A recent statement made by Sheng Laiyun, the deputy director of China’s National Bureau of Statistics, has caused controversy on the internet. Speaking at a press conference on October 18 about China’s decreasing population growth, Sheng stated, “While the population size may be declining, the overall quality is improving at a faster rate.” This statement sparked backlash from Weibo users who found it illogical and discriminatory. The associated hashtag trended on Weibo but was ultimately blocked.
The decrease in population is a delicate matter and content related to it is often censored or deleted. China is facing a significant challenge due to the declining birthrate, and the government has tried to prevent a demographic crisis by encouraging marriage and family and offering incentives for having more children. However, this message has not been well received by many young individuals who are dealing with a sluggish economy, a high rate of unemployment among youth, a troubled housing market, the responsibilities and expenses of childcare and sometimes eldercare, and persistent gender inequalities at home and in the workplace. In this context, where citizens feel like they are being exploited for their labor and ability to bear children, Sheng Laiyuan’s attempt to put a positive spin on population decline by emphasizing quality over quantity was seen as insensitive, illogical, and somewhat desperate. This brings to mind other recent instances of government rhetoric and efforts to downplay negative news, such as the sudden suspension of data on youth unemployment back in August.
In April, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Foreign Ministry, caused surprise when asked about India’s population surpassing China’s. He stated that “population advantages are not solely based on numbers but also on quality.” The Chinese government and state-run media have previously referred to large portions of their own population as “low-end population” in a derogatory manner.
The CDT Chinese team has gathered responses from Weibo and Chinese Twitter users regarding Sheng Laiyuan’s statement on “quantity vs. quality.” Below are some translated excerpts from these comments.
Fish Ginger: Nowadays, food delivery riders and ride-hailing app drivers tend to be more educated.
Wang Zirong: Chinese individuals have a tendency to see the positive aspects in negative situations, as things continuously improve.
Mr. Listless: The three main drivers of the economy are online streaming, food delivery, and Didi (a ride-hailing app).
枯木苏息：The birth rate is low but there are many births.
User 7399592106: What if we eliminate everything that is not under state control? Will we then automatically become a highly developed nation?
Based on the descriptive words they use, it seems that the government has consistently viewed population increase as similar to raising pigs.
Is there any equality in the statement “improving population quality”?
I learned today that we are all exceptional individuals.
LittlepinkKunkun: Despite the decrease in chives, there is a higher yield being obtained from them. There is no need to inquire as the response is consistently “success!”
Do little by little: If you are unable to find a way to turn negative news into positive, don’t give up. However, be aware that your efforts to spin the news may ultimately humiliate you.
mike_habibiyo：This reflects the rising mortality rate of the “low-end population,” which is in line with government policy.
Py540790: The impoverished are not reproducing, resulting in a rapid improvement in population quality.
XianShengYue: The family planning goals have been successfully achieved.
QingfengBaoYRY：Translation: The Party has notched up a victory in its master plan to ‘clean up’ the low-end population. [Chinese]