The end of China’s one-child policy: The good and bad news

November 2, 2015

The failure of China’s massive social experiment in coercive population control should be a warning to the church in the West. When a government is allowed to control the family and muzzle the church, the effects, both intended and unintended, can be devastating. In China, the harm to the family and women over the last three and a half decades has been enormous. The church must speak life where others sow death.

For many Americans, it’s hard to wrap our minds around the realities of China’s “one-child policy.” Our domestic debates over abortion are framed around terms like “choice” and “women’s health.” But, imagine a world in which the government makes the “choice” and where “women’s health” involves trauma from forced abortions and sterilizations. Recent headlines about an end to China’s one-child policy were generally positive, but few expressed shock that the government will continue to use coercion to limit the births of children.  

What it is, and what it’s not

How should we respond? We should rejoice that children who would have been aborted will be born, but we should also grieve and protest a policy that empowers the government to issue “birth permits” for some children and death sentences for others. The Chinese Communist Party will now allow married couples to have a second child in its next five-year economic plan to “address the challenge of an ageing population.” This is “fine tuning” the policy, not ending it.

The government should be called to account for killing children and torturing women (Eccl. 5:8, Isa. 1:17), The sheer scale of the injustice is hard to grasp. Genocides kill millions, but by its own admission, the Chinese government has killed 400 million children, and according to the China Life Alliance, an estimated 80 percent of women have been subjected to forced or mandatory abortions. In a country with 1.3 billion people, that means hundreds of millions of mothers have had children taken from their wombs by force.

There have been few attempts to hold the government accountable to their international human rights commitments. The Universal Declaration Human Rights protects the right to life (article 3), the right to found a family (article 16), and the right to be free from torture (article 5). The UN Genocide Convention does not include the unborn among protected people groups, but systemically killing them is no less an atrocity.

However, abortion politics in the West make normally outspoken advocates reticent. The female suicide rate in China is one of the highest in the world, which a report by the U.S. Department of State partially attributed to coercive population control. Yet, women’s rights advocates like the United Nations Population Fund and International Planned Parenthood Federation rarely raise alarm over the physical, mental and emotional health of women due to forced abortion and sterilization.

A culture of death

The loss to society, family and the individual in China has been enormous. In the name of economic progress, the government has created a culture of death for three and a half decades. Now it wants to reverse the trend.  

Before 1979, the average family had six children. One of the most common terms of affection for a child was—and still is—“Little Treasure” (bao bei). Then, the government began telling citizens it was their patriotic duty to have only one child and to terminate the others. This created a shift in the view of children. Today, young, upwardly mobile couples are more likely to think of children as an economic burden. After the government loosened restrictions in 2013, births rose only slightly. Paul Coyer warns, “Beijing’s move is as unlikely to alter now entrenched behavior as it is to lessen the fallout from a rapidly ageing population.”

In the traditional family, the highest duty was to care for parents and grandparents. By reducing the average number of children from six to one, the government has placed an enormous burden upon “only children” to care for two parents and four grandparents. One executive predicted that in 100 years China will become “the world’s largest elderly home”  and have the “largest population of robots.” Commodification has led to dehumanization. It’s unlikely that there will be enough human branches on China’s family tree to care for older generations.

The policy has also dramatically impacted gender dynamics. Sex-selective abortion created a gender ratio in China of 118:100 (males to females). The world’s ratio is 105:100. This has led to “bride kidnapping” and the increase of “bare branches”—young, unmarried males prone to higher levels of aggression.

In the words of the Washington Post, the policy’s architects “regarded themselves as far smarter . . . and their subjects as far more stupid . . . than they really were.” Now, “it is too late to reverse the damage.” This should be a warning to the church about the power of government to shape culture and the tremendous need for the gospel.

Renewing a culture of life

Reggie Littlejohn, a leading opponent of the policy, called upon the American church to pray: for the victims, those who carry out the policy and the church. The Chinese government silences all opposition to its population control policies by its citizens through the threat of punishment. It terrorized blind legal activist Chen Guangcheng and his family for seven years after he sued on behalf of 130,000 women who were forcibly aborted or sterilized. The government effectively muzzles the church’s voice in the public square, including on issues of life and human dignity. Church leaders may preach to their congregations that children are a gift from the Lord and that every human being is created in the image of God (Ps.127:3-5), but the government must give up its monopoly over public discourse and allow greater religious freedom and freedom of speech before the church can bring the message of the Imago Dei to society.

The gospel-proclaiming church offers so much to a people who have suffered so greatly. The gospel tells of a Savior who told adults to become like children to enter the kingdom of Heaven, a Father who lost his only child to a torturous death, and the day when the evil done will be redeemed through abundant life (Jn. 10:10).

We should rejoice for the lives that will be saved. We should mourn for the lives that will be taken. What we must not do is embrace complacency in China, in the U.S. . . or anywhere.

About the author: E.B. Oak is an international human rights attorney who worked at a women’s legal center in China with women who were forced to undergo coerced and mandatory abortions.

E.B. Oak

E.B. Oak is an international human rights attorney who worked at a women’s legal center in China with women who were forced to undergo coerced and mandatory abortions. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24