A Critical Analysis of China’s One-Child Policy in Relation to Plato, Machiavelli, and Confucius Philosophical Thoughts


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Between the 1960s and 1970s, China faced very serious social and economic problems that were related to the quick growth of the population. For instance, by 1963, in China, the number of children born to a Chinese woman was at 7.5. Therefore, the Chinese government opted to deal with the problem by introducing a one-child policy. It was one of the most important measures taken by the Chinese government to ensure that the country’s birth rate reduced. Therefore, the Chinese couples were expected to have only one child. The benefits of the one-child policy that was established in 1979 were meant to increase the accessibility of education for all the Chinese people, improve childcare and health care for all families who were in need. However, some controversies related to the policy exist within and outside China. For instance, the policy has been blamed for the increase of gender imbalance, forced abortions, and female sterilization. Enforcement of the policy takes place at the provincial level where fines are imposed on families based on their income levels. However, in the special Administrative Regions of Macau and Hong Kong the policy is not applied.

Plato, Machiavelli, and Confucius draw a picture that makes a person understand critical issues related to why people and governments sometimes tend to take some actions. The three philosophers provide a foundation, on which one can base arguments while criticizing a certain decision or action. For instance, through Plato’s philosophical thoughts, one can be able to understand on what he regards as an ideal state. The discussion on morality instead of individualism props from Plato’s Ideal state. He is guided by the notion that seeing large things is easier than small things. Machiavelli argued that good rulers should also learn not to be good, for instance, they should be ready to ignore honesty, kindness, and concerns of justice to ensure that their states were stable (Machiavelli, 2005). To Confucius, for a perfect society to come into being, people ought to reform and act in the right manner. Acting in the right manner starts with families and individuals. Therefore, there exist defined roles and obligations that people must conform to ensure proper roles (Legge, 1893). This paper will analyze China’s one child policy in relation to Plato, Machiavelli, and Confucius philosophical thoughts and will argue that to limit population growth, China’s one child policy should become an international law.


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Plato’s Ideal State

Plato is the author of The Republic, a philosophical book celebrated across the globe. In this book, he presents a theory of an ideal state. He gives an account on how to build an ideal state. It is from Plato’s ideal state in The Republic that the discussion of morality instead of individualism appears. To him, seeing things in large is easier than small. Plato’s argument for an ideal state is that one can have a good life only in a society or a state. Therefore, man is both social being and a political animal (Conford, 1941). Therefore, a state exists to ensure a good life for its citizens. Plato argues that the major objective of good society is neither well-being of the economy nor freedom but justice (Conford, 1941). To him, an ideal state should be conformed to justice; hence, a state does not select what it thinks is just. Plato argues that justice is an object of knowledge. Hence, a statesman needs to be a philosopher, and if not, he will lead a state towards destruction.

China’s one-child policy goes contrary to Plato’s thoughts that a state exists for justice and not for the well-being of the economy or freedom. It was put in place to eradicate economic, social, and environmental challenges in China. The policy was also initiated by the government of China in 1978 and applied first in 1979. At that time, the government of China probably consisted of politicians and not philosophers, and to Plato, any statesman who is not a philosopher will lead the state to destruction. To Plato, an ideal state is the one led by a highly educated person who has been able to achieve the greatest wisdom of good and who has a passion for truth. Therefore, the government should consist of people who are to differentiate between the earthly world, which is visible, from the invisible world. To be able to become kings, they should go through various steps that ascend degrees of divided lines, and they should finally gain the knowledge of good. Therefore, Plato could have been against the one-child policy being an international law because of its purpose and the initiators of the policy. Merli and Raftery (2000) argued that the policy was controversial both in China and abroad because of its negative impacts. For instance, the policy has led to female infanticide, underreporting of female births, and forced abortions. The challenges faced by people go against Plato’s thought of an ideal state. 

Niccolo Machiavelli and “the Prince”

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In his work The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli formulated a theory of effective government. His ideal state was based on the life of Cesare Borgia. He once argued that good rulers should also learn not to be good, for instance, they should be ready to ignore honesty, kindness, and concerns of justice to ensure that their states were stable (Machiavelli, 2005). Machiavelli could have supported the idea of making China’s one-child policy become an international law. For instance, one-child policy has been challenged as being a violation of human rights. Cases of forced abortion, compulsory sterilization, and bribery are some of the ills brought by the implementation of the policy. For example, in the County of Hauiji, a quota of 20,000 sterilizations and abortions was set in one year. In villages, ultrasound devices are used in the identification of abortion candidates. The abortion is against human rights. In the year 2002, China did away with the use of physical force to make women have an abortion or undergo sterilization.

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