The Chinese government is growing increasingly aggressive. Currently, the Chinese Communist Party has close to 400 internment camps with one million Uyghur Chinese, a minority Muslim ethnic group, incarcerated.
In Hong Kong, China, millions of people have been in the streets protesting the government of mainland China. Since the handover from the UK in 1997, Hong Kong has maintained a treaty-agreed special legal and administrative status. Recent legislative acts by the government in Beijing, which would allow the extradition of individuals from Hong Kong to mainland China, have threatened this. The people of Hong Kong are fearful of the mainland police and government. They know excessive brutality and arbitrary punishments are probable; imprisonment and torture are legitimate concerns.
The Chinese government has not backed down on Hong Kong. In early January, the Chinese government imprisoned over 50 politicians, activists, scholars, and other pro-Hong Kong individuals.
Separately, the Chinese military has fortified its border with India, there have been low-level clashes, and matters have not been eased by China signing a military deal further aligning themselves with Pakistan, India’s hostile neighbor. China also recently flew airplanes in Taiwan’s airspace, sending an ominous signal.
Some explain this as a clash between free, autonomous, and democratic peoples with the authoritarian regime in Beijing. This explanation is viable and is not being disputed. However, it does not cover all of the facets underneath the growing tension.
When digging deeper, a more nuanced interpretation emerges. The root of this aggressive behavior is surmisable to a phrase the Chinese use to describe their own people: ‘bare branches’. ‘Bare branches’ is the term that the Chinese use to describe China’s surplus male population that is unable to find women to marry, a situation that results from a number of reasons, such as a cultural preference for male over female babies and China’s previous one child policy. These have led to China finding itself with an extremely high ratio of men to women.
William Tucker argued, in Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made us Human (2014), that marriage between man and woman is the great civilizing factor in human history; it enables civility between neighbors to exist and flourish. Men are more likely than women to commit crimes, gamble, drink excessively, use drugs, or become violent. This nefarious behavior by men is dramatically curbed through marriage to a woman: women, in short, tame the men. When men are unmarried and never marry, unhealthy behaviors often persist. These men fail to assume the responsibility of husbands and then fathers. These men without the responsibilities of husbands and fathers are left with idle hands, and idle hands are the Devil’s playground.
Tucker was not the first person to observe the relationship between women’s effects on the male population and the quality of a civilization in general. Alexis de Tocqueville noticed the profound effect that American women had on the American men when wrote Democracy in America (1836). Tocqueville noted that, “it is woman who makes mœurs.” The women in our homes are responsible for setting the tone in our hearts and minds: “[T]he American draws from his home the love of order, which he afterwards brings into affairs of state.” When a woman is not providing a strong and steady hand in the home, then society suffers. Tocqueville articulated, “almost all the disorders of society are born around the domestic hearth, not far from the nuptial bed.” He astutely stated the direct relationship between new American nation’s success and the role and strength of its women: “If one asked me: to what do I think one must principally attribute the singular prosperity and growing force of this people, I would answer that it is to the superiority of its women.”
But what happens when there are lots of unmarried men? Hudson and den Boer addressed this issue specifically in the Chinese context in Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population (2004). The authors spoke of the fact that any civilization with a surplus of unmarried men will have a civilization with large amounts of men with idle hands, which leaves a country with few options for these men.
One option is the military. Civilizations with ‘bare branches’ consistently employ aggressive security and military practices. These civilizations are prone to authoritarian regimes who have no real recourse to control their bare branches with anything but military force. The military is performing the function of taming the men. Regarding China, Hudson and den Boer explained:
The prognosis for the development of full democracy in China is poor…. Leaders in Beijing … will be hard-pressed to address the potentially grave social instability that their country’s ever-increasing numbers of bare branches may produce …
Not only is democracy unlikely and authoritarianism probable with this many surplus men, but there may be significant utility in military conflict for the government of countries with surplus males:
The Chinese government has staked enormous national pride and prestige on its ability to bring about Taiwan’s eventual reunification with the mainland. Within twenty years, China may have close to 40 million bare branches to deploy in the event that tensions with Taiwan escalate into a military confrontation. The security logic of high-sex-ration cultures predisposes nations to see some utility in intense conflict… stimulating a steadier allegiance from bare branches, who are especially motivated by issues involving national pride and martial prowess. Conflict is often an effective mechanism by which governments can send bare branches away from national population centers, possibly never to return.
China’s military expansion and aggressive behavior in the South China Seas should come as no surprise. The authors wrote in 2004. They speculated that 20 years from that time, 2024, the government would have issues with the surplus male population and Taiwan. This is an inevitability given China’s grossly high-sex-ratio. It’s only a matter of time before Beijing begins swinging its bare branches at other nations and peoples. Military expansion and conflict are inevitable when there are roughly 70 million more men than women in China.
While it is possible that some of the Chinese aggression in the region, notably in the South China Sea, may have peaked (as argued by Steven Stashwick in Foreign Policy), it is highly unlikely that the tendencies and patterns associated with bare branches will suddenly stop. The Chinese may alter their direction and tactics, but the pent-up aggression of their bare branches will not vanish.
The continual aggression towards other nations is no longer a matter of ideology, or politics. Too many unmarried men mean the Chinese need to send their men away from home and must keep them there. The Chinese are engaging in a new period of colonization in Africa, and are attempting to build a second Great Wall in the South China Sea, “the great wall of sand.” The Chinese have been repeatedly caught committing espionage, infiltrating the U.S. Congress, universities, and various companies with access to valuable technology.
The bottom line is this: this is not a social problem that can be fixed with social engineering. The only real solution for an unruly man is a good woman. Unfortunately for the Chinese, their neighbors, and the world, this problem is only going to get worse.