Margaret Sanger, "Fifth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference Public Meeting Speech," 13 July 1922.

Source: " Raymond Pierpont, ed. Report of the Fifth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference , (London, 1922), pp. 198-206.."

Margaret Sanger gave this speech as part of a public meeting held in concert with the Fifth International Neo-Malthisian and Birth Control Conference, at Kingsway Hall, London. H. G. Wells was the chairman of the meeting; other speakers were: Harold Cox, Bessie Ingham Drysdale, C. Killick Millard, Helena Marie Swanwick, and Rev. Gordon Lang. For other speeches and statements given at this meeting, see Individual and Family Aspects of Birth Control, July 11, 1922 and "Press Statement at the Fifth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference," July 11, 1922.


Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, all of us, in advocating the national and international practice of Birth Control, have met arguments from our opponents, and even from our friends, that Birth Control would never be accepted by Oriental peoples. There have been articles in magazines, even books have been written, in which the most pessimistic views were brought forward, to show us that our whole civilization was in danger of being wiped out because the white people were not increasing their population as rapidly as the yellow and colored races.

I am pleased to say, from my brief experience, that I can repudiate at least part of that statement. Whether or not the white races will be ultimately wiped off the face of the earth depends, to my mind, largely upon the conduct and behavior of the white people themselves. (Applause.) But that the people of China, Japan, Korea and India desire Birth Control knowledge, that they may reduce the numbers of their families, and that they may also give the women health and freedom, I am quite convinced.

Before I go into the experiences I met with in Japan and China, I would like to tell you a little something of the problem that confronts Japan today. Japan has a population of about 57 millions. She has an area of about 150,000 square miles. Now if all of this land were tillable perhaps there would be less excuse for Japan's attitude than there is today. When we look through that little country we find that five-sixths of Japan proper is mountainous, and that her huge population must live upon one-sixth of her territory.

This means that Japan is thrown upon the outside world for her foodstuffs, and must depend upon other countries for subsistence for her population. For more than two centuries Japan's population was practically stationary, but within the last sixty-five years her population has practically doubled. For instance, in 1621 she had 25 millions; in 1721 she had still 25 millions. In 1774 she had 25.9 millions, in 1804 she had 25.4 millions, and in 1846 she had 26 millions. But in 1920 she had, as I have said, 57 millions.

The birth rate in Japan averages 1 2 millions a year. The death rate is enormous, but even so her survival rate is between 700,000 and 800,000 souls a year. Naturally, with this problem and with this increase, Japan must ask the world what she is to do. She may be able today to take care of her population, but she is looking ahead, and she says to the world: "What is to become of us and all our increasing numbers in twenty or twenty-five years?"

In some ways today Japan is in much the same condition as Germany was in 1910. I will not go into detail to show you how much alike they are in their industrial, commercial, and even moral and spiritual development. More than 90 percent. of the Japanese people are considered literate. They can read and write. There is a strong development along industrial lines, and, in fact, Japan today is experiencing with her people very much the same difficulty that Germany developed and had to face up to 1914, the year of the outbreak of war. Germany found herself with highly skilled artisans and men who were civil engineers, chemists, and others of that sort of ability. Japan finds herself today with more technical men--men of fine technical ability--in her population than she herself can use.

Now, while Germany had the whole world for her people to develop in--the doors of the world were open to those efficient men and women--that is not the case with Japan. Most of the world is closed today to the skilled artisan of Japan, so, naturally, Japan has a very unusual problem, and one that not only concerns herself, but concerns every other nation in the world.

Now that is something of the condition of affairs that I found when I was invited to go to Japan. We, many of us, have had the erroneous idea that Japan was strongly militaristic, but I want to say that more than 70 percent. of the people of Japan are not militaristic. It is safe to say that there is that number of young men and women in Japan who are strongly inclined towards Liberalism, and who are opposing the military party most violently.

I found that this Young Liberal group had been interested in Western customs and Western civilization, and the members of the Government who are in this Liberal group had been sending round the world a number of men to ascertain the facts of our everyday life and the movements that were going on, and the progress that we were making in the Western world. While some of these young men were coming to America, they came upon our propaganda of Birth Control and seemed to be very much interested in this great movement. Within one year's time we had more than twenty-five representatives from Japan, who came to study the subject of Birth Control.

After that I was invited by a group of Liberals, who call themselves the "Kaisha" group, to go to Japan and to give four lectures on war and population. Now this young group represents the Liberal group in Japan. They have already planned a series of lectures, mostly of philosophic character. Mr. Bertrand Russell had gone before me. I was next on the programme. Einstein was the next and, I believe, although he does not know it, Mr. Wells is to be invited to complete the series.

