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Governing China's Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics
Stanford University Press, 2005
412 pp., $27.95
China's Longest Campaign: Birth Planning in the People's Republic, 1949–2005
Cornell University Press, 2006
320 pp., $45.95
Spend an afternoon leafing through The Black Book of Communism, the most exhaustive accounting of death-by-Marxism to date, and you'll encounter nearly every Communist crime known to history—not only the main events, the gulags and famines and killing fields, but lesser atrocities like the NKVD's terror campaign in 1930s Spain and the depredations of Ethiopia's Mengistu regime. What you won't find, though, is more than a passing mention of one of the most recent Communist assaults on human dignity and human life: China's decades-long campaign to bring its rate of population growth to heel, whatever the human cost.
Near the end of Governing China's Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics—one of two new academic histories of population control under the Middle Kingdom's Marxist Dynasty—Susan Greenhalgh and Edwin A. Winckler note the omission of China's one-child policy from the usual litany of Communism's crimes, and wonder about the reason for it. Perhaps, they suggest, there just wasn't enough killing involved—abortions aside, of course. Unlike the Great Leap Forward, say, "whose trauma can be measured in lives lost," the human suffering associated with coercive population control is hard to quantify. You can count corpses, but how do you tally up "the trauma experienced by millions of peasants being coercively sterilized as though they were 'pigs being spayed?'"
This seems like a reasonable answer, but both the Greenhalgh-Winckler study and Tyrene White's China's Longest Campaign: Birth Planning in the People's Republic, 1949-2005 hint at another, more troubling explanation as well. However horrifying forced abortions and compulsory sterilization may be to the sensitivities of the liberal West, such policies aren't as intimately connected to Communist ideology as was, say, the ruinous collectivization of agriculture under Mao and Stalin, or the mass murder of supposed bourgeois sympathizers under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. The one-child ...