Friday, October 2, 2009

The Man Behind China's One Child Policy

While "[m]ost Westerners attribute the one-child policy to Communist ideology and its top-down authoritarianism," writes Michael Cook, "the single most influential person [in creating this cruel policy] was not a Marxist ideologue, but a brilliant computer expert named Song Jian" — Raining on their parade. The story:
    Song was a missile expert who had survived the Cultural Revolution because China needed a strong military even during the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution. His particular expertise was cybernetics and unlike many of his colleagues, he was able to travel overseas.

    In 1978 he attended the Seventh Triennnial World Congress of the International Federal of Automatic Control in Helsinki. There he met two Dutch control theorists who had contributed to the Club of Rome report, Limits to Growth. This was an influential computer model which forecast catastrophe if world population were not limited. Song found their work compelling and when he returned to China he set to work developing a population model for his own country.

    Unfortunately, Song was completely unaware of the hammering which Limits to Growth was receiving in the West. Greenhalgh says that he imported what had been merely a scientific exercise in Europe and transformed it into a concrete policy proposal for use on a real population.

    After the ideological lunacies of the Maoist era, Song’s supporters in the Communist Party were searching for scientific solutions to social problems. What Song offered them confidently was the illusion of precision. In their isolation from the West, these Chinese officials had never even seen computer modelling and graphs. They found ideas like "spaceship earth" and mathematical control of childbearing utterly compelling. Song once confided to a group of American population specialist that because he was a mathematician, anything he said would be believed. His models were real science, not social science or spurious ideology.

    Marxist theorists were actually the most trenchant opponents of Song’s mechanistic approach, but in the wake of the disasters engineered by Mao and the Gang of Four, no one listened.
Mr. Cook concludes that "the real villain of China’s oppressive one-child policy is scientism, the belief that science and technology can solve all human problems."

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