This project examines the social and political setting in which human germline genome editing trials using CRISPR/Cas9 have become possible in China within the last decade. It argues that despite its versatile usage for various applications (e.g., the “enhancement” of plants or livestock), CRISPR/Cas9 would eventually advance as a powerful tool to respond to a primarily political problem: the increasing number of birth defects (BD) in China, which is, according to official parlance, deemed as an impairment of the “population quality.”
The conception of BD as a problem, however, already dates back to the 1980s when Chinese officials introduced various schemes to steer and “engineer” the Chinese population in terms of its quantity as well as its “quality” in order to modernize the country. In this sense, GGE using CRISPR/Cas9 is only the most recent—albeit arguably the most sophisticated—attempt to improve the population quality based on a whole series of technologies, including in vitro fertilization and preimplantation genetic diagnosis.
To investigate in what ways the concept of “population quality” is relevant within scope of Chinese research and development (R&D), this project will draw upon Chinese R&D white papers, reproductive health journals, research articles, books, government reports, official statements, and newspaper articles as well as national laws.