An op-ed in the LA Times by Joshua Kurlantzick takes up the gender imbalance problem in China:
Lanzhou exemplifies a more insidious, possibly more dangerous threat to China's development than financial imbalances, environmental disasters or unemployment: The People's Republic has too many men. Today, roughly 120 boys are born in China for every 100 girls, perhaps the worst gender imbalance in modern human history. Within 15 years, the country may have 30 million men who cannot find wives. That could mean serious trouble.
He gets at some of the historical implications:
For centuries, patrilineal Chinese households have preferred male children because men are viewed as better able to support rural families, and boys inherited the land. Some Chinese gender experts, such as Liu Bohong of the All-China Women's Federation, also argue that there is deep-seated male chauvinism in Chinese culture that leads to a preference for boys.
There is a certain sad irony here: the patriarchy historically used Confucianism to legitimize the social and political subordination of women and now their grandsons and great-grandsons must reap the whirlwind of a society with too few females.
But there is more than irony here. The gender imbalance raises a question for Confucians: what is to be done when there are too few females?
This is problem because Confucianism cannot reach its highest goal of Humanity in the world without women. As I have argued elsewhere, women, in doing so much of the work of cultivating and maintaining close social relationships, generally - and I emphasize "generally" - do more than men to cultivate the "root of Humanity" (which is, primarily, caring for elders but, I would add, also includes caring for children and other people). It is also true that without women to marry and raise families with, some significant number of men are deprived of an important avenue for building Humanity in their lives. So, for Confucians, something needs to be done about the gender imbalance in China.
Three possibilities come to mind, all of which would be acceptable to a modern Confucian.
First, is for Chinese men to either leave China and marry foreign women, or encourage foreign women to come to China and marry them. China's economic boom facilitates both possibilities, making it easier for men with money to move around the world and making the country more attractive for foreigners of all sorts. Chinese nationalists might worry some - dilution of the "national blood" and all of that. But Confucianism is not nationalism. It does not matter what a person's race or ethnicity is. Confucianism is perfectly fine with inter-racial or inter-ethnic marriage. What matters is whether they are fulfilling their family duties and working toward Humanity in the world. Chinese men will have to change their attitudes toward women in general and make themselves more attractive to women from Europe and the US and Africa and Latin America and wherever. Whatever male chauvinism that exists will have to be extinguished, as it should be in any event. And maybe that will mean something truly historic: the final and effective separation of patriarchy and Confucianism. The latter does much better as an ethical framework without the former.
Second, get rid of the one-child policy. It never has been acceptable from a Confucian perspective. True, the population problem in China is real and difficult. But the effects of the one-child policy on family structure and, most depressingly, female infanticide, can only be abhorrent to a Confucian. Indeed, the time might be especially ripe to let it go. China, after thirty years of high speed economic growth, and the attendant rise of an urban middle class, might be ripe for a demographic transition, when city dwelling young parents, freed from agricultural work, choose voluntarily to have fewer children. Perhaps with the pressure off, they would also come to value girls as much as boys. The coercion of the one-child policy, in any event, clearly runs against Confucian ideals.
Third, in a country with too many males, if the goal is to achieve as much Humanity as possible, then the society and government need to be tolerant of gay marriage and adoption. Confucianism would be uncomfortable with gay identity, not wanting to fix so much of a person's self-understanding on their sexuality. But Confucianism would accept, or could accept, the notion of gay marriage, which creates new family environments where Humanity can be created and nurtured. Of course, this will only apply to a small percentage of the population (do they say that less than ten percent of the population in the US is gay?), but, given the problems associated with having too many men, every little bit helps to move society toward Humanity.
In an ideal world, all three would be pursued because having too few women is a serious problem, from a Confucian point of view.