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Home  /  Inside China  /  From Population Quality to Individual Benefit: Two goals that increasingly merge in post-socialist China
From Population Quality to Individual Benefit: Two goals that increasingly merge in post-socialist China print version
On the changing meaning of the term renkou suzhi 'population quality' in the Chinese market economy, the relation between personal and social well-being and future trends.

Renkou suzhi 人口素质 'population quality', is a term initiated by the Chinese government, following the take off of the reform era and the birth control policies of the early 1980s. The one child households were intended to reduce the size of the population, and lead to a society that will be better fed, better educated and better adapted to the modern aspirations of China.

Still, the Chinese government didn't back off, letting this course develop naturally (just like it didn't allow modern development to proceed a more natural decrease of reproduction, as it is experienced in more 'developed' nations), and promoted the term renkou suzhi when initiating campaigns to modernize backward (luohou 落后) rural regions, indicating that such rural society of low quality (suzhi di 素质低) needs to adapt to the open-market economy and modern society, through better education, better economic initiatives and higher working efficiency and more.

Things have changed to some extent since. Today the renkou suzhi discourse can be still used when distinguishing between developed urbanities and backward villages, but it can also depict different attitudes among urban residents or the middle class, indicating individuals who are more competent at utilizing the opportunities of the reform era.

The Chinese government is letting go, by supporting private initiatives and allowing individuals to take care of their own financial interests, for two obvious reasons: Inability to supervise and centralize industries and the benefit it gains from the success of Chinese enterprises, foreign investments and more. Although some new entrepreneurs face high hurdles when applying for official licenses, it is clear that quest for money baijinzhuyi (拜金主义) and one's personnel competence, in terms of salary, status, assets and consumerism but also health, beauty and sex, becomes the point of focus much more than the overall success of the society, and the government supports this situation in many ways.

British sociologist Nikolas Rose, who has written several books about processes of defining the 'self', the changing political meanings of medical and psychological services, and other social phenomena in Western countries, has recently engaged himself in an analysis of the direction the Chinese society is heading to. He states that the discourse of eugenics, that was still prevalent in China of the 1980's (long after it had been minimized in the West) through the issue of quality of birth, forced genetic tests for couples who wish the give birth and relevant regulation, has been decreased significantly recently in favor of individual rights. In terms of health care, the privatization of major components of the system (though it has its socioeconomic disadvantages), allows many individuals to actively seek for the best solutions in the shape of fertility treatments, psychological counseling and more. This is leading the Chinese society to a position that resembles more and more the bioethics which are evident in the West, according to Rose.

Still, the centralization of some domains (and the potential of centralization) by the Chinese government allows it to remain in the driver's seat throughout this process. Although individuals are highly competitive, this can be regarded by the state as a race that improves the overall level of citizens, and this notion of creating an overall better society for future generations does in fact penetrate the minds of Chinese residents in many turns in this uphill journey, a fact that can be expressed in patriotic sentiments and in complying with state policies.

The paternalistic self-image of the Chinese state as the promoter of overall improvement in quality of living is likely to remain firm for many years to come, while its actual control is expected to continuously decrease.

Source: Rose Nikolas . 2010. "Biological citizenship and its forms." In: Zhang, E., Kleinman, A. and Weiming, T, (eds.) Goernance of life in Chinese moral experience: the quest for an adequate life. London: Routledge

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