It draws upon statements by China's officials, articles in Chinese-language publications, and extended discussions with Chinese population specialists held during a lecture tour of 10 demography centers in November and December 1985. In response to severe political strains at the local level, the Party Central Committee reviewed its stand on fertility control in early 1984 and issued Central Document 7 on April 13. This document has guided birth planning policy up to the present. The fundamental objective of Document 7 is to create a family planning situation that is realistic, fair, and reasonable to the people yet capable of achieving the Party's goal of holding the population at 1.2 billion by the end of the century. While reaffirming the critical importance of birth planning and reemphasizing the need to advocate the 1-child family, the document introduces key reforms in policy, workstyle, ideology, and organization. Document 7 allows 2nd children among rural couples with "practical difficulties" as long as 2nd births are carried out according to plan and do not jeopardize achievement of the 1.2 billion goal. In workstyle, Document 7 strictly prohibits coercion and "commandism," methods that never were officially sanctioned but arose from pressures to achieve unrealistic targets. In ideology, Document 7 shifts the focus from "managing the people" to "serving the people." In organization, Document 7 promotes 2 key reforms: a downard devolution of responsibility for making and implementing family planning policy to the local level; and the establishment of more scientific and thorough methods of program administration. In the 2 years since Document 7 was issued, Chinese leaders have observed problems of sometimes uneven and inadequate implementation, but their overall message has been one of strong affirmation for the policy's success in bringing excessive population growth under control. While Document 7 remains unchallenged, a shift occurred in early 1985. The draft for the seventh 5-year plan (1986-90) revealed in March 1986 calls for continued adherence to the principles of Document 7 in order to keep the population at 1.113 billion in 1990.