2022 marks the 100th anniversary of Margaret Sanger’s first visit to China. Her visit prompted public discussions of birth control in the service of improving China’s population that continue to the present day. These conversations and subsequent policies expanded to include many aspects of reproductive health like screenings for sexually transmitted infections and cervical cancer. They also corresponded with conflicting policies through the 1960s, as (primarily) women’s calls for more control over reproduction clashed with paternalistic pronatalism.
China’s restrictive population policies in the following decades have today given way to incentivizing birth to balance an aging population, with the “three-child policy” announced in May 2021. In all cases, the Chinese state’s focus on women’s fertility and their reproductive health is the fundamental method of implementing population policy.
Tina Phillips Johnson is Professor of History and Director of Chinese Studies at St. Vincent College Fine Arts, and a Research Associate at the University of Pittsburgh Asian Studies Center. She has published several works on public health and medicine in China, including the book Childbirth in Republican China: Delivering Modernity (Lexington Books, 2011). She is currently consulting on several global health initiatives and is doing research for a book on women’s health in 20th-century China.
This talk forms part of the UNSW Laureate Centre for History and Population’s 2021-2022 seminar series on population and modern world history, and was recorded on 6 October 2021. The video has been edited to focus on the presentation, and does not include the discussion that followed.