Reproduction, Demography, and Cultural Anxieties in India and China in the 21st Century

As the most populous countries in the world, India and China have come to mark our collective conscience in significant ways. Recent research suggests that reproduction continues to be a national obsession in both countries. The stance has, however, shifted considerably from fears of overpopulation and high fertility rates, to policies encouraging childbearing and addressing infertility through assisted reproduction. As a superpower, China is interested in facilitating birth amongst a chosen few; while India continues with its ambivalent posture on the domestic use of in-vitro fertilization and other reproductive technologies, prohibiting the transnational traffic of ‘unsuitable foreigners’ and ‘non-heteronormative families’ to avail of the same. Most importantly, by aggressively participating in regulating the use of these technologies, the Indian and Chinese states are also keenly redefining the intimate lives of their citizenry. This is seen most pointedly in the recent change in the shifts in the one-child policy of the Chinese state, and the newly drafted Indian Surrogacy Bill (soon to be an Act). In the late 20th century, both countries woke up to the need to manage the fallout of their population policies. These policies, combined with new sex determination technologies and widely prevalent culture of son-preference have exacerbated gender inequality in the form of skewed sex ratios. The resulting bride shortages have led to a marriage crisis and stoked local as well as global social anxieties. In China, there are fears of environmental and industrial pollution leading to a diminution in sperm quality; in India, ethnically varying fertility transitions are deployed to further religious and political agendas; globally there is the specter of ‘surplus’ men and ‘scarce’ women in rising Asia. Additionally, with crucial generational shifts posing a threat to the earlier stability of marriage and child- centeredness, reproduction and reproductive processes are provoking yet newer moral and cultural anxieties. Resulting familial, kinship and policy shifts are paramount in the ways in which China and India are approaching reproductive technologies and demographic transformation. Here, cultural peculiarities are beginning to provide new forms of engagement with the decades-long state, research, and policy obsessions with population. There is little doubt that we need newer and more nuanced research paradigms than the ones informed by earlier understandings of population rhetoric. We need to understand the emerging familial configurations of third-party donor families facilitated through IVF, commercial surrogacy and bride-shortage related marriage migration and inter-generational care deficit among the many other social phenomena that are resulting from newer demographic trends. Managing the quality, quantity and variety of population remains a key imperative of modern societies, with the state engaging with individual reproductive desires and new technologies through laws and policies. India and China are at the centre of such new desires and changes. Thus, this conference aims to bring together academics from the fields of anthropology, sociology and demography researching on the linkages between reproduction and cultural processes in India and China, that focus on shared issues and problems—and particular manifestations. The papers that form part of this collection reflect the emerging demographic and reproductive anxieties in India and China in the 21st century. The contemporary concerns that the papers deal with include the impact of sex selective abortions, age-related markers in demographic forecasting, and the ways in which reproductive technologies impact the culture of demography and reproduction in India and China.