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Parts of India have sex ratios as skewed as anything in its northern neighbour.Other East Asian countries—South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan—have peculiarly high numbers of male births.

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During the same period, South Korea's sex ratio rose from just above normal to 117 in 1990—then the highest in the world—before falling back to more natural levels.These rates are biologically impossible without human intervention.The national averages hide astonishing figures at the provincial level.The implication is that sex-selective abortion, not under-registration of girls, accounts for the excess of boys.Other countries have wildly skewed sex ratios without China's draconian population controls (see chart 1).For comparison, there are 23m boys below the age of 20 in Germany, France and Britain combined and around 40m American boys and young men.

So within ten years, China faces the prospect of having the equivalent of the whole young male population of America, or almost twice that of Europe's three largest countries, with little prospect of marriage, untethered to a home of their own and without the stake in society that marriage and children provide.

In all societies that record births, between 103 and 106 boys are normally born for every 100 girls.

The ratio has been so stable over time that it appears to be the natural order of things.

For the generation born in 2000-04, it was 124 (ie, 124 boys were born in those years for every 100 girls).

According to CASS the ratio today is 123 boys per 100 girls.

XINRAN XUE, a Chinese writer, describes visiting a peasant family in the Yimeng area of Shandong province. “We had scarcely sat down in the kitchen”, she writes (see article), “when we heard a moan of pain from the bedroom next door…The cries from the inner room grew louder—and abruptly stopped.