Theses Master's

Rhetoric and Policies as Psychological Violence: State-Sanctioned Abuse as an Enforcement Mechanism for Achieving Demographic Goals in China

McFarland, Saga

In the past decade, the Chinese government has grown increasingly worried about a dual demographic crisis of its own making: a rapidly aging population and a birth rate that has remained far below replacement levels for decades. In response, it has introduced a series of measures to encourage married Han Chinese women to each have three children.

This paper draws on psychological conceptions of “coercive control” to argue that much like an abusive husband who relies on more subtle tactics of manipulation to dominate and control his wife when direct violence is no longer acceptable, the Chinese state is still deeply committed to controlling women’s reproduction according to its needs and relies on psychological violence, including misogynistic gaslighting to do this. The state continues to push women into marriage and enmeshment in patriarchal family structures and requires these families to serve as enforcement agents in the control of women’s reproduction.

This paper illustrates how the government still endorses the “ends justify the means” logic adopted during the one-child policy (OCP) era, exemplified by the tolerance and encouragement of violent enforcement by local officials to meet birth control goals; this logic is now being applied to how families enforce compliance with new demographic goals. These efforts to dominate and subvert women’s autonomy represent a direct violation of China’s human rights obligations under various legally binding international conventions.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Thesis Advisors
Fincher, Leta Hong
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
August 10, 2022