The nuclear family is often portrayed as oppressive. And yet when people are free to choose their living arrangements, what most of us still go for is… the nuclear family. We don’t always succeed, but there’s no doubt as to the ideal. In liberal societies there is a greater acceptance of variations, like one-parent families and same-sex couples; but whatever its form the model of a private home in which parents are the primary caregivers to their children remains the freely-chosen norm.
Moreover, there are many examples in which the nuclear family is not the source of oppression, but its target.
For those who would instrumentalise their fellow human beings, families have always been an inconvenience. Just look at the history of slavery and its callous disregard for the ties of partnership and parenthood.
For the early communists, the traditional family was a vestige of the old order, an obstacle to the power of the state and a refuge for bourgeois notions of privacy. In practice though, regimes like the Soviet Union found that phasing out this most basic of social support structures was more easily theorised about than implemented.
As governments of all kinds know, substituting for one parent is expensive, but the cost of replacing both is prohibitive. It’s not that collective child rearing is unheard of, but it is largely confined to the care system, British public schools, hippy communes and the pages of Brave New World.
Certainly, the totalitarian dream of complete collectivisation has never been realised. At least, not until now. A disturbing report in The Economist reveals a deeply ominous trend in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. In the last few years there’s been a massive expansion in boarding school dormitories. While the rate of growth is low and declining in the rest of China it is accelerating in Xinjiang. That’s because the mass internment of Uyghur adults is effectively orphaning Uyghur children and thus leaving them as wards of the Chinese state.
The Communist authorities are attacking the fundamentals of family life in other ways too. For instance, there’s the abusive practice of billeting men from the majority Han Chinese majority in Uyghur homes. And, of course, there’s that old PRC favourite — forced abortion and sterilisation. The impact of this system of oppression can be seen in the rapid collapse in Uyghur birth rates.
China’s family policy in Xinjiang will come at a terrible cost, both financial and human. But then its purpose is not to create a new society, but to destroy an old one.