Should We Worry About China?

Edge 2013 is asking what we should be worried about.

Geoffrey Miller is worried about Chinese eugenics.

China has been running the world’s largest and most successful eugenics program for more than thirty years …

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.

… 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. He liberalized markets, but implemented the one-child policy —partly to curtail China’s population explosion, but also to reduce dysgenic fertility among rural peasants. Throughout the 1980s, Chinese propaganda urges couples to have children “later, longer, fewer, better”—at a later age, with a longer interval between birth, resulting in fewer children of higher quality. With the 1995 Maternal and Infant Health Law (known as the Eugenic Law until Western opposition forced a name change), China forbade people carrying heritable mental or physical disorders from marrying, and promoted mass prenatal ultrasound testing for birth defects.

One of Deng’s legacies is China’s current strategy of maximizing “Comprehensive National Power”. … But crucially, Comprehensive National Power also includes “biopower”: creating the world’s highest-quality human capital in terms of the Chinese population’s genes, health, and education (see Governing China’s Population by Susan Greenhalgh and Edwin Winkler).

Chinese eugenics will quickly become even more effective, given its massive investment in genomic research on human mental and physical traits. BGI-Shenzhen employs more than 4,000 researchers. It has far more “next-generation” DNA sequencers that anywhere else in the world, and is sequencing more than 50,000 genomes per year. It recently acquired the California firm Complete Genomics to become a major rival to Illumina.

The BGI Cognitive Genomics Project is currently doing whole-genome sequencing of 1,000 very-high-IQ people around the world, hunting for sets of sets of IQ-predicting alleles. I know because I recently contributed my DNA to the project, not fully understanding the implications. These IQ gene-sets will be found eventually—but will probably be used mostly in China, for China. Potentially, the results would allow all Chinese couples to maximize the intelligence of their offspring by selecting among their own fertilized eggs for the one or two that include the highest likelihood of the highest intelligence. Given the Mendelian genetic lottery, the kids produced by any one couple typically differ by 5 to 15 IQ points. So this method of “preimplantation embryo selection” might allow IQ within every Chinese family to increase by 5 to 15 IQ points per generation. After a couple of generations, it would be game over for Western global competitiveness.

My real worry is the Western response. The most likely response, given Euro-American ideological biases, would be a bioethical panic that leads to criticism of Chinese population policy with the same self-righteous hypocrisy that we have shown in criticizing various Chinese socio-cultural policies. But the global stakes are too high for us to act that stupidly and short-sightedly. A more mature response would be based on mutual civilizational respect, asking—what can we learn from what the Chinese are doing, how can we help them, and how can they help us to keep up as they create their brave new world?

If China proceeds successfully with this, and if the West decides not to learn from them, then it will be as if history has reversed: centuries ago China felt it had nothing to learn from the West, while the West was open to all kinds of new ideas.

If China does succeed, this would be one way to assist the Global Flynn Effect (on which see Part I, Part II, Part III).

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1 Comment

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One response to “Should We Worry About China?

  1. Jimbot

    Then the only thing left for the rest of us to do is to mate as furiously and often as we can with Chinese females.

    One good thing about it being the Chinese that are at the forefront of this IQ advance is that their women find them [Chinese men] as repulsive as other ethnicities of women do.

    Therefore we can use this advantage to raise our own immediate genetic profiles by producing mixed offspring with Chinese women.

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