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Critical Issues Confronting China featuring Susan Greenhalgh – The Hidden Life and Agenda of the Three-Child Policy

March 27 @ 12:00 pm 1:15 pm

Speaker: Susan Greenhalgh, John King and Wilma Cannon Fairbank Professor of Chinese Society Emerita, Harvard University

After years of rapid fertility decline, China is facing plummeting birth rates, a shrinking work force, and rapid aging. In 2016, Beijing abandoned its notorious one-child policy, allowing two and, in 2021, three children per couple. Outside China, the three-child policy has been panned by demographers and condemned by feminists. Yet no one has considered the impact the politics and governance of the Xi Jinping era have had on this project to boost the birthrate. Greenhalgh argues that China’s leaders have extended Xi’s “new-style whole-of-government” approach to governance from the technology to the population sector. This involves a profound shift from relying on governmental power to co-governance by government, society, and citizens themselves. How is the all-of-government approach being adapted to foster not the development of AI, but cultural and behavioral change among real people? If the aim of the 2021 policy is not to create a society of three-child families, a sociological impossibility, what is the aim? What happens when a party-state controlling highly effective tools of digital surveillance and mass intervention faces off against a generation of well-educated young women (and men) unwilling to give up their jobs and their freedom to follow the party’s call to have more than one child?

Susan Greenhalgh is the John King and Wilma Cannon Fairbank Professor of Chinese Society Emerita in the Fairbank Center and the Anthropology Department at Harvard. Her teaching and research interests include the social study of science, medicine, and technology; the anthropology of the state, governance, and public policy; and the politics of reproduction/population. She is the author of Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng’s China, Cultivating Global Citizens: Population in the Rise of China, and Soda Science: Making the World Safe for Coca-Cola (fall 2024), as well as co-author of Governing China’s Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics.


March 27
12:00 pm – 1:15 pm
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Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


CGIS South S020, Belfer Case Study Room

1730 Cambridge St.
Cambridge, MA 02138 United States

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