For more than three decades, China has enforced draconian restrictions on family size. Now, after a sudden shift announced in late October, China will enforce slightly less draconian restrictions. The country’s notorious one-child policy has become a two-child policy.
It’s a modest retreat from the oppressive status quo, stopping far short of the full dismantling that opposition groups rightly demand. Even so, there’s an understandable urge to celebrate. All Girls Allowed founder Chai Ling rejoiced that “the Lord has done a great and mighty thing,” likening the new reform to God’s miraculous parting of the Red Sea.
Indeed, if any one principle sustains pro-life morale amid serial disappointments, it’s that incremental progress beats no progress. Relaxing China’s one-child policy means fewer forced abortions and sterilizations. Fewer little girls targeted in the womb or left to die as infants so that couples can preserve the possibility of male offspring. Fewer invasive state fertility checks, and fewer moments dreading inadvertent pregnancy. Praise God for every flicker of mercy in this dark world.
But let’s keep the champagne corked for now. As any number of cool-headed observers have remarked, China’s loosened stranglehold on family formation has nothing to do with remorse over state-sanctioned cruelty. Economic self-interest is the name of the game. Whatever its moral blindness, the Communist leadership sees plainly that demographic collapse is on the horizon unless a graying population receives an infusion of youth.
Moreover, the machinery of surveillance and punishment remains securely in place, triggered now by the third pregnancy instead of the second. As Reggie Littlejohn of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers explains, nothing about doubling the number of permissible births erases “the fact that the government is setting a limit on children, and enforcing this limit coercively.”
If anything, a two-child limit may soften the instinctive outrage that made its predecessor such a global scandal. Who doesn’t agree that capping families at one child is awfully heavy-handed? Most people who want children want more than one. Talk about stopping at two, though, and a great many heads nod. It just sounds reasonable. And if a regime decreeing that standard of “reasonableness” doesn’t exactly scream “beacon of liberty,” it might not scream “totalitarian nightmare” either.
But it should. China could unveil a ten-child policy—make it a 100-child policy—and it wouldn’t dull our protest one iota. Haggling over the specifics—holding out hope for a “reasonable” balance between China’s economic ambitions, its environmental footprint, and the reproductive freedom of its citizens—misses the point entirely. Wide or narrow, or somewhere in between, all governmental restrictions on family size are inherently tyrannical.
This would be true even without the human rights abuses, the flagrant assaults on the sanctity of life, and the other telltale fingerprints. Tyranny can, on the surface, appear benign. It can wrap itself in high ideals. But look closely, and you’ll always find some attempt at monkeying around with the basic architecture of reality, at reengineering the way the world works.
With China’s one- and two-child policies, this takes the form of brazenly denying something fundamental about the family: that its nature, its very essence, is joyful multiplication. The family is formed and sustained by love, and love doesn’t stand still. It overflows.
Love’s bounteousness is woven into the fabric of the universe. God—as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—gives and receives love in a realm of eternal satisfaction. God doesn’t need anyone’s love and doesn’t need to love anyone else. Yet he shares this perfect love, pouring it out freely, abundantly, sacrificially on the people he has created. Even in our sinful rebellion, God adopts us into his family through the atoning blood of Jesus. And that family knows no limits. As believers, we’re called to make disciples of all nations, proclaiming God’s offer of reconciliation through Christ. We await that glorious day when “a great multitude . . . from every nation” will gather around his throne in worship (Rev. 7:9–12).
“Be fruitful and multiply” is not a summons to competitive or unchecked breeding. Here on earth, most families reach a point at which joyful multiplication becomes practically difficult if not impossible. Advanced age, declining health, pinched income, cramped living space, sheer exhaustion—these and a thousand other factors naturally limit family size. (And that’s before reckoning with the agonies of miscarriage or prolonged infertility.) But the state’s ironfisted edict should never outweigh the family’s prayerful decision. Why? Because the family, more than the state can ever imagine, understands the magnificent, multiplying power of love.
Having another child doesn’t leave less love for the siblings, as though love were a pie carved into ever-smaller slices. By some deep mystery, ordinary families possess a touch of the inexhaustible love that promises Abraham “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17).
Tell us, again, why China has any business interfering with that?
Matt Reynolds is associate editor, books, of Christianity Today.
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