Culture, state and the fertility transition in rural South China
Gonçalo Santos (University of Coimbra)
Paper short abstract:
This paper draws on data collected through longitudinal research (1999-2008) in a small Cantonese 'single-lineage village' in South China to provide a detailed rural picture of China's recent fertility transition and to reflect on the process of fertility transition from a cross-cultural perspective
Paper long abstract:
Despite the lack of fully reliable statistics and the significant regional and rural/urban variations, China has achieved between the 1970s and the late 1990s the fastest fertility decline on record for any large human population, though it is still not clear what caused this decline. Was the state and the 'one-child policy' the key factor behind it, or did it result primarily - as most 'classic' demographic theories suggest - from the spectacular socio-economic developments of the post-Mao era? This paper draws on data collected through longitudinal research (1999-2008) in a small Cantonese 'single-lineage village' in South China to seek some local answers to these questions and to reflect more generally on the role of culture in the process of fertility transition. What makes this case study particularly suitable to this goal is that it refers to a part of rural China long associated with strong pronatalist ideals. Given that these cultural ideals were not eradicated during the Maoist era, our focus will be on what happened to the persuasive power of these 'old' ideals as people started to be confronted with both a rampant process of capitalist modernization and a powerful state determined to engineer a national fertility decline. Converging with recent interdisciplinary work in anthropology and demography, the paper seeks not just to characterize the specificity of China's fertility decline but also to draw attention to the diversity of socio-cultural and politico-economic forces affecting human reproductive behaviour.
Questioning the 'quiet revolution': demographic change and modernity