yi3_ GREG BAKERAFP via Getty Images_uyghur birth rate GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images

Why Is the Uyghur Population Shrinking?

Chinese authorities have long been notorious for mandating abortion, sterilization, and intrauterine devices, so it is natural to assume that the dramatic decline in births in Xinjiang reflects the impact of such measures. But the real reason is more complicated.

MADISON, WISCONSIN – After becoming the Communist Party of China’s chief of Xinjiang Province in 2016, Chen Quanguo oversaw a security crackdown that led to a drop in births so sharp that it shocked the world. Some observers accused China’s leadership of committing genocide against the province’s mostly Muslim Uyghur population through forced sterilization and abortion. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi dismissed the allegations as “fake news,” arguing that Xinjiang’s Uyghur population had grown steadily to 12.7 million in 2018, an increase of 25% from 2010 – and higher than the 14% increase in the province’s total population.

But recently released 2020 census figures have delivered what amounts to a slap in the foreign ministry’s face. The data show that in 2020, Xinjiang’s Uyghur population had grown by only 16% since 2010, to 11.6 million, compared to a 19% increase in Xinjiang’s total population. Even more shocking, the Uyghur population aged 0-4 was only 36% the size of that aged 5-9.

The only comparable antecedent to this plunge in births was in Shandong Province in the early 1990s, where some Party officials tried to launch a campaign to go “newborn-free in 100 days.” By 2000, the population of 5-9 year olds in Tai’an, a city in Shandong, was only 28% the size of the cohort aged 10-14. Back in 1980, when Chinese authorities were discussing the one-child policy, there was even a creepy proposal to have a “newborn-free year” every few years.

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