The Edge recently asked “What Should We Be Worried About?” and solicited the responses of 155 scientists, academics and writers. The response below received the most attention.
Geoffrey Miller, Edge, Jan. 14, 2013
China has been running the world’s largest and most successful eugenics program for more than thirty years, driving China’s ever-faster rise as the global superpower. I worry that this poses some existential threat to Western civilization. Yet the most likely result is that America and Europe linger around a few hundred more years as also-rans on the world-historical stage, nursing our anti-hereditarian political correctness to the bitter end.
When I learned about Chinese eugenics this summer, I was astonished that its population policies had received so little attention. China makes no secret of its eugenic ambitions, in either its cultural history or its government policies.
For generations, Chinese intellectuals have emphasized close ties between the state (guojia), the nation (minzu), the population (renkou), the Han race (zhongzu), and, more recently, the Chinese gene-pool (jiyinku). Traditional Chinese medicine focused on preventing birth defects, promoting maternal health and “fetal education” (taijiao) during pregnancy, and nourishing the father’s semen (yangjing) and mother’s blood (pingxue) to produce bright, healthy babies (see Frank Dikötter’s book Imperfect Conceptions). Many scientists and reformers of Republican China (1912-1949) were ardent Darwinians and Galtonians. They worried about racial extinction (miezhong) and “the science of deformed fetuses” (jitaixue), and saw eugenics as a way to restore China’s rightful place as the world’s leading civilization after a century of humiliation by European colonialism. The Communist revolution kept these eugenic ideals from having much policy impact for a few decades though. Mao Zedong was too obsessed with promoting military and manufacturing power, and too terrified of peasant revolt, to interfere with traditional Chinese reproductive practices.
But then Deng Xiaoping took power after Mao’s death. Deng had long understood that China would succeed only if the Communist Party shifted its attention from economic policy to population policy.
Another notable response to the Edge symposium is Douglas T. Kenrick’s “Is Idiocracy Looming?”
David Galton: Did Plato and Aristotle first popularize eugenics?