Eugenic Dimensions of the Population Problem and Policy in 1920s–40s China

Friday, January 6, 2017: 1:50 PM
Room 403 (Colorado Convention Center)
Mirela David, University of Saskatchewan
Chinese intellectuals’ eugenic concerns with the population problem were intensified with Bertrand Russell and Margaret Sanger’s separate visits to China in the early 1920s. During his lectures in China Russell referred to the population problem. His ties with Fabian socialists, his eugenic beliefs and also his extolling of science shaped Russell’s approach to population. Russell, Sanger, as well as Chinese intellectuals approached reproduction as social, national and racial reproduction. Margaret Sanger’s trip to China in 1922 held a double meaning: it reinforced images of China as a global example for the necessity of birth control because of overpopulation and insufficient resources, and it also sparked an intriguing debate around the eugenic quality of birth control in the Chinese press. Sanger’s focus on birth control of the lower classes clashed with Marxist sympathies of the lower classes and nationalist pro-natalist approaches to population. However, Sanger’s eugenic consideration of birth control for people afflicted with hereditary diseases and the feeble minded was well received. During the 1930s advances in public health and gynecology and concern for improving mothers and infant health became a priority. Warlordism, Japanese aggression and civil war had derailed a comprehensive population policy that was finally passed on May 5, 1945. This paper examines the formulation of this policy around eugenic concerns such as marriage restrictions and segregation of people suffering from congenital diseases, venereal diseases and the feeble minded. Famous population specialists such as Chen Da, Sun Benwen, Chen Changheng together with eugenicist Pan Guangdan formulated a population policy that considered not only quantitative assessments, but also how to strengthen the birth of eugenic elements, selective marriage and other rational population improvement measures. The overarching reason was improving the social vigor through a focus on national health and a revolution of the social environment for nation building efforts.