China's population should be small enough for the nation to provide for its people's well-being and the well-being of its environment.
Today's widely accepted understanding of population growth in the world's most populous country was strongly criticized when it was proposed by Ma Yinchu (1882-1982). His theories were shelved for more than a decade.
On Tuesday, a commemoration meeting marked the 50th anniversary of the New Population Theory put forward by the renowned demographer. Participants agreed Ma's theories on slowing population growth and maintaining an appropriate population size remain valid.
Before the value of Ma's theory was recognized, the country had to pay a heavy price for explosive population growth from the 1950s into the 1970s.
By the end of the 1970s, what Ma had prophesied had come true: Stunning population growth was exerting a heavy burden on economic development, people's efforts to achieve a better life, natural resources and the environment. The remaining years of the 20th century finally saw the successful implementation of China's family planning policy.
Today, at a point where the country is maintaining a desirably low birth rate, Ma's appeal for population control and improving the quality of the population should continue to be the centerpiece of the country's population policy.
Without family planning, some 400 million new births would have been added.
But even with a family planning policy, China's sheer population size, about 21 percent of the world's total, still poses a serious challenge to bettering our people's lives as well as keeping our natural resources from being overburdened.
While maintaining the family planning policies, additional policies should be adopted to strengthen social equity and make family planning a voluntary choice.
At the same time, population problems remain. Efforts should be made to check the rising imbalance of males in our society.
A contained population with a rational structure and high quality is the foundation for our sustainable economic and social development that should translate into personal well-being.
We cannot afford to follow the route we took more than 50 years ago.
(China Daily July 5, 2007)