Cultural differences can be hard to fathom

Updated: 2012-02-17 07:55

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Cultural differences can be hard to fathom

Republican presidential hopeful of the United States, Mitt Romney, last week revealed his ignorance of the reality in China. Romney said that on Day One he "will cut off funding for the United Nations Population Fund which supports China's barbaric one-child policy".

Romney may never have that Day One, but watching the escalating wars on birth control, abortion, gays and sex, I started to wonder if the US is still a progressive country.

If you talk to Chinese citizens, you will find that the vast majority support family planning as a national policy. The population pressure is real in a country where 1.37 billion people, four times the US population, crowd in a land only slightly bigger than the United States, but with far larger uninhabited areas of deserts and ice-topped mountains.

To most Chinese citizens, family planning is not just necessary; it is a must. Such a policy is also helpful to the rest of the world as the population on the planet exceeds 7 billion.

That said, China's family planning policy, which started in the late 1970s, has by no means been perfect, especially in the early years. Some local governments were too harsh in carrying out the policy and the subsequent demographics an aging population, gender inequality and many one-child families has resulted in some social problems.

However, this does not mean that China should discard the policy. It only means the policy needs to be adjusted to suit the times.

Many Westerners label China's family planning policy a "one-child policy", but this is not really accurate. All the local legislatures have passed laws to allow two children for couples who are the only child in their families. Ethnic groups have always enjoyed a privilege in the regard, as they can have two or more children.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific, a Pew Research Center poll last August indicated that only 52 percent of Americans believe in human evolution. About 10 days ago, the board of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world's largest breast cancer charity, voted to defund the women's health organization Planned Parenthood as they were concerned that the money might be used to finance abortions.

A Wall Street Journal article on Wednesday called Obama's birth-control mandate unconstitutional and illegal. Latest news reports suggest that religious groups are planning to press Obama harder on such issues.

While I am appalled by the ideological, religious and conservative nature of the politics being espoused by candidates in the run-up to the election, historian Nancy Cohen reassured me in a conversation on Wednesday that the US is still a progressive country.

Cohen's new book: Delirium: How The Sexual Counterrevolution Is Polarizing America, explains how a shadow movement led by an extreme but political savvy minority has been exerting an excessive influence in US politics since the 1970s.

While criticizing the Republicans for their efforts to outlaw abortion, ban gay marriages and enforce traditional family values, Cohen is also disappointed with the Democrats who are afraid that being culturally progressive might cost them voters in elections. She hopes Obama will eventually stand up more forcefully on such issues.

The sexual fundamentalists, as Cohen calls this minority group, does not represent the majority of Americans. It seems that understanding US politics is as hard for us as it is for Americans to understand China's family planning policy.

To me, the family planning policy makes sense, but the sexual counterrevolution Cohen describes in her book does not.

The author, based in New York, is Deputy Editor of China Daily US edition. Email:

(China Daily 02/17/2012 page8)