Skip to main content

“A Tiger Behind, and Coming up Fast”: Governmentality and the Politics of Population Control in China

Abstract

China has a growing “superaging” population, known colloquially as a “tiger behind.” This phenomenon has been traditionally analyzed by conventional social science methodology as a question of resource allocation to a burgeoning elderly population. However, population policies in China have emerged as key vehicles used to legitimize and position the identities that older people adopt. They contain specific yet continually changing technologies that function to mediate relations between older people and the Chinese state. They also represent an increase in state control that can be exerted on lifestyles in family form and older age and thus, the wider social meanings associated with that part of society and lifecourse. This article briefly summarizes the empirical detail and context of superaging in China, presenting an original theoretical analysis based on a reading of the work of Michel Foucault. The interrelationship between the Chinese government and older people is identified in terms of Foucault's (1978) and Rose and Miller's (1992) concept of governmentality. The article highlights how and why older people are the subjects of the Chinese state's gaze.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

REFERENCES

  • Aird, J. S. (1973). Population Problems, Theories, and Policies. In Yuan-Li Wu (Ed.), China: A Handbook (pp. 443–466). Newton Abbot, Devon: David & Charles.

    Google Scholar 

  • Banister, J. (1987). China's Changing Population. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Barber, L., & Harding, J. (1999, September 11). China Ends Era of “Little Emperors.” Financial Times, p. 14.

  • Biggs, S., & Powell, J. (1999). Surveillance and Elder Abuse: The Rationalities and Technologies of Community Care. Journal of Contemporary Health, 8(2), 33–43.

    Google Scholar 

  • Biggs, S. and Powell, J. (in press). A Foucauldian Analysis of Old Age and the Power of Social Welfare. Journal of Aging & Social Policy.

  • Blecher, M. (1997). China Against the Tides: Restructuring Through Revolution, Radicalism and Reform. London: Pinter.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brown, L. R. (1995). Who Will Feed China? Wake-up Call for a Small Planet. London: Earthscan.

    Google Scholar 

  • China Statistical Information and Consultancy Centre. (1999). Statistical Communique of the People's Republic of China on the 1998 National Economic and Social Development. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cook, I. G. (2001). A Human Geography of China. Forthcoming.

  • Cook, I. G., & Murray, G. (2000). China's Third Revolution: Tensions in the Transition to Post-Communism. London: Curzon.

    Google Scholar 

  • Croll, E. (1995). Family Strategies: Securing the Future. In R. Benewick & P. Wingrove (Eds.), China in the 1990s (pp. 204–215). London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Foucault, Michel. (1996). On Governmentality. In N. Rose (Ed.), Foucault and Political Rationalities(pp. 96–109). London: Routledge. (Original work published 1978)

    Google Scholar 

  • Gladney, D. C. (1996). Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People's Republic (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hacking, Ian. (1990). The Taming of Chance. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harper, S. (1994). China's Population: Prospects and Policies. In D. Dwyer (Ed.), China: The Next Decades (pp. 77–93). Harlow, Essex: Longman Scientific and Technical.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jowett, J. (1990). People: Demographic Patterns and Policies. In T. Cannon & A. Jenkins (Eds.), The Geography of Contemporary China: The Impact of Deng Xiaoping's Decade (pp. 85–102). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kane, P. (1995). Population and Family Policies. In R. Benewick & P. Wingrove (Eds), China in the 1990s (pp. 193–203). London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Katz, S. (1996). Disciplining Old Age: The Formation of Gerontological Knowledge. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia.

    Google Scholar 

  • Leung, J. C. B. (1995). Social Welfare Reforms. In R. Benewick & P. Wingrove (Eds.), China in the 1990s (pp. 216–223). London: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  • Li, Chengrui. (1992). A Study of China's Population. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mackeras, C. (1989). Western Images of China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mirsky, J. (1992, January 26). China's Baby Girls “Killed by the Million.” The Observer, p. 18.

  • Murray, G. (1998). China The Next Superpower: Dilemmas in Change and Continuity. London: China Library.

    Google Scholar 

  • Powell, J., & Biggs, S. (in press). Managing Old Age: The Disciplinary Web of Power, Surveillance and Normalization. Journal of Aging and Identity.

  • Rose. N. (1996). “The Death of the Social?”: Refiguring the Territory of Government. Economy and Society, 25(3), 237–56.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rose, N., & Miller. P. (1992). Political Power beyond the State: Problematics of Government. British Journal of Sociology, 43(2), 173–205.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Powell, J., Cook, I. “A Tiger Behind, and Coming up Fast”: Governmentality and the Politics of Population Control in China. Journal of Aging and Identity 5, 79–89 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009590620292

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009590620292

  • aging
  • Foucault
  • China
  • governmentality
  • demography