This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Nancy Riley's "Population in China"

On my flight today from San Diego to Boston to attend the annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers I finally had the chance to sit quietly and absorb Nancy Riley’s new book Population in China. This is a very nice summary and analysis of the literature, including her own field research in northeastern China, and I found myself underlining and highlighting a lot of passages. If you have read my book and follow my blog, you will know all of the basic facts about Chinese demography, but Riley gives history and depth to those facts and puts them all together in a very readable and useful fashion.

A major theme of the book is the incredible amount of inequality that has crept into Chinese society over time, but especially since Mao’s death in 1976. His death marked the demise of old-style communism and the rise of state-sponsored privatization that has brought the exact opposite of what a Marxian communist society would envision. There was inequality in how the one-child family was implemented, inequality in how the hukou system has kept rural Chinese in “their place” socially if not spatially, inequality in access to health care in a system that went from state-sponsored under Mao to privatized in the post-Mao China. Gender inequalities remain, as well, highlighted by the consistently high ratio of boys to girls at birth (even accounting for those girls who are “missing” but alive). And there is an overall very high level of income inequality, with urban residents faring much better under the current political economic situation than are rural residents.

These trends matter to us all since 1 in 5 people in the world live in China and since China’s economy is now the world’s second biggest, behind the U.S. As Riley reminds us, it was an early understanding of the relationship between demography and economic change that got China to where it is today. The future will witness a continuing interaction between all things demographic and all things political and economic in China. It’s just too early to know exactly what shape they will take.

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