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China’s problem is not too many children but too few

The country's birthrate has fallen off a cliff. A few years ago this would have been hailed as a policy triumph, but today it heralds a demographic crisis

By Isabel Hilton  

Photo: Huang Zongzhi/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

In the early 1960s, as a direct result of Mao Zedong’s disastrous Great Leap Forward, China was gripped by a catastrophic three-year famine. Up to 50m people starved to death and unsurprisingly the birthrate, which had soared in the previous decade, fell precipitously. Last year, according to figures recently published by the Chinese government, China’s birthrate was even lower than it was at the height of that famine.

One irony of these startling statistics is that they would have been hailed as a…

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