Plans had already been made for me to go to Japan, and I had purchased or rather engaged my passage when, to my surprise, on arriving at San Francisco, when I applied for the visa at the Japanese Consulate, I was told that the Government of Japan--the Home Office--had sent a cable to the Consul-General that if I applied for a visa it was to be refused, as they did not want the subject of Birth Control to be discussed in Japan. That was rather surprising to me, inasmuch as the plans had been made for my work there. However, I felt that it was very necessary for me to meet some of the Japanese, especially those intellectual men who were going back from the Washington Conference after representing their Government. So I was able to get on the steamboat and get my ticket for Shanghai. I had no difficulty in getting a visa from the Chinese officials on the steamboat, and I had the great pleasure of the opportunity of meeting many of the delegates returning from the Washington Conference. Admiral Cutto was on board and also one of their Ministers. I was there only a few days when, with their usual alertness, they asked me if I would speak to the delegates, about 150 in number. I did so with pleasure, and the result was that their Minister cabled to his Government, urging them, not only to let in the advocate of Birth Control, but also to open the doors wide to the free discussion of that subject for Japan's own good. The interest that was shown by the Japanese on board, not only in the first, but second class, was simply tremendous. There was great interest, and great help was given to me, even great resentment was expressed towards the Government that such a furor had been made, and that a ban had been put upon any one entering the country with so vital a message.

When we arrived at Yokohama I was told by a member of the Japanese Government that there was more interest in the subject of Birth Control than there was in the returning delegates from Washington. More than sixty-five members of the Press applied for permission to meet the boat, and in making their application they said their object was to meet us and discuss the subject of Birth Control. If any of you have been to Japan you know what a passion they have for photographs and flashlights. It is said that more than 150 flash-light photographs were taken of me and my son while we were touring through Japan. It is almost a madness with them to have pictures of everything you do in practically every position that you take up. This, of course, gave us a great deal of publicity, for the whole country was aroused to the discussion, and the scientific discussion, of the subject.

There were meetings with the members of the new women's organization, and it was quite remarkable how all those women came to express sympathy and interest in the subject of Birth Control, and to express to me their desire for knowledge whereby they could be emancipated from maternal slavery. Representatives from the Medical Association were also present and representatives of Labour. In fact, all the progressive, intellectual world of Japan was interested in this subject of Birth Control. It would be impossible to go into the detail of all the interesting experiences that both my son and I had. One of the interesting things to me was that my son, who was only thirteen years old, seemed to receive all the attention from the time we entered Japan until we left. Chairs were pulled out for the male member of the family, but I was left to pull out the chairs for myself. There was great respect and deference shown to this youngster, but altogether I think they had a considerable respect for me, not only in Japan, but in China and Korea, from the fact that I was able to produce a son.

My entrance into Japan, as I have said, came through one of the members of the Young Liberal group in Japan, and I want to point out that if the difficulty to which I have referred had occurred fifty years ago I should never have been allowed to enter Japan. If the Government had said "You will not enter," that would have been the end of it. Today the Government is not so firm in its opposition to liberty. As soon as the Government said "You cannot come into Japan," the Young Liberals started to make a noise, and to protest and to ask why. Then the Government moved down a step or two, and said "She may come in, but she must not speak." More noise, more protests from the Liberal group, and then the Government moved down another step, and said "She may speak, but not in public." More noise, more protests, and the Government stepped down again, and said "She may speak in public, but she must not give the methods of Birth Control." On that we all agreed. I had no intention of giving the methods of Birth Control to a promiscuous audience; I simply wanted to speak on the theory of the subject, and the practical side would have been given in private.

So, after my arrival, I wanted to ascertain from the Home Office why I was barred from Japan. It is very important for a propagandist to see to it that she is never barred out from any place. It is a very bad precedent for your work. So I went to call on the Chief of Police, who seemed to have been the instigator of the difficulty. They speak a good deal of "Mysterious Japan," and I think that in many cases one would naturally believe that there was a great mystery about Japanese life. I had no idea, up to half an hour before I decided to go to the police station, that I was to go there. I simply made up my mind that I would call upon the Chief of Police and I told no one, except Baron Ishimoto, who was escorting me. Nevertheless, on my arrival, every one knew we were coming. Tea was served, and it is very difficult to be indignant with a Police Department when they serve you tea first. The photographers were there ahead of us, and in every way we were received with great courtesy, and given great attention. The Chief of Police himself was not there, but his Assistant was, and he explained to me that one of the reasons why I was not allowed to speak was that my subject would come under a Bill then pending, which was called "The Dangerous Thought Bill." When I asked if they would explain what that meant, they said there was a Bill pending in the House forbidding any foreigner to come to Japan and bring a "dangerous thought." I am glad to say that Bill was "tabled" a few weeks later, again because of the young and rising Liberal Group in Japan, who made fun of this "Dangerous Thought Bill," so that it was shelved. That was one of the reasons.

But, finally, our meetings were allowed to go on, and if the Police Department had been a real friend instead of a bitter enemy and opponent, it could not have done more for the cause of Birth Control than it did in its opposition to us, for the whole Press was aflame. It is said that out of 105 magazines that came out in April, eighty-eight carried articles on the subject of Population and Birth Control. Every day the papers for the whole of the weeks I was there carried scientific articles as well as propaganda articles on the subject.

We were able in this time to give ten lectures in Tokyo, and if it had not been for illness I think I should have been there for the next two years, because the invitations and letters that came in asking for addresses and lectures made us turn the whole business organization into an office to answer them. However, we were able to give ten lectures in Tokyo and fifteen lectures throughout Japan, and in all except one of those lectures we were able to discuss the methods of Birth Control quite freely. This was done in small groups of from 150 to 200. They were divided into commercial groups, labor groups, industrial groups, and the physicians of the Women's Organization, and they did this very efficiently and to my satisfaction, because I prefer speaking to small audiences when it comes to the practical side rather than to large promiscuous audiences.

Finally, a League was formed--the first Birth Control League in Japan. Since then I find that this little League has brought out a Birth Control Review, a monthly magazine in the Japanese language. They published, and have been publishing, the pamphlet "Family Limitation," which gives the practical methods, and they have, in the past two years, been giving out this pamphlet to the number of 10,000, so that there is already a great deal of dissemination of the practical side of the subject.

One of the interesting things to me was the keen mind which the Japanese statesmen bring to bear on this subject. They do not intend to duplicate our errors. They do not intend that the birth rate and the increase of population shall be among the unfit and the diseased. They intend to direct the force of their organization and of this movement against anything in that direction. This organization has for its president a sociologist, a professor in one of the universities, and also a member of the medical profession. They have also a Labor leader and a very well-known social worker, so that all branches of their social and intellectual life are represented in the Birth Control League.

I think it is safe to say that Japan is keenly alive to the subject of Birth Control. Just how long this will last none of us can predict, but if we were able to send our missionaries there as the Church has done, I think we should go a very long way towards bringing real Christianity and humanitarianism and international peace into the entire world.

I was rather pleased to find in the arguments against Birth Control in China and Japan something besides the moral argument. Not once was that argument used. They brought forth arguments based upon science and sociology--arguments it was a pleasure to refute and to argue about.

From Japan I went to Korea, and though my time was limited I was able to give an address, and again the Press was very generous in its statements and in giving out the means of Birth Control to the people. There again, there were many requests for addresses from the Koreans themselves and promises that an organization would be established there in the very near future.

Then we went to China, where we had not at first intended to go, as my original plan was only to go to Japan and return home. The interest in China was just as great. I was able to speak to 2,500 young students at the National University. The Chancellor himself and the Professors of the University formed the first Birth Control League of China. There also they got busy at once. This group met after dinner and organized the League. They took the practical leaflet "Family Limitation," translated it that night into Chinese, and it was on the press next morning ready for printing. Five thousand of these pamphlets were distributed later on in a few days, so that China took practically at once to the subject, and especially to the practical side of it. They were, when I left Pekin, looking for a physician to open a clinic, especially in their poor sections, for the women. The Rockefeller Institute, especially the nurses, were very keen on knowing something of the practical methods, and they got up a meeting which I had the pleasure of addressing, and we were able to discuss the practical side of carrying on the work in China.

In Shanghai it was very interesting, although there was not the same interest shown, perhaps, in the groups I was able to speak before. There was one group, however, the Family Reformation Society, which has for its rules that you cannot smoke, you cannot drink, and you cannot gamble. My suggestion to them was that you should not have children you cannot support and take care of.

The commercial Press of Shanghai was most generous in its propaganda. For one whole week they brought out scientific articles. They translated practically everything they could put their hands on. For one whole week while I was in Shanghai, the Chinese Press was aflame with the subject of Birth Control.

That is just briefly an outline of the experiences and the interest shown in my brief and hurried trip to the Orient. I think we all know that this movement is, perhaps, slow in development. None of us, possibly, will really see the results of its success. We know that the Crucifixion took place 180 years before Christianity was established, or rather started, in the Roman Empire. We know that the New World was discovered 150 years before the first English colony was established there. None of those who see the beginning of these historical movements can realize and grasp their full significance, and I think it is safe to say that none of us will probably realize or live to see this movement in its fullest culmination, but I think it is safe to say--and we claim it--that if Birth Control is accepted by the Eastern nations, it will hasten very greatly our progress towards international peace and human emancipation.


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