China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Since late 2013, one of China’s most controversial policies – the one-child policy – has been gradually phased out, culminating in the reorganization of the National Health and Family Planning Commission in early 2018, which saw it drop the family planning part from its name. Has China forgone population intervention and started to pursue a liberal population policy? This article demonstrates that the Chinese political leadership is still determined to steer the direction of future demographic developments, even though it changed course and has to employ new modes of steering. In fact, the political leadership has even elevated political steering of demographic developments to new heights under the rubric of ‘top-level design’ (dingceng sheji). This study takes a comparative look at the two ends of the life course, birth and old age, to reveal the continuity and change in population planning and policy discourses in China. While birth policy receives some emphasis under the current ‘two-child policy’, the main focus of population policy has shifted to providing for old-age and elder care. But, interestingly, the discourses on both issues share crucial similarities. The paper is based on extensive documentary research using the sociology of knowledge approach to discourse (SKAD), interviews with Chinese population experts and secondary sources. It employs political steering theory as a theoretical lens and demonstrates that this perspective is best-suited to make sense of the recalibration of steering modes in the case of Chinese population policy.