, Volume 55, Issue 2, pp 721–731 | Cite as

Making Demography Astonishing: Lessons in the Politics of Population Science

  • Susan Greenhalgh

In recent years, I have set aside the study of China’s population politics, which preoccupied me for some three decades, to work on other things. Now, however, I find myself pulled into a rather ugly, yet also revealing, dispute over China unfolding in the pages of this journal. Respectful debate of differing perspectives is always welcome, but the recent article in Demography (and a 2015 piece by the same author in Population Studies) are something else altogether. In language that both ridicules and impugns the motives of those he sets up as his opponents, the author seeks to undermine not just the arguments, but also the credibility of those with whom he disagrees. Indeed, he charges them with doing unsound science in the interest of policy advocacy, while implying that he alone conducts pure science outside of politics. Instead of seriously reading and engaging with the data and ideas, he misrepresents and distorts the work of scholars who have devoted their careers to...


  1. Cai, Y. (2010). China’s below-replacement fertility: Government policy or socioeconomic development? Population and Development Review, 36, 419–440.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Goodkind, D. (2015). The claim that China’s fertility restrictions contributed to the use of prenatal sex selection: A sceptical reappraisal. Population Studies, 69, 263–279.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Goodkind, D. (2017). The astonishing population averted by China’s birth restrictions: Estimates, nightmares, and reprogrammed ambitions. Demography, 54, 1375–1400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Greenhalgh, S. (1986). Shifts in China’s population policy, 1984–1986: Views from the central, provincial and local levels. Population and Development Review, 12, 491–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Greenhalgh, S. (1990). The evolution of the one-child policy in Shaanxi, 1979–88. China Quarterly, 122, 191–229.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Greenhalgh, S. (1996). The social construction of population science: An intellectual, institutional, and political history of 20th century demography. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 38, 26–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Greenhalgh, S. (2003). Science, modernity, and the making of China’s one-child policy. Population and Development Review, 29, 163–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Greenhalgh, S. (2008). Just one child: Science and policy in Deng’s China. Berkeley: University of California Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Greenhalgh, S. (2010). Cultivating global citizens: Population in the rise of China. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Greenhalgh, S., & Winckler, E. A. (2005). Governing China’s population: From Leninist to neoliberal biopolitics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Greenhalgh, S., Zhu, C., & Li, N. (1994). Restraining population growth in three Chinese villages. Population and Development Review, 20, 365–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gu, B., Wang, F., Guo, Z., & Zhang, E. (2007). China’s local and national fertility policies at the end of the twentieth century. Population and Development Review, 33, 129–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Scharping, T. (2003). Birth control in China, 1949–2000: Population policy and demographic development. London, UK: RoutledgeCurzon.Google Scholar
  14. White, T. (2006). China’s longest campaign: Birth planning in the People’s Republic, 1949–2005. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

Personalised recommendations