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Towards a better understanding of past fertility regimes: ideas and practice of controlling family size in Chinese history

Zhongwei Zhao, Australian National University

The predominant view about past fertility regime can be summarized as follow. The cost of children was relatively low; there was no intentional birth control; and therefore fertility was high. This paper first summarizes recent findings about fertility patterns in historical China. Then it provides further evidence of people limiting their family size and fertility in the past. Following that it discusses China’s traditional beliefs, social realities and their impact on people’s fertility behaviour. It also summarizes the discussion of antinatalist ideas and suggestions put forwarded by Chinese officials and intellectuals over the last two thousand years. On the basis of that, the paper comments on a number of suggestions made about China’s traditional reproductive behaviour and culture, and challenges the widespread view that in pre-transitional societies the demand for children (or sons) was high and human reproductive strategies aimed to maximize the number of surviving offspring.

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Presented in Session 94: Interpretations of population history