Language groups advised about contraception, birth control and eugenics. The Chinese government provided contraceptives free of charge and also bore the costs of abortion and sterilisation. A number of social and economic sanctions were devised to deter couples from having more than two children. On the other hand, those Chinese who abided by the birth control guidelines became entitled to certain inducements and privileges (cash payments, favourable treatment in the allocation of apartments and schooling).
In the rural areas, home for about two-thirds of the Chinese population, many peasants did not comply with the “two child” policy and had to come to terms with the penalties that the state imposed.
The imprecise Chinese government population statistics showed that the annual population growth rate, which stood at 2.6% in 1953, fell to 1.4% in 1982, But the ensuing years did not confirm this trend as by 1988 the rate had risen to 2.1%. The measures introduced by the government do not seem to have had the required results. Under the birth control scheme during the years from 1986 to 1990 an annual growth rate of between 0.7% and 0.8% was predicted. In 1993, the population grew by 1.3%.
Given the land surface area of China, there ought to be no cause for concern about population growth. The problems arise, however, when the nature of the Chinese landscape is taken into account: over 50% of China consists of mountains and deserts. The population is not distributed evenly across the country. The densely populated east contrasts sharply with the sparsely inhabited west. In the eastern province of Jiangsu 700 people are crammed into each square kilometre, while in Tibet the corresponding figure for a square kilometre is two! Furthermore, all the agricultural land – a vital source of food and income for the Chinese people – is already in use. The land available is hardly adequate for feeding the peasants as proved by the huge numbers of country-dwellers who have moved to the urban centres. While all the flat agricultural land is fully utilised and only productivity can be improved, in the peripheral regions it would still be possible to convert barren land into farmland and exploit mineral deposits. However, with the high costs of developing urban communities in the deserts, the low levels of education and also the hostility of the peasants to compulsory resettlement, it is proving difficult to implement what is already an unpopular policy.
Chinese, the most important of the Sino-Tibetan languages, is characterised by monosyllabic word roots, intonation and isolation, i.e. grammatical relationships are shown only through word order. The very complicated ancient Chinese sound system has been simplified to create Putonghua, now regarded as standard Chinese. It derives from a northern Chinese dialect and has only about 1600 tonal differences, but it has become the most widely used form of spoken Chinese. The southern and south-eastern dialects (Cantonese, Hakka and Fukien) retain the older sound system with some highly complicated forms of intonation. As the limited number of sound combinations in standard Chinese did not do justice to the rich vocabulary and led to countless homophones (words similar in sound but different in meaning), words were juxtaposed to avoid confusion and the language became “multisyllabic”.
There are two language groups, corresponding with the two original tribal groups: Chinese as spoken by Han Chinese, i.e. 92% of the population (including the Moslem Hui minority) and the languages of