Who’s knocking at my door? The Chinese census

Who’s knocking at my door? The Chinese census

The world’s most populous nation goes door-to-door in the world’s largest census
Chinese census
The credo of this year's census takes: No Chinese child left behind.

Yesterday, November 1 kicked off the 10-day, once-a-decade, Chinese census.

The national event is employing 6 million people going door to door to record China's population details. That's almost three times the size of the People’s Liberation Army and larger than the population of many countries, to document the China’s true head count. 

Unlike the United States census, where residents are asked to voluntarily mail in a census form over the course of a year, Chinese census-takers plan to go door to door, limiting the time required for the process to 10 days.

The 2000 census clocked in China’s official population at 1.295 billion people, but specifically excluded migrant workers living in cities for less than six months. 

This year's census is not only exepected to report a large population increase from the 2000 survey, but the people's locations are expected to shift, reflecting the country’s massive rural-urban migration. 

Some demographers believe Chinese population today may be close to 1.5 billion.

Chinese migration

This is the sixth national Chinese census, but the first time it will count people based on where they actually live and not where their official residence (hukou) is. Expert believe this will give a more accurate image of China’ population, specifically cities, as many migrant workers from rural area pack into Chinese urban areas, like Shanghai, while maintaining their rural hukous.

About 140 million migrant workers work outside of their hometowns, according to a 2009 National Bureau of Statistics report. Many believe the number could be as high as 200 million. Most of these people remain unregistered in their new locations. 

"Wherever you are living, from November 1 to 10, you will be counted," said Zhang Xueyuan, director of the publicity for the Beijing census committee, to reporters.

To encourage migrants workers to honestly report their residency, the government has began a propaganda campaign hoisting banners around the country, urging citizens to “co-operate fully to reconcile household and population records.”

This is also the first time the Shanghai government will count foreign residents staying here for six months or more, in the Chinese census. The city estimates that approximately 100,000 foreigners live or work in the city.

Only one child lives here

Another hurdle for the Chinese census takers to overcome is that many families have a second, unregistered, child.

Although there are many legal loopholes in cities and some provinces now where people are permitted to legally have a second child, many parents in one-child areas have a second. These parents, fearing repercussions, may keep their children away from census takers, causing an undercount on the scale of millions.

To counter this fear, the government has offered limited, and in some cases complete, amnesty for couples with additional children.

“Our enumerators will go anywhere that there are people to register,” said Fang Nailin, the vice-director of the Chinese census to The Global and Mail. “Within each block, we will not miss any building. Within each building, we will not miss any household. Within each household, we will not miss any individual. And with each individual, we will make sure they fill out each item [on the census questionnaire].”

So far there have been no predictions by the Chinese government on how much it believes the country’s population as expanded in the last decade. Even if it grew by one percent, that would be an addition of 130 million people -- or nearly half the population of the United States.

The Chinese census runs from November 1 to November 10, and the data will be released next April